There’s something about Bentley. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as a sublime combination of luxury, style and performance. I’m guilty of being called a Bentley fanboy by a number of my friends, and it’s for good reason.
My first experience with a Bentley was with the range-topping Continental GT Speed, which is powered by a twin-turbocharged, six-litre W12 engine. While power and torque are exceptionally abundant and you’re never – ever – wanting for more acceleration, the interior is finished with authentic materials of the highest quality. What’s more, the olfactory experience inside the cabin of a Bentley is unique, where the smells of the finest leathers and wool carpets meld into what is perhaps best described as the scent of luxury.
Ultimately, the ease of acceleration from the powerful engine, relaxed driving, surprisingly high levels of handling, and the way every touch point conveys the feeling of quality, creates a motoring experience unlike any other car available today.
While for decades Bentley’s history was tied closely to that of Rolls-Royce, “a Bentley is made to be driven and enjoyed from the driver’s seat,” as my father used to tell me, a Rolls-Royce owner himself. While they roll over the scales starting at well over two tonnes, the overall performance of any model in the Bentley range is as competent as its interior is as luxurious, and that is unmatched by any other automobile available today.
What’s truly remarkable is the way a Bentley is perceived by other motorists or even pedestrians. As I discovered during my experience with the GT Speed all over southern California, it presents the world with an image of undeniable prestige and luxury. Even on the roads of Los Angeles, I thought motorists would be jaded by the appearance of the Bentley, but I was instead surprised to have my picture taken almost every time I ventured out for a drive. That experience has been repeated with every model Bentley I’ve subsequently tested, whether it’s the Mulsanne, Flying Spur or even the racy Continental GT3-R.
Last year, Bentley Motors Limited delivered about 11,000 cars around the world and over half of them were two-door Continental GT models. It’s undoubtedly been the company’s most successful model with over 52,000 manufactured to date. The quintessential modern Bentley has received what we’d typically call a mid-cycle refresh, but the company’s attention to detail and luxurious finishes render this update something a little more special. At Bentley’s kind request, I travelled to Norway to the range of updated 2016 Continental GTs.
Devotees to the brand will instantly recognize the new front lower fascia with its sharper and more sporting shape. A Flying B now appears on each front fender, similar to those fitted to the Mulsanne super sedan, and if you have a more discerning eye you may also notice the sharper fender lines. There are new wheel designs, including directional styles for the V8 S and W12 Speed models that lend a sportier look.
Available in both coupe and convertible models, the engines have been revised with an unnecessary but welcome bump in power for both the V8 and W12. Both engines define the notion of a flat torque curve and are still paired with the excellent eight-speed automatic transmission.
The W12-powered Speed is rated at a staggering 626 horsepower and 607 lb-ft of torque. This 6.0-litre 12-cylinder also uses a pair of turbochargers and also has a fat torque curve, making all 607 pounds of it from 2,000 to 5,000 RPM. If you’re not familiar with Bentley’s W12 engine configuration, think of it as two narrow-angle V6s mated to the same crankshaft. For the first time, the W12 now has cylinder deactivation.
In top V8 S trim, the 4.0-litre twin turbo eight-cylinder makes 521 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque. Its amazing feat is making that peak torque from 1,700 through to past 5,000 RPM, making it tremendously versatile for a relatively small displacement V8. As with all Bentleys, you’re never wanting for torque. Fuel consumption is improved with both engines, but if you enjoy accessing the generous torque as often as I do, you’ll forget any notion of efficiency.
Inside the welcoming cabin, there are two new types of leather upholstery, and something I rather enjoyed – redesigned shift levers that are a little larger and have some additional knurling for your fingertips. If you use the Continental’s shift levers as I do, you’ll appreciate this update. WiFi is now standard and supports up to eight devices. Models range in price from $240,240 for the V8 coupe (add about $15,000 to make that an S) to the top-spec W12-powered Speed Convertible at $318,780.
Of all Continental GTs, my favourite remains the V8 S because its handling is noticeably sharper than the W12 models, since the V8 engine weights about 34 kilos (75 lbs.) less than the 12-cylinder. Since all Continental motors live in the nose of the Bentley, the difference in mass is made obvious by quicker turn-in response and slightly better balanced dynamics. For me, at least, the more responsive dynamics and deeper growl of the V8 S exhaust make it easy to not miss out on the W12’s additional 100 horsepower.
As much as I enjoy the do-it-all nature of a Porsche 911 Turbo S – and it really can do everything: hypercar acceleration, four-season traction and some cargo capacity make it a uniquely versatile supercar. On the other hand, I unequivocally enjoy the majestic and serene motoring experience behind the wheel of the Rolls- Royce Wraith, but it rightly lacks any semblance of handling performance.
With its combination of exceptional luxury as well as power and handling that will satisfy any driver, the Bentley Continental GT occupies its own special place in the world of motoring. In the words of Ferris Bueller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”