Drivers behind the wheel of Bentley's Continental GT always have that smug look on their faces that says they are in the midst of an occasion just so much better than anything else our lives are currently experiencing. Could it be true? Perhaps.
In the name of research, and just because we wanted to pursue happiness ourselves, we borrowed one from our friends at Bentley Motors to see what the hubbub was all about. Put on your blue blazer and yellow silk ascot, and hop in as we go down to the club to check out the latest from W.O. Bentley's stable of fine motorcars.
What is it?
A two-plus-two, it is a grand touring coupe of the highest order. Incorporating all-wheel-drive technology, and a W12 engine (from Bentley's corporate cousins at VW Group), it highlights the art of making bespoke automobiles.
As bespoke as a mass-produced (well, not "mass produced" in the Chevy Malibu sort of way) car can get, the Continental GT offers a seemingly endless list of personalization touches. We'd be happy with any of them, but we do snicker at the $400 plus charged for Bluetooth.
We found another by-product of the majestic sporting coupe. It has the magical ability to cause cars to move immediately out of the way once the big Bentley mesh grille fills up a lesser vehicle's rear-view mirror. The only thing that comes close to offering this level of menacing presence is a Ford Crown Victoria. And that's for a different reason altogether.
What's it up against?
Maserati Gran Turismo, for one, followed by the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class
lineup, which includes the 550, and AMG-tuned CL63 and CL65 models.
Then there is the Aston Martin DB9
with its almost uninhabitable rear seat. We are not saying you can't fit back there. Just that we don't want to be forced to sit back there.
LEDs galore in the headlight surrounds help to draw attention to the redesign. New crisper shoulders and knees adorn the body and a redesigned rear, uh, pulls up the rear.
A mild increase in power and new options including a Naim Audio system designed specifically for this vehicle add to the list of what's new on this, the second generation of Continental GT since 2003.
How does it look?
Seen alone, the Bentley Continental GT
appears almost identical to the preceding model. Almost. If you're familiar with all things modern Bentley, you will instantly notice the lines are not so curvy along the body creases, and body cuts (where parts join together) have changed. Also apparent is the new wider track that assists with improved handling.
The fastback returns and still looks quite good. A new below-the-bumper mesh grille that carries over the main grille's theme runs the full width of the front fascia. Our "Havan" brown metallic example was actually quite a bit more attractive than most photographs let on.
Overall, the CGT, as insiders know it, is even more athletic looking than the model it replaces. When taking in the side view, the roofline contributes to a more agile profile. But like a slightly porky man who appears svelte in a Zegna suit, looks can be deceiving: This sporting Bentley tips the scales at around 5,100 lbs.
And on the inside?
Sumptuousness on the inside. The Continental GT is fully laden, with enough leather for a cattle ranch, as well as ample brushed metal, chrome and other commodities to cause a spike at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
And let's not forget the Breitling analog timepiece in the center of the dash. Take that, Cartier.
Little in the way of road and engine noise penetrates the vault-like interior, thanks to the use of an acoustic windscreen and side glazing. The silence allows the occupants to take in the custom saffron and burnt oak-dyed hides that even show up in hand-stitched glory on the two-toned steering wheel, which naturally includes redundant controls and a winged Bentley crest.
Dark-stained burled walnut brings a sense of nature into the interior as well, but to our eyes it's almost as dark as piano black. Regardless, the craftsmen-and-women of Bentley Motors in Crewe really know how to turn a car out.
The front seats, more like chairs, offer heat, ventilation, and massage to ease the drive home following the long days on the trading floor or the marina where the yacht is berthed. Rear seat passengers needn't fret, though, because their accommodations are heat enabled as well. Facing the front seat occupants is an eyebrow-like dual-binnacle dashboard that appears as though it could accommodate both right and left hand drive build orders. A four-faced gauge panel offers speedometer, tachometer, water temperature and fuel gauges. At the top of the cluster is an LCD screen that displays navigation, audio, and telephone data, as well as trip and mileage odometers. In between it all is an eight-inch display that houses navigation and audio readouts for the stellar Naim Audio for Bentley system.
And we usually leave this space to discuss the quality of interior materials selected. Moving on...
But does it go?
The Bentley Continental GT for 2012 is a probably one of the world's fastest two-and-a-half-ton conveyances on the road today. Thanks to a tweaking of its 6.0-liter W12 twin-turbocharged engine, the CGT sees an increase to 567 horsepower (+15) and 516 lb-ft (+37) of torque.
A ZF-built six-speed automatic with slapshift or paddleshift functionality routes the W12's power to a 40:60 rear-biased all-wheel-drive system. ZF also had a hand in the speed-sensitive servotronic steering that provided a lithe touch to the wheel, and despite the car's overall size, actually transmitted excellent road feel.
The Continental GT rides on 20-inch Pirelli P-Zero high performance tires, whose footprints are assured by the computer-controlled pneumatic suspension system. The system works with a quad-link double wishbone system in front and a trapezoidal multi-link setup in back. Anti-roll bars hang at both ends, and the air-suspension is dynamically operating, instantly adapting to changing road surfaces as they occur. The net effect, we found, was a car that was eager to impress you with its handling abilities, performing feats that would be more appropriate in cars half its size.
The power from the hand-built, made in Crewe, W12 is phenomenal. We were stunned by the rapid acceleration that seemingly defies every law of physics. Power came on as low as 1,500 rpm and stayed with us "til redline. Having a speeding bullet under foot is comforting, knowing it's there when you need it.
And this one's good for 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 198 mph. Fuel mileage estimates call for 11/24 mpg, a colossal difference. Using the ECO function on the LCD told us we were averaging 15 mpg. For those who tend towards the green or at least more efficient side of luxury, a sippier 4.0-liter V8 comes online later this year, in part to keep federal regulators happy. Hey, it'll be cheaper, too.
The ride to and from the country club""yes, really""we were headed there for a family wedding, was relaxing and amusing at the same time. We loved how the CGT made hay when called upon to pass lally-gaggers, and also managed to slow down in a split-second, thanks to the huge (16-inch front, 13.4-inch rear) carbon silicon carbide platters that double as brake rotors. But more than that, it was a head-turner of the highest order, even in Havana Brown.
Why you would buy it:
You want a custom-bespoke-automobile. Money is no object, (nor are gas prices) and Bentley designers will be there to protect you from any bad-taste genes you may have lurking beneath the surface. After all, Bentley has a reputation to keep, too.
Why you wouldn't
You can have my Prius when you pry my cold dead hands from its steering wheel.
Leftlane's bottom line
An automobile that truly prescribes to the notion that it's not just about the destination; it's also the journey. And a journey would be none-better than behind the wheel of a Continental GT.
At the end of the day, the Bentley Continental GT is an example of a high-end Grand Tourer, as its name implies, that can be built as mild-or-as wild as your bank, brokerage, or trust fund account will allow.
2012 Bentley Continental GT
base price, $189,900. As tested, $201,670.
Deep pile mats, $380; Veneered case, $550; Ventilated front seats, $820; Naim Audio, $7,180; Bluetooth, $435; Rearview camera, $1,135; Chrome matrix lower grille, $1,010; Valet key, $260.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.