It’s been a while since the Bentley Continental GT first roared through the automotive landscape, and since then it has built itself a bit of a reputation. Not for its ability – although there’s no doubt it has always had plenty of that – but for its buyers.
You see, the Conti is second only to the Range Rover on the shopping lists of the nouveau riche. Footballers, soap stars, musicians – they’ve all got one. And Bentley has embraced this new clientele, producing cars designed specifically to appeal to the populations of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Cheshire. That’s why we have the Bentayga.
It’s easy to mock this approach, but it works. Bentley now counts itself among the world’s most desirable brands, mixing it with the likes of Apple. But there’s more to Bentley than just Insta stars and rap artists. This is a company that’s won Le Mans and still races in series across the globe. Bentley really knows how to make cars.
And the company used that knowledge with the new Continental GT. Rather than simply dressing the old car in new bodywork, Bentley pretty much started over. The new model is more modern and more technologically advanced, and it shows.
You only have to look at it to see what we mean. The old car was a little bit brick-like – particularly in the early days – and it was always more bruiser than ballet dancer. The new version still looks big and solid, but it’s more polished and manicured. If we may indulge in a little rugby reference, the old car was Mike Tindall and the new model is Gavin Henson.
This new attitude is evident in the cabin, too. Step inside and you’ll find one of the best interiors we’ve ever seen in any car. There’s wood and leather by the bucketload, with gorgeous quilting and piping to set it all off. But it isn’t all Victorian boudoir.
Bentley has gone a bit 21st Century on us, with a digital instrument cluster and this incredible rotating centre screen. Shut everything down and a blank wood dash glares back at you, but when it comes to life, the panel flips to reveal the touchscreen. Press a button, though, and you can go for a classic three-dial look.
Of course it isn’t perfect. If you know your VW Group cars, you’ll realise there’s more than a whiff of Audi about the instrument display, while the sat nav is distinctly Porsche-based. Realistically, though, who cares? Those brands are hardly bargain basement, and all this kit has been Bentley-ised with bespoke fonts and colour schemes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the size of this thing, there’s plenty of room, too. Those in the front won’t have anything to complain about, while it’s sort of possible to fit four. But only sort of. And that assumes none of the four people in question is taller than 5ft 6in.
There’s a big boot, too, which means your golf clubs can travel in comfort. More to the point in a GT car like this, though, you can fit suitcases and holdalls – something easier said than done in the Ferraris of this world.
But the Continental GT’s beating heart is the 6.0-litre W12 engine. Hiding under the vast expanse of bonnet that stretches out before you, it’s a petrol-powered ode to excess. It’s essentially two V6 engines sitting one inside the other, and the car can shut down one to save fuel. When it’s at full chat, though, it’s producing a whopping 626bhp.
That’s sent to all four wheels, and it’s enough to get from nought to 60mph in 3.7 seconds. The top speed? That’s 207mph. In a car that weighs 2.4 tonnes. Yep, this engine can bend the laws of physics.
But miraculously, it doesn’t make a fuss about it. Yes, it gets a bit raucous when you’re hammering it, but it doesn’t scream or howl. It’s refined and aloof, as though going fast is really a bit childish for it.
If that doesn’t float your boat, you can have a smaller, lighter V8 that packs almost as much punch and makes a slightly more antisocial noise. For us, though, the W12 has all the sophistication and effortlessness that makes a Bentley special.
If you’re reading this and thinking it all sounds a bit grown up for a supercar, then you’re absolutely right. The Continental is no road-going banshee, howling from A to B in a cacophony of noise and back pain. It’s a big, wafty GT car, and it drives that way.
There’s no Lotus-esque handling delicacy on show here, although the Bentley is remarkably nimble for its size. But it’s best sampled at eight tenths of its capability, where it eats up asphalt like there’s no tomorrow.
Because the steering is precise and fluid, and those big, fat tyres seem to latch on to the road, you can sweep the car through bends at outrageous speed. Yet it’s always poised and smooth – never ragged or jittery. For long drives through mountains or along coast roads, the Continental is sublime.
But all this talent comes at an outlandish cost. Our test car was festooned with toys, taking the £175,100 starting price to almost £230,000. Whichever way you cut it, that’s a lot. And the running costs? If you have to ask…
Yet with all that said, this is a car for people who don’t really care about costs. You don’t buy one of these to save money – you buy it to get around the world in comfort and style. And if that’s your aim, there’s nothing better.