There’s nothing like a grand tour from Britain to the Continent to put Bentley’s newest 207mph grand tourer through its paces.
For it’s exactly what the British luxury car firm’s new third generation Continental GT was designed for – whether it be a whizz down to the sunshine of the Med, or packing the skis for some alpine fun.
As a Bentley Boy for the day I had the chance to experience it for myself on a mini-epic drive through the Alps for breakfast in Austria, a bowl of pasta for lunch in Italy, and then back to across the border just in time for wiener schnitzel for tea in the new Crewe-built Continental GT.
As I flew to Innsbruck to start the journey, it wasn’t quite a pan-European grand tour, but certainly enough of a jaunt to get a measure of the car.
The Grand Tour: Daily Mail Motoring Editor Ray Massey (pictured) took Bentley’s new Continental GT on a blast across the Austrian and Italian border for a first taste of the Crewe-built cruiser
Around 70,000 Continental GTs have been sold since the first modern iteration was unleashed in 2003 by the firm’s then new owners Volkswagen Group. After a couple of modest face-lifts the second generation went on sale from 2011.
But the third generation is a more significant departure – on looks alone you can see at a glance it is lower, sleeker, more streamlined, and the weight of an average man (around 80kg) lighter.
It was first unveiled at the Frankfurt motor Show, in September, where the significantly streamlined body, slimmed down face and re-worked rear became instantly apparent.
It takes its exterior cues from the aviation fuselages of vintage planes from the 1930s with concave and convex shapes. Think of the machines Leonardo de Caprio was flying when he played tycoon Howard Hughes in the movie The Aviator.
With a price-tag starting from £159,100, it is designed, engineered, hand-crafted and built in Britain at the firm’s factory in Crewe, which employs 4,000 people.
So important is the car to Bentley that they actually delayed the planned driving launch by a few months until now to tweak the computer software that controls the eight-speed automatic gearbox because the gear changes weren’t smooth enough.
A limited run of First Editions. carrying a Union Jack flag and a hefty mark-up will signal first deliveries this summer. Bentley say the UK is sold out for a year. The US will be a huge market, as will China.
With a price-tag starting from £159,100, the 2018 Continental GT is designed, engineered, hand-crafted and built in Britain at Bentley’s 4,000-employee strong factory in Crewe
The latest Bentley to hit the maket takes its exterior cues from the aviation fuselages of vintage planes from the 1930s with concave and convex shapes
For a car of its size, Ray Massey said he found the steering and handling surprisingly light and responsive and not at all heavy
What’s the Bentley Continental GT like to drive?
Bentley Continental GT: Will it fit in my garage?
Price: From £159,100
Built: Crewe, England
On sale: Now
Weight: 2.244 tonnes
Engine: 6.0 litre W12 turbo-charged TSI petrol
Power: 635 PS (626bhp)
Gears: 8-speed dual clutch automatic (with manual override)
Drive: Active all-wheel drive
Top speed: 207mph
0-62mph (100km/hr): 3.7 seconds
CO2 emissions: 278g/km
Wheels: 21 inch standard, 22 inch option
Like the original 2003 launch version, it is a spiritual successor to Bentley’s achingly gorgeous R-Type Continental of 1952 in which you can imagine Grace Kelly and Cary Grant gliding down to Monte Carlo and Nice.
So what’s it like to actually drive?
Great fun – on many levels. And surprisingly practical too for everyday use.
Fire it up and there’s a reassuring but still rather refined Bentley roar.
For a car of its size I found the steering and handling surprisingly light and responsive – not at all heavy.
And like a very good actor it can play many characters.
That’s thanks in part to three main drive settings: Comfort for everyday driving, Bentley for long distance touring, and Sport for a more dynamic drive, plus a fourth for customising it for yourself.
Fancy a sports car? Put it into sports mode and you are away.
There is a welcome rush of controlled power but smoothly and seamlessly so. This is no brute. It is well honed athlete with balance poise and agility.
Navigating the hairpin bends of the Grossglockner pass, rising to a height of 2,504m making it the highest road in Austria, was a doddle as the GT swung elegantly around the tightest of curves before, at the press of the accelerator, roaring off into the mountains.
Brakes are suitably firm and secure and are the most powerful system ever fitted to a Bentley, with a total of 28 pistons.
Ray Massey pictured at the wheel of the new Bentley. As you can see, the interior has a wealth of technology with digital screens in the dash and replacing the instrument cluster
Ray started the day with breakfast in Austria before crossing the border to Italy for a pasta lunch
By sunset, Ray Massey was back in Austria just in time for wiener schnitzel for dinner
It’s even well-mannered in sport mode through towns and villages. But if you just want to amble around, then comfort mode will keep you relaxed and chilled. The Bentley mode is a good compromise between the two.
Beating at its heart is a powerful and enhanced 6.0-litre W12 turbo-charged petrol engine developing 626 brake-horsepower and linked to a slick new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
You can sense the power about to be unleashed you press the accelerator, speeding it from rest to 60mph in just 3.6 seconds – 0.7 seconds faster than its predecessor. Often I ran out of road before feeling the full effect.
The 207 top speed is 9mph faster than the outgoing car and more than adequate for derestricted German autobahns, but even a dab of that throttle is a threat to your licence if you try this back in Blighty.
However, despite improvements to fuel efficiency – it averages 23.2mpg compared to 19.9mpg for the previous model – it’s still a gas-guzzler.
CO2 emissions are a hefty 278g/km despite a 16 per cent improvement helped by the reduced weight and start-stop technology that cuts out the engine at idle.
The back seats can be a little cramped for adults but should be adequate for families with young children
Inside the Bentley is luxurious and comfortable with lots of small details adding to the feel
The driver can tailor the screen behind the steering wheel to show what they want to see
What’s the Continental GT like inside?
Bentley are rightly proud of what it says is the most hi-tech car it has ever launched, with the world’s first three-way rotating dashboard that takes its inspiration from James Bond’s famous revolving number plate.
The clever triangular Toblerone-style device has three different dashboard faces, and the driver can choose which one to view.
At first glance the fascia of the sporty new Bentley Continental GT displays a clear smooth wood veneer. But fire up the engine and the middle of the dashboard glides silently forward and rotates to reveal a 12.3-inch display screen with three windows for navigation, telephone and general media.
At the flick of a switch, the driver can spin it again to reveal a third face – showing three analogue dials displaying outside temperature, a compass and a chronometer.
It is inspired by the rotating number-plate gadget used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger on 007’s gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5.
The clever triangular Toblerone-style device has three different dashboard faces, and the driver can choose which one to view. At first it appears to be a plain piece of veneer but then it moves round to reveal the touchscreen display
The interior resembles a snug cockpit with a design that’s reminiscent of art deco aviation
It is the most technologically advanced Bentley ever produced – with 2,300 circuit boards, five miles of wiring, 92 electronic control units and controlled by 100 million lines of computer code (15 times more than on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner)
The rest of the interior resembles a snug cockpit with a design that’s reminiscent of art deco aviation styling.
Each individual interior is crafted from nine northern European bull hides stitched together with 1.7 miles of thread. The leather is shaved to just 1mm thickness to save weight. Diamond-style patterning on-seat embroidery includes 712 stitches per diamond shape, totalling more than 310,000 stitches per car.
Each luxury handcrafted cabin has 10 square metres of veneer wood that takes nine hours to create and fit.
While you can definitely enjoy the engine roar of the 6.-0-litre motor, drivers won’t have to hear the awful sound of tyre rumble. That’s because the special Pirelli P Zero tyres have a noise cancelling system which reduces road noise coming into the cabin.
There are 17 basic exterior paint options – including this Orange Flame – plus 70 in extended range
Ray said the Bentley Continental GT isn’t completely faultless. The A-pillars splitting the windscreen and front side windows are so thick that it’s difficult to see around them at junctions
The Daily Mail’s Motoring Editor also didn’t like the flimsy feel of some of the controls in the cockpit
But it’s not an entirely glowing report on first impressions as there are a couple of slight niggles.
The windscreen pillars are quite thick, for safety reasons, which can obscure vision when turning the tightest corners.
And the indicator and other stalks feel a bit lightweight and blingy – out of keeping with the solid feel of the rest of the car.
To prove its grand touring credentials, it has been tested over more than 600,000 miles around the globe in temperatures from sub-zero to 50C.
This was from the Middle East and South Africa to the America and China – and even on a special piece of potholed road near the firm’s Pym’s Lane factory, which Bentley persuaded the local council to leave unrepaired because it gives such a good real-world experience of wear and tear on UK highways.
I can’t wait to take it on tour of the UK – from Land’s End to John O’Groats. And maybe back again.
Bentley Continental GT facts
- Most technologically advanced Bentley ever produced – with 2,300 circuit boards, five miles of wiring (8km), 92 electronic control units and controlled by 100million lines of computer code (15 times more than on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner)
- World’s first three-way rotating dashboard
- Each interior is crafted from nine northern European bull hides stitched together with 1.7miles (2.8km) of thread
- Eight handcrafted veneers plus four dual veneer and 15 choices of interior trim hide
- Diamond-style pattern on knobs and trim inspired by luxury Swiss watch-makers . Special Cotes de Geneve finish machined on aluminium just 0.6mm thick
- 20-way adjustable seats with cooling, heating and massage functions
- A fully digital instrument panel that can be configured to suit the driver
- 17 basic exterior paint options, plus 70 in extended range
- Three audio systems including a top of the range Naim system with 18 speakers and active bass
- Soundproofing, including full acoustic glazing, makes cabin is 9db quieter and special Pirelli P Zero tyres with noise cancelling system to reduce road rumble
- Up to 12 ultra-sonic sensors, six cameras and short- and long-range radar allow the car to respond to potential dangers around it
- Headlights featuring the latest LED matrix technology with lamps inspired by the finest cut-crystal glasses
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