THE OLD Bentley Continental GT was a prime example of modern car-building. Essentially, it was a rehashed Volkswagen Phaeton but with more poke, two fewer doors and an extremely luxurious interior. It was expensive, but not that expensive for a Bentley.
Naturally, the press didn’t like it – it was the very antithesis of handbuilt Bentleys of old – but it sold well. Better than any previous Bentley, at least.
While that car appealed to footballers, high-ranking Big Brother contestants and a variety of other celebrities, Bentley hopes this all-new Conti will not only keep their custom but also catch a new breed of buyers: enthusiasts.
If that sounds like you, then you’ll be happy to hear that it shares its underpinnings with what is probably the best-handling four-seater sports GT currently on sale, the Porsche Panamera.
Not that you’d ever spot the connections, because its German blood is hidden under skin that’s classic British Bentley.
The large chrome grille and cut-glass headlights give it huge presence, while its rear haunches are like taught muscles above the back wheels. The sweeping rear end and teardrop taillights give the car an elegance that’s been less obvious on recent models from the company.
Inside, the padded leather seats, huge slabs of wood veneer and solid metal air vents make the interior look and feel opulent in a way nothing else at this price can manage.
On top of that, a huge range of personalisation options means you can have the cabin exactly how you want it, if you don’t mind flinging a few thousand pounds at the project.
Even the intuitive and crystal-clear 12.3in infotainment screen can be hidden behind three analogue dials at the touch of the button. That particular feature — Bentley calls it ‘digital detox’ — will cost you £4,700 alone.
If the interior is fairly traditional Bentley, the way the Continental GT drives is pleasantly different. It’s slightly lighter than the previous car and the engine’s been shoved as far behind the front axle as possible to give the car a balance that allows you to attack even tight corners with a fair amount of gusto, spurred on by reassuringly weighty steering that allows you to point the nose into a corner with great accuracy at any speed.
The Continental GT is in its element sweeping along fast A-roads. Set in ‘Bentley’ mode (which sharpens the engine’s responses, but keeps the ride supple) the suspension makes bumps all but disappear and the gearbox changes cogs imperceptibly.
The silkiness continues with the 617bhp 6-litre twin-turbocharged W12 engine. It’ll rocket the Bentley from 0-62mph in just 3.7sec, but its power delivery is so effortless and linear — the whopping peak torque figure of 664 Ib ft is available from very low revs (1,350rpm) — that you only need a light squeeze of the throttle to make rapid, yet smooth, progress. A V8 option will be made available at some point; that was the pick of the engines on the last car.
Even if you really go for it, the Bentley is an easy and reassuring car to drive quickly. The brakes (which are bigger than you’ll find on any other production car) can slow down its 2.2-ton bulk so quickly that you can feel you brain trying to escape through your nose. And thanks to its grippy four-wheel-drive system and stability control, scrubbing off speed is possible even when barrelling deep into a corner.
All this means you’d be foolish to bet against the Continental GT being at least as successful as the car it replaces. Not only does it feel as special as a Bentley should, it also handles like no standard road-going Bentley ever has before.
And, that’s something that’s bound to appeal to a new audience without scaring off the old guard. Even the press approve this time around.
Bentley Continental GT rivals
Or, for a more affordable alternative, check out the Mercedes E-class coupé.