Bentley Continental GT Coupe

Third-gen Brit bruiser knows how to soak up the hits

ANDY ENRIGHT

CAN WE talk about good decisions? The success of the third and latest generation Bentley Continental GT hinges on just one. Surprisingly, itís a decision that so many Grand Touring class cars get wrong and if Ė as Bentley is Ė youíre intent on defining the best grand tourer in the world, itís the fundamental building block of the car. That single attribute you need to nail is ride quality. Itís as simple as that.

The Continental GTís trump card is the polar opposite of a sub-eight Nurburgring lap time. Dial the diamond-knurled drive selector switch into Comfort and it rides better than any Continental GT before it. The reason for that is the new three-chamber air spring design that delivers 60 percent more air volume and a wider range of stiffness controls. Youíll feel it on city streets, where the Continental now has a properly sybaritic waftability thatís so well-honed that youíre going to spend most of your time in this mode. Some tyre noise from the custom-designed 21-inch Pirelli P Zeros Ė even with proprietary noise cancellation tech Ė defeats the double glazing, but otherwise itís a delightful place to be. At typical highway speeds, itís one of those cars that covers ground effortlessly. Has Bentley built the best? It has to be up there with a Porsche Panamera on that score, which is no great surprise, given the commonality of engineering between the two cars.

Point the lower and wider nose at a twistier road and switch the Conti into Sport and it does a fairly convincing impression of a sports car when driven at seventenths. Go harder than that and the suspension starts to run out of travel as 2252kg of car starts to hammer into compressions and massive unsprung weights contend with mid-corner bumps. Drive goes to all four wheels, but thereís a clear rear bias. In Comfort, a maximum of 38 percent of the 900Nm of torque can go to the front tyres, while in Sport, thatís dialled back still further to 17 percent.

The eight-speed ZF dual-clutch transmission is a curious choice. Just when most manufacturers are re-embracing increasingly sharp-witted torque-converter automatics, Bentley has instead decided to go the other way. We remain unconvinced that, at low speeds at least, a dual-clutch Ė even with a dual-mass flywheel Ė can slur between shifts quite as smoothly as a torque-converter automatic.

The price before on-roads of most Conti GT W12s is bound to start with a 5 rather than a 4, as most buyers will also purchase the optional City and Touring specification packs. The former removes some of the worry about manoeuvring this car with decidedly limited three- quarter visibility by adding a suite of cameras and sensors as well as auto-dimming door mirrors. Touring specification nets you adaptive cruise, a head-up display, lane-keep assist, night vision and AEB. It seems a bit rich to charge extra for features youíd find on a Kia, but the two packs are $10,382 and $16,245 respectively.

Despite the niggles about options, Bentley has pretty much nailed the brief on this car. Itís a delight of a GT car, with a useable 358-litre boot, a 900km range and a 333km/h top speed that ensures youíll always have plenty in reserve. Itís a half-milliondollar-plus proposition in typical trim, but what price do you put on the best grand tourer in the world? The Continental GT might just have the talent to claim that crown. Even with this sort of financial commitment, some decisions are easier than others.

ANDY ENRIGHT

01 BOARD; RIGID

New Conti shares its MSB platform with second-generation Panamera; wheelbase grows 135mm compared with its predecessor. Each entire body side is a single piece of Ďsuper formedí aluminium.

02 GIVES LIP WHEN CORNERED

The optional rotating digital screen ($12,319) is a real showstopper, flipping the central 12.3-inch screen around to display a trio of analogue dials displaying engine temperature, compass and chronograph.

03 NOT LISTENING

Itís easiest to think of the W12 as two narrow-angle V6s sharing a common crankshaft. The layout makes for a more compact engine compared with a V12, and the reduced length aids the packaging of all-wheel drive.

Welcome to the Matrix

The LED matrix headlights on the new Continental GT are said to be modelled on the look of expensive lead crystal glasses. We all love a bit of bling, but the lights offer a functional edge, utilising the LED matrix tech as seen on high-end Audis. Bentley claims youíll be able to use high beam 80 percent more than before, and itíll even recognise pedestrians and keep them in a cone of low-beam light. The lights are just part of a suite of tech in the car that sees it fitted with 100 ECUs and over 8km of cabling.

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera $512,000

Makes more power and identical torque from a smaller 12-pot than the bruising Bentley, and projects a more dynamic image, but doesnít have quite the same road-isolating wafting qualities.

Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupe $501,426

A rarity among road cars in that it cracks the magic 1000Nm from its twin-turbo V12, and funnels all that grunt through the rear tyres. Clobbers the Bentley for technology, if not badge exclusivity.