Saturday, 14 May 2011

Bentley’s Continental GT Hits the Road

Bentley has always had a touch of an identity problem. A British brand universally known for comfort and elegance, it has also won Le Mans—road racing’s most grueling endurance challenge—five times. Queen Elizabeth owns a Bentley, but so did John Lennon, and the psychedelic paint job he splashed on his vintage 1956 limo might have given the queen the royal vapors.

In 2003 Bentley blended the tough and tender facets of its personality into the Continental GT, a sporty luxury coupe that went on to increase the company’s sales volume tenfold. This year Bentley rolled out the first overhaul of its superstar product: a thundering 12-cylinder, 567-horsepower GT that can run on either gasoline, bioethanol, or a combination of the two.

Styling cues from Bentleys of the past, such as double headlights and brawny rear haunches, are still apparent in the new GT’s coachwork. But the edges are softer and smoother, and the aerodynamics are improved: Our test car, weighing in at a bruising 5,115 pounds, managed to achieve effortless zero-to-60 acceleration in 4.4 seconds, as promised. We chose to take Bentley’s word for the car’s top speed of 198 m.p.h.

Inside, the gauges are simple and the column-mounted, six-gear shifting paddles are prominent and well positioned. (The transmission also runs in automatic mode.) Thankfully Bentley’s center-console touch screen—maddeningly overengineered in many other luxury vehicles—glides easily between audio, telephone, comfort controls, and Google Maps–compatible GPS. Honorable mention must be given to the hand-stitched leather seats; they are by far the coziest we have snuggled into this year. We do, however, take issue with Bentley’s claim that the cabin seats “four people in total comfort.” That might be true if the rear passengers were named Bashful and Doc, but backseat claustrophobia has always been the bugaboo of 2+2 design.

There aren’t many performance luxury coupes out there that provide a more calming ride and whippet-fast acceleration—all for a mere $211,000 (as tested). After 90 years Bentley is still delighting the thrill seeker and the coddled driver alike. It’s a pleasure to be along for the ride.

The GT’s body panels are superheated and shaped by air pressure to reduce visible seams and welds.

Bentley’s flying B motif.

Hand-stitched leather seats are offered with ten massage cells each.

The shape of the dashboard echoes the spread wings of Bentley’s emblem

The center-mounted touch screen is Google Maps–compatible and includes a 30GB hard drive for music and route data.

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