BY DYLAN CAMPBELL
“THE BILL” must be discussed only in hushed voices around the water coolers of the Volkswagen Audi Group. And no, we don’t mean the popular British cop show, but something rather more unsavoury. And it’s paying this “bill” that is driving a level of homogenisation and efficiency-seeking within the VAG we’ve not seen between sister companies before.
Take the new Bentley Continental GT, which has just arrived in Australia. A brand new generation of car replacing the best-selling previous model, it is, ostensibly, a Porsche Panamera underneath, built off the same ‘MSB’ platform. Obviously it’s shortened and made into a coupe. The body-in-white is even built alongside the Porsche at its Leipzig plant, before being shipped to Crewe in England for final assembly.
Fortunately, though, aside from some obvious Audi and other Porsche bits inside, that’s where the homogenisation ends for the big, boldly styled Bentley. In goes Crewe’s own 467kW/900Nm 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12, an engine the Brits are exporting back to the Germans, no less, for service in cars like the Audi A8 and VW Phaeton. It’s connected up to an eight-speed doppelkupplung - sorry, twin-clutch - automatic and on-demand all-wheel drive system, ready to shift its almost unbelievable 2244kg heft to 100km/h in a bitumen-excavating 3.7 seconds. Meanwhile, also attempting to counteract the laws of physics, there is air suspension and a 48v active anti-roll bar system - all items that would share part numbers, we presume, with certain turbo Panamera models.
Not that this matters, really. At low speeds, where the Continental GT is going to spend the bulk of its time, this is a properly sublime car. Well insulated from road noise and with a wafty ride, it’s a joy to feel the deep-pile carpets or expensive, expansive leathers. The interior doesn’t feel as special or as ‘tailor made’ as the old Continental GT - perhaps this is another way of saying the build quality has improved - but no customer is going to complain it’s a chore of a place to sit.
For all its effortless power and incredible performance hardware, driving fast and having a bit of a go feels like something the new Conti GT can do, but not something you really desire to do. While providing some serious acceleration, the W12 could be a V6 for all you could tell, noisewise. Hard cornering is nothing really enjoyable either, the big Bentley sitting oddly flat as its active anti-roll bars artificially delete most of the body roll. There is the feeling, as well, that you are giving the front tyres and huge front brakes (420mm discs, 10-piston calipers) a hell of a time, the balance of the car, with that huge engine, very much secure and safe understeer. All the while, it feels like myriad computer systems are at work underneath you trying to cajole 2244kg into feeling more like 1800kg, only half successfully.
Be in no doubt, the Conti GT is fast. But it also oddly goes to great lengths to hide exactly how quick you’re going - until you look down at the speedo and have a conniption.
This is a car you come away from respecting, even admiring, rather than lusting to drive for longer. It does depend on what kind of driving we’re talking, of course. If you’ve got a lot of miles to cover, the Continental GT is as comfortable, lush and luxurious a grand tourer as they come. And that’s what it does excellently - grand tour, city or country. If that’s the brief, the Continental GT meets it admirably. Many previous Conti GT customers, who may live in Los Angeles for example, will find the new Conti GT exactly what they’re after - and the new interior tech especially welcome.
But those who know of the Bentley Boys, with visions of a Continental GT3 racer for the road - frankly, any MOTOR reader who likes to poke their car a bit no matter what it is - is best to wait for other models, like the twin-turbo 4.0litre Continental GT V8. Or if you must have 12 cylinders, the incoming, as-yetannounced GT Speed sounds like a proper dish.
Still a while off for that one, there is no shortage of competitors after the patronage of those both impatient and brand agnostic, be that Aston Martin with its saucy rear-drive DB11 AMR, or even Benz with its brutish AMG S65 Coupe. Forgetting, of course, about the outlay, because unlike Bentley and its VAG overlords, bills aren’t really something the average Continental GT owner loses sleep over.