2011 Bentley Continental GT Review
Invisible makeover and all the best for it!
By Shahzad Sheikh
The Bentley Continental GT has been with us for eight years. Not only has it not aged, but it has actually matured very well indeed. It could well be that it has grown on us having initially caused some horror at being the first Bentley to arrive under the new ownership of Volkswagen – and consequently being based heavily on a VW; well how else was VW going to put out a whole new luxury car less than five years after acquiring the legendary marque?
Yeah but under the skin, it’s not exactly a stretched Golf. This is based on the Phaeton, a much underrated car. In fact head out to the used lots or do a search of the classifieds and you’re looking at getting yourself a potentially exceptional motor that’s discreet, fast and luxurious, for not very much money – the value drops like a bomb!
If you’re a purest, you may go ‘what the hell’ and head down the road to buy a 7-series-based Rolls-Royce Ghost or a rebodied S-Class wearing a Maybach mascot instead – then again maybe not – but even if you dismissed the ‘People’s Bentley’ (to coin a VW-inspired phrase), the people, a whole new set of new people in fact, did not.
On the contrary they lapped it up, particularly if they were newly moneyed, could kick a ball about professionally, were able to talk very fast and make it appear they were singing, were pretty enough to be big in the movies or had made their mark as a budding entrepreneur. For them this 300 plus kph super-duper saloon was the ultimate bruiser, and they could have it in three flavours – the Continental GT was joined by a Flying Spur (saloon) and the GTC (convertible) later in its lifecyle.
To my eyes it’s looking better than ever particularly in coupe and convertible guises. This could have something to do with it having grown on me after have initially been part of the mass hysteria where we were all aghast at the winged-B adorning a jumped up VW that looked like it was styled in Korea.
However it’s earned its stripes now both as a high performance grand tourer, but also as a highly desirable luxury car – perhaps all those celebs driving it around really did boost its street-cred rating.
So when it came time to replace the car, Bentley must have found itself with a dilemma – how to supplant what has become recognisable as a modern-day winged-B icon? It was a victim of its own success like Porsche with the 911, Jeep with the Wrangler and Mercedes with the G-Wagen. In the end it didn’t, opting instead for a mild tracing-paper facelift.
And yet every body panel and all the glazing is actually new and subtly different. Stand back and compare it to an older model, and it comes across as cleaner and crisper, particularly at the back. It retains the twin round headlamps but the outer ones are smaller now and the grille sits lower and more upright. The track has been widened, but the dimensions are largely the same. It comes with 20-inch rims as standard with 21-inch wheels optional.
Bentley claims there’s an extra 46mm rear legroom in the rear, but I couldn’t find it. The rear cabin is beautifully appointed of course, but it’s still best left to children, and small ones at that. For proper passenger-carrying capacity, wait for the facelifted Flying Spur, which is surely in the pipeline on the heels of its siblings.
Whilst the shape of the dashboard remains the same, the biggest changes are where they needed to be. The centre console is all new, with a new large screen that is touch-sensitive and which is complemented with nicely tactile buttons. The instrument panel is also cleaner, and the quality of the bits you have to touch, the indicator stalk, the steering wheel controls and so on, is much better now. From behind the wheel the car feels much more solid than before.
In terms of kit, the sat nav is improved, the Naim sound system with the 30GB hard drive gives tremendous sound and there’s active cruise control and massage seats just to name a few. Of course all this means this remains a heavy car weighing in 2320kg, even though 65kg has been reduced by making the front wings, the bonnet lid all from aluminium rather than steel.
It features the same mighty 6.0-litre W12 (that’s two V6 units stuck together to form the W) with power up from 552bhp to 567bhp and torque rising to 516lb ft from 479lb ft – so more power and less weight. The gearbox, strangely enough, is still only six-speed when most luxury car makers are offering seven or even eight (and Hyundai are talking 10-speed, now that’s ambition for you!) but it does offer way offers quicker changes, and if you’re still not happy, wait a bit, an eight-speeder is on the way.
Nonetheless the 0-100kph acceleration improves from 4.8 to 4.6 seconds and the top speed remains a still stunning 318kph. Bury the throttle and with a boomy bellow from the exhausts you get a surge in acceleration as sheer brute force overwhelms the mass and hurtles you down the road.
To improve handling the four-wheel drive system is now more rear-biased and the effortless steering does an excellent job of making the car feel more direct with a surprisingly eager turn-in. There are four selectable suspension setting, though quite frankly at normal speeds it’s hard to tell the difference between them except that the ride deteriorates. Push it hard and you’ll notice that the body control is stiffer is stiffer in the sportiest setting.
Quite frankly though it has all the performance and ability you need in the normal settings, and compared to its illustrious forebear, it’s considerably more settled and composed when tackling undulations, and corners both fast and slow. It’s actually a pretty big step forward in dynamics.
Don’t be fooled then. This new $258,000 Continental GT may appear to be the same as the old car and frankly speaking the previous car had few, if any, flaws, but gaze at it for a while, get in, soak in the sumptuous interior, start it up, take it for a drive, by all means give it the full beans, and you’ll emerge more than satisfied that the changes are deep and far reaching. While a 30GB hard drive for the sensational Naim sound-system will keep its now traditional hip-hop clientele happy, you as a keen driver will also want one. Badly.
Engine: 6.0-litre W12, 567bhp at 6000rpm, 516lb ft at 1700rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Performance: 4.6seconds 0-100kph, 318kph, 17.0L/100km
9/10 – Big bruiser freshens up, hunkers down, gets serious
Pictures by me!