Years ago, I went into my first Bentley driving experience with more than a healthy amount of skepticism. When you move beyond a certain price point, it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify the expense involved—especially when it comes to elements that are not as easily quantified as performance metrics, like luxury and refinement. Yet I came out on the other side totally certain that the 2016 Continental GTC Speed was worth every penny of its $281,000 as-tested asking price.
But there was also room for improvement. Six years into the second generation's life cycle at that point, the Continental GT was starting to show its age, particularly in the realm of technology—a common side effect of relatively low-volume production.
Although it made its European debut in 2018, the third generation Continental GT is just now starting to make its way stateside, and it brings with it the most significant update to Bentley's big coupe since its original debut back in 2003. But as the automotive industry continues to rapidly evolve, does the Continental still have what it takes to stand out from the crowd? With the massage seats set to Pulse, I hit the road in search of some answers.
While the visual aesthetic doesn't stray far from the outgoing model, don't let that fool you. Underneath the skin there's some big changes here, and they start right at the bones of the Continental GT. Gone is the D1 platform that the second-generation car shared with the VW Phaeton, and in its place is Volkswagen's MSB architecture, which the Continental now shares with the second-generation Porsche Panamera. And although the shape is instantly recognizable, new aluminum body panels and a composite trunk lid help the Continental shed 168 pounds versus its predecessor.
Motivation still comes from a W-12, but it's new as well. Inherited from the Bentayga, the 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged mill sports both port and direct injection and dishes out 626 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque in the application, despite being 66 pounds lighter than the outgoing 582hp power plant. And now sitting further back in the chassis versus its predecessor, front weight bias drops from 58 percent to 55 as a result.
Power is routed to all four corners through a ZF-sourced eight-speed dual clutch gearbox. The DCT is a first for Bentley—another item inherited from the Panamera—but the transmission's programming is unique to the Continental. It's a combination that Bentley says is good for a 3.6-second sprint to 60 miles per hour on the way to an 11.7-second quarter mile. Left untethered, the speeds won't stop climbing until 207 mph.
The car rides on new three-chambered air springs, a change that Bentley says provides better ride compliance than the two-chambered units in the outgoing car, and they're complemented by active roll bars which are powered by a 48-volt electrical system that was first seen in the Bentayga. Torque vectoring—first introduced on the previous generation Supersports—is also on hand to help the big brute carve corners with a bit more finesse. And to bring the 5000-pound machine back down from speed, 10-piston calipers clamp down on massive 16.5-inch cast iron rotors up front, while four piston units work with 15.0-inch discs at the rear.
But despite all the weapons-grade performance hardware on tap, the Continental's focus is still aimed squarely at grand touring on the highest level. The potential velocities may have changed but occupant comfort remains the top priority, and that commitment is made clear from the moment you open the door.
It's hard not to be awed by the cabin of this 2+2. Swaths of quilted and stitched leather span from end to end, while chrome switchgear and glossy wood mingle to stunning effect. However, unlike Bentleys of the past, the high-quality materials don't have to apologize for being wrapped around dated electronics.
Purists may lament the absence of analog gauges for the speedo and tach, but the optional three-mode Bentley Rotating Display can remedy some of that, showcasing either the Continental's 12.3-inch touchscreen, a trio of gauges that keep track of outside temperature, direction of travel, and seconds that have passed, or a blank veneer when the vehicle is off. $6,270 might seem like a hefty price to pay for this Bond-esque party trick, but it is a surprisingly effective one.
The updated infotainment system impresses as well. Sharp, intuitive, and responsive, the new touchscreen system is a massive leap forward, though wonky Apple CarPlay implementation does take it down a peg.
Still, spring for the Naim system and, if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself less annoyed with a bizarrely-cropped Google Maps and unreliable voice navigation prompts. It is, quite honestly, one of the finest audio systems I've heard anywhere—car or otherwise—and now it finally has an infotainment system worth interacting with.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
After settling in at the helm, I hit the center-mounted start button and the W-12 quietly rumbled to life. Even when pressed the big mill rarely makes its voice heard, though switching over to the Sport driving mode does help clear its throat a bit.
Though Bentley touts the Continental's newfound athletic ability, the car is still most in its element when gliding along with subdued purpose. At freeway speeds the cabin is essentially silent aside from the road noise generated by the low profile tires it's outfitted with. A smaller wheel paired with a bit more sidewall would go a long way toward addressing this, though with the massive brakes on hand here, the big hoops are somewhat of a necessity. Forward thrust feels effortless, and despite its girth, the Continental's massive well of torque gets the big coupe moving in a hurry and with shocking immediacy.
While Comfort mode might be the car's most natural state, Sport mode is not a total throwaway. Easily accessible from a rotary knob on the center console, it stiffens up the suspension and keeps the transmission in lower gears for more immediate response, though I did find myself switching the gearbox over to full-manual paddle shifting out in the hills to keep the revs in the sweet spot as often as possible.
Still, it's clear that carving corners is not where the Bentley is most at home. Paired with relatively light steering that's low on feedback, the Continental's weight is evident whenever it's asked to change direction with haste. While it does so with commendable tenacity, it never really feels particularly enthusiastic about it, and the seats—which are high on comfort but low on bolstering—tell a story where luxury takes precedence over outright performance capability.
Like its predecessor, the Continental GT is at its best when tasked with soaking up the miles, be them at Autobahn speeds or whilst inching along in traffic with the proletariat. Its style and overall execution never betray the expectation of a Bentley, and although the company has made a clear effort to trim the fat and bring a sense of youthful exuberance to the table, it never feels contrived or gimmicky. Instead, the 2019 Bentley Continental GT builds on the strengths of its predecessor while addressing its shortcomings. It's the next iteration of the original concept, and that is a very good thing indeed.