It’s fairly astonishing to contemplate the fact that the Bentley Continental GT has been with us now for about 17 years. It feels like just yesterday that the British carmaker, newly under the wing of corporate parent Volkswagen, foisted this sporty GT onto the ultra-luxury world, giving it 200-mph capability despite its prodigious weight. It became an instant and virtually peerless legend.
But it’s also a counter-intuitive lesson in this age of ultralight everything: Weight can be your ally. If you take the need to push the limits of fuel economy out of the equation—the CGT has performed well enough in this regard over its three generations, though it’s still a high-performance car—weight not only boost safety in accidents, but it is arguably the key arrow in the quiver for luxury vehicle engineers. It absorbs all the myriad disruptions in the pavement and tunes out vibrations.
Technology, however, has added more arrows to that quiver, and Bentley pretty brilliantly fired everything it’s got at the new Continental GT. Not only are both the W12-powered and V8 versions better balanced than the first two generations, thanks to more aft engine placement, but the V8 in particular is essentially a master class in weight management. The result is a spry and agile sports tourer that also rides with effortless grace and ease, as thought on permanent rails.
The new V8 powered GT has a lot going on—a new dual-clutch transmission, a driver-tunable air suspension with, for the first time, a control knob for adjustment, an optional active roll bar that dials out the mass-induced sway with preternatural ease, and a newly engineered and optimized 4-liter V8 cranking out 542 horsepower and 569 pound-feet of torque. Though the W12 has much to recommend it—including a throttle that feels truly bottomless—the twin-turbo V8 is the one to get. It's nearly as quick to 60, hitting it in 3.9 seconds versus the 12’s 3.6, it simply feels in every respect sportier, and it's cheaper—the coupe rings in at $201,225 and the convertible at $221,075, whereas the W12 is about $16,000 more for either model.
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On a recent test drive, it simply flew down the road—or at least, it felt like it was regardless of your actual speed. The CGT V8, is a powered glider that performs in ways no other car does. The more aggressive GTs and sports cars behave like that, with typically minimally muffled vibrations and raw energy—and that’s great. More conventional touring GT’s, including the BMW 8-Series and the Astons, are equally luxurious but feel always a hair thinner than the big Bent, in ways that many would prefer, given its sourcing in relative lightness. But that heaviness lends the Bentley its own unique quality, both on the road and even visually. Its newly honed styling and more natural and evolved posture further push its visual presence. It looks elegant and smart and powerful, and it commands attention. This is especially in the new Rose Gold finish, which has become my new surprise favorite color due to its shimmering, almost liquid-metal appearance in bright sunlight.
Inside, the cabin is appropriately cosseting and comfortable, and the new V8 has a few tricks up its sleeve, including a three-panel rotating dashboard centerpiece, which allows you to show the main infotainment screen, a three analog gauges, or a minimalist wood panel. The leather is firm and gorgeously stitched, and the view from those thrones commanding. Of course, the less said about the back seats the better, but they service functional purpose for holding stuff you want to stay accessible, like overnight bags, camera bags, or your kids.
When the Continental GT fist came out, I argued at the time that it was the one car I’d truly want to attempt the Cannonball Run in—effortlessly quick yet sublimely comfortable, and an authoritative presence without being gaudy. It fit in pretty much any context, and that’s even more true today.