There’s a key point in Bentley’s timeline that we can call BC: Before Continental. So vital was the first Conti GT – not only for sales, but setting a template and tone for the whole brand – that you could easily argue that were it not for the two-door coupe Bentley might very well not be with us today. 66,000 have been sold in the last 13 years. That’s a huge number. The most successful luxury car of modern times? Probably.
And now there’s a new one. It must sell well, and it must still be the focal point for the whole brand, to embody what a Bentley is so we don’t assume it’s an SUV with a body image problem. It’s a handsome thing, the new Conti GT, at least in profile, where the front wheels have been shifted forward 135mm to improve the weight distribution and drop the engine lower and further back in the chassis.
55 per cent of the weight still sits on those front wheels, but there’s less of it than before – the body alone is 80kg lighter, helping the new Conti GT weigh ‘only’ 2,244kg. But Bentley has made no secret of the fact that a heavy kerbweight actually helps deliver the road-crushing stability and momentum that characterises the way its cars drive. Powerful 48v electrics from the Bentayga are used – among other things – to manage the suspension, actuators on front and rear anti-roll bars combating body roll. The set 40:60 power split is now fully variable, actually sending 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels as often as possible to the benefit of fuel efficiency and emissions.
Not that a combined economy figure of 23.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 278g/km are much to celebrate. The W12 engine (basically two V6s on a common crank) is carried over, albeit modified enough for Bentley to declare it the ‘most advanced 12 cylinder engine in the world’. It features cylinder shut off under light loads, while also producing 626bhp and a thumping 664lb ft of torque from a mere 1,350rpm, maintaining that through to 4,500rpm. Powering all four wheels through an eight-speed gearbox and featuring a launch control system, 0-62mph takes 3.7secs and top speed (largely thank to a slippery 0.29Cd drag factor) is 207mph.
Standard specification includes full Matrix LED lights, a 12.3in central touchscreen, wifi, head-up display, night vision, a 650w stereo and 21-inch wheels. Pricing starts at £159,100, putting this in direct competition with the likes of the Aston Martin DB11, Mercedes S63 Coupe and Ferrari Portofino. In time other versions will doubtless become available – a twin turbo V8 and almost certainly a hybrid, a convertible and so on. But this first version is the one that counts. The car that carries the weight of Bentley’s expectations on its broad shoulders.