THE WORLD OF ULTRALUXURY turns slowly on purpose, well outside the gauche orbit of anything resembling fad. The Continental GT in particular has stood aloof from the planned obsolescence of trends—Bentley has been using the nameplate since the Fifties on a series of gorgeous, potent grand tourers. Every so often, however, comes an evolutionary leap.
At first glance, the latest Continental GT does not appear to be one of those jumps. It wears basically the same look it has since 2003, shortly after Volkswagen Group acquired and reinvigorated the Flying B brand, founding a flourishing modern Bentley aesthetic. But upon closer examination, the changes are not just significant, they’re fundamental.
The previous two Continental GTs were built atop a stout platform that underpinned the VW Phaeton ultraluxury sedan. That formula was successful. Crewe has sold an incredible 66,000 GTs since 2003 and carved out a unique position: The coupe is capable enough to compete with sportier models like the Aston Martin DB series or Ferrari’s front-engine grand tourers but has an imperious, luxurious vibe that only the latest Mercedes-AMG S63 and S65 coupes come close to imitating.
The Phaeton platform, rooted in Audi’s Quattro technology, pushed the engine far ahead of the front axles, loading weight toward the nose and dictating snub-snouted proportions. The new car still benefits from the group’s economies of scale but ditches the trade-offs by sharing underpinnings with the Porsche Panamera. That means the 6.0-liter W-12 sits further back, improving weight distribution to 55/45 percent front to rear.
Just as important, the front axle shifts 5.3 inches forward, setting up more elegant proportions. While the design is clearly iterative—with four wall-eyed headlamps, crisp character channels running from hood to flanks, broad haunches mounting the rear fenders, and a tapering tumblehome out back—it appears more confident and poised. It wears chain-mailed and chrome-troughed jewelry not as distraction from a slightly ill-fitting suit, but as proud enhancement. We’ve always fancied the prior Continentals’ domineering swagger. At this one, we are swooning.
After hundreds of miles traversing the valleys, riverside towns, and bifurcating highways of the Austrian and Italian Alps, we can attest that its beauty transcends appearances. From takeoff, especially using the new Sport Launch mode, the Conti provides astonishing propulsive capabilities, especially considering its 4950-pound weight. Blasting out of a Tyrolean village at the start of our drive, the thrust of the 626-hp W-12 is immediate and infinite, its 664 lb-ft of torque available basically at idle (1350 rpm). Bentley’s first dual-clutch transmission, a ZF eight-speed, grabs gears assertively, and the exhaust sousaphones in our wake, stunning villagers and sheep alike. Roadway or traction would run out long before shove. Top speed is 207 mph.
On the mountain passes that line these countries’ jagged borders, the Conti reveals another dimension: It is a driver’s car. Credit the improvement in how its weight is balanced, but also a new level of technological trickery. An active anti-roll bar and three-chamber air suspension, both developed by Porsche, allow for more variance in ride stiffness. The all-wheel-drive system is rear-biased by default, sending up to 38 percent of the W-12’s torque to the front when necessary. Adjustments to the various systems are constant, minuscule, and for the most part, imperceptible. Even as we are through narrow, cobblestoned mountain tunnels, the car feels as if it is riding on a bed of memory foam.
In Comfort mode—with the optional massaging seat tamping our spines, the top-of-the-line 2200-watt Naim stereo jamming our cochleas, and the available traffic-sign-reading head-up display futilely admonishing us of the posted speed limit—two hours on the autostrada feels like teleporting. In Sport mode, it’s possible to crank the wheel around an Alpine switchback, force the optional 315/30ZR-22 Pirelli rear tires to shriek and break loose, then blast along the subsequent incline. Massive brakes catch you just in time to dispatch the next hairpin.
The Continental’s interior tranquilizes any anxiety produced by such antics. Bentley has always been known for sumptuous cabins—clubby leather and wood rooms in which you can almost smell the scotch. But this new design advances the brand’s language. It’s chic and tailored without recalling archaic traditions, and it has finally done away with lingering components from the VW parts bin. Clean, modern “wings,” inspired by the iconic Flying B emblem, soar from the center console and wrap the passengers in bands of veneer, milled aluminum, or any other material you can afford. Countless stitches and perforations create Escher-like patterns in the flawless leather of the doors, seats, and headliner. Diamond-shaped knurling on the metal knobs lures our touch. Even the speaker grilles are pierced into expressive herringbones.
The centerpiece of the interior is an optional rotating display in the center stack. Like the trick license plate on a Bond car, this billboard to opulence spins at the touch of a button to display a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen or a trio of superannuated analog gauges. When the engine is turned off, the piece rotates once more to reveal a smooth panel of wood veneer, integrating with the rest of the dash like a haunted castle’s secret door.
This three-sided display delivers consistent delight, a key component in a passion purchase of a $200,000- coupe. But it can also be seen to represent the trinity united in this car—technological marvel, analog heritage, and outstanding craftsmanship. And that the world of ultraluxury is now turning a bit more quickly.