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New Bentley Continental GT hybrid prototype review: Bentley’s most powerful road car ever

The W12 engine is dead, but the new Continental GT’s hybrid V8 hits harder and uses less fuel. We sample it in prototype form

Where there were two, now there is just the one powertrain option for Bentley’s new Continental GT: a 4-litre, twin-turbocharged hybrid motor further adapted from the unit featured in Porsche’s heavily revised Panamera

With one in three Bentleys sold being a Continental GT, getting the powertrain right has not been a decision Bentley has taken lightly. Its relationship with its customers is on a par with those who car shop in Maranello, which means it not only knows what they want from their Crewe-made cars, but crucially what they don’t. And those requirements come under three core headings: Design, Performance and Technology. 

For the first of those you will need to wait until 25th June to see its new design, but in terms of what Bentley is calling the fourth generation of Continental GT, we can divulge not only the technology that underpins it, but give you an impression of the performance it offers. And there’s quite a lot of the latter. 

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With 771bhp the new Continental GT is the most powerful road going Bentley the company has created. That power figure is reached by the most advanced powertrain it has employed, too. Internally it’s called an ‘Ultra Performance Hybrid’; to the rest of us it’s a 4-litre twin-turbo V8 with a battery and sizable electric motor attached. Before you think that this is identical to a certain other high-end VW Group brand that has recently announced a similarly configured new powertrain, think again. While Lamborghini has gone down the all-new route with a 10000rpm hybrid V8, Bentley has adapted what it had before, as did Porsche when developing its updated Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid. 

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Therefore, the 3996cc block remains the same but, like the Porsche, the Continental’s turbochargers are new mono scroll items that are boosted by the e-motor to minimise turbo lag to a level you won’t notice and can run at much higher temperatures. The fuel injection system now runs at 350 bar, up from 200, to provide cleaner combustion cycles and to reduce emissions. And there’s no traditional vacuum system, either. And thanks to the e-motor there is no longer a requirement for cylinder deactivation because the engine can be switched off on the move. 

On its own the V8 produces 591bhp and 590lb ft of torque and is supported by a 25.9kWh battery that’s mounted behind the rear axle to optimise weight distribution, which is now 50/50. This battery, of which 95 percent of capacity is usable, drives an electric motor positioned within the transmission housing that produces 188bhp and a 332lb of torque to make a combined 771bhp and 738lb ft, figures that surpass the old W12. 

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Adding more numbers to these are a 0-60mph time of 3.1-seconds, 0-100mph in 6.9 and a 208mph top speed. Plus there’s 50 miles of electric range, which can be deployed at up to 100mph and 75 percent throttle application. 

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This is not simply an engine upgrade, however, as Bentley has taken the opportunity to get under the car’s new skin and update the chassis, too. Out goes the three-chamber air suspension and in its place an all-new twin-chamber air spring system that is accompanied by new two-valve dampers that can go from max rebound to full compression far quicker than before due to the ECU having complete control over the independent compression and rebound damping, resulting in improved body control. 

Active all-wheel drive remains, but there’s a new electronic limited-slip rear diff, new all-wheel steering, torque vectoring front-to-rear and the across both axles and Bentley’s Dynamic Ride active anti-roll system has been thoroughly overhauled, so too the ESC software. Not only is it the most powerful Bentley, but the most advanced too. 

It’s also one of the most impressive to drive from behind the wheel. Although two quick laps of the Monteblanco circuit in the shadow of Barcelona is not the most extensive test of this pre-production prototype. It is enough to demonstrate that the calibration of the electric drive unit is well judged – the V8 only ignites when you bury the throttle, where similar powertrains can be too eager to introduce ICE power at the slightest application of power. The engine comes in with a hefty shove rather than a seamless transition, something Bentley says is intentional. 

The combined power and torque sources provide the GT (the launch model will be in Speed trim only) with a considerable step up in performance. Its responses are considerably improved over the outgoing V8’s reactions and the W12’s mighty muscle. On track (yes, not a Conti’s natural home) it allows you to experience the dialled up agility, the tighter body control, calmer reactions and a more tightly tied-down car than before. Under heavy braking, a hybrid’s achilles’ heel, the GT’s pedal remains consistent with an impressive level of modulation even over less than perfect surfaces.

Such short exposure to its new powertrain and dynamic make-up leaves more questions than meaningful conclusions. The confines of a race circuit demonstrate its ultimate performance, allowing the mighty powertrain to wow you and the dynamics to impress for a car of this bulk (not far south of 2500kg), but what really matters is how the Continental GT will translate this to the road. In a world of hyper GTs such as Ferrari’s Roma and Aston Martin’s DB12, Bentley’s new GT could now have the performance to match its aforementioned rivals without leaving its desirable luxury DNA behind.

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