Bentley Continental GT review – ride and handling
Finally the Continental GT drives like a proper GT. Impressive poise and engagement despite some truly huge weight figures
Compared to the previous generation, the current Continental GT is borderline brilliant to drive with the caveat of its considerable mass. The GT’s chassis and suspension are arguably the areas in which it has improved the most, and there are numerous reasons why.
The main reason is that Bentley’s had much more say in the underlying chassis design than it did last time, this time pooling its development with Porsche and its Panamera. This gives the Conti a more traditional GT set of proportions, with the engine mounted lower and further back in the chassis than before, and the drivetrain itself being rear-drive based.
On top of this, there are now a wide range of driver modes including Comfort, Bentley and Individual. In Comfort mode up to 38 per cent of the engine’s torque will reach the front axle, which means the GT essentially feels like a cosseting four-wheel-drive limo. At the same time the maps for the dampers, throttle, gearbox, ESP and exhaust all settle into their most relaxed and least intrusive settings, and as such the GT goes properly into waft mode.
The steering, however, remains the same across all modes unless you go deep into its menus and select Custom mode, in which you can alter everything to your own tastes (although quietly Bentley admits that only a few owners will want to change the way the car steers). Next mode up is Bentley, and that’s the one in which the engineers believe the car gives its best when being driven on the road. It’s a touch more sporting everywhere than in Comfort but still retains a sizeable dose of soothing refinement.
There is a delicious, deep sense of serenity about the way the GT glides across the landscape in Bentley mode. It purrs. It floats across uneven ground with a genuine feeling of majesty. And it’s also quiet, whisperingly so if you sit back and really think about it.
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Yet at the same time the GT feels properly sorted on the road dynamically in Bentley mode, because it somehow manages to disguise its vast weight to a point where, just guessing, you might think it weighed only 1700 or so kilograms, not two and a quarter tons. That’s how crisp its responses are, how nimble it feels, despite the silly numbers.
But it’s not until you select Sport mode and drive it on a track that you can fully appreciate how far Bentley has gone with the car’s dynamics this time, because do this and it goes to a level that is WAY beyond anything you might expect of it, and so far beyond the previous version that you’d have a job to associate one with the other.
In Sport mode only 17 per cent of drive goes to the front axle, and everything else is set to deliver maximum sporting thrills, especially the exhaust and throttle maps. And the electronic suspension. In Sport mode the new GT feels, well, not quite like a full-blown sports car but at the very least like an adequately sporting GT car. And if you turn the stability control off it will do things and reach angles of slide that a previous GT owner would never, ever believe possible. Sideways thrills are delivered in complete and rather beautiful control – to a point where you can actually use the weight of the thing to put it in places, and at subtle angles, that actually benefit the lap time. That’s how adjustable, but also how well behaved the new GT is, if and when you take it by the scruff and throw it around.
Where the new Conti GT really impresses is how it manages to meld all of the above into such a rewarding and engaging package on the kind of demanding and twisting A- and B-roads where the previous car became so unstuck. Working tirelessly to meet its remit of delivering luxury and refinement with performance, Bentley’s engineers set themselves the toughest of tasks in achieving the last of these elements with the same level of success as they knew they could nail the first two. Clearly working alongside Porsche’s engineers during the platform’s development has paid dividends. Many times over, truth be told.
The three-chamber air suspension underpinning the new Continental GT may feature a chamber too many for Porsche’s Panamera with which it shares much of its underpinnings, but for the Bentley it provides the perfect base to develop something quite unexpected. No matter the driving mode you select, the chassis deconstructs the surfaces beneath you knowing exactly what’s required to smooth out the imperfections, delivering the perfect rate of response and adjustability.
Where the old Conti would soon get in a bit of a flap on a road with crests and undulations, the new model calls upon all the hardware (and software) available to it in order to remain composed without holding back the mighty performance. For all the adjustments provided by the dynamic controls, even when left to its own devices the Conti GT proves to be as precise and rewarding as when you fine tune every component to your personal preferences.
Things are taken up another notch on the Speed thanks entirely to the eLSD fitted to the rear axle. The Conti GT is more than capable of some impressive angles on track, but the new differential cleans things up considering the sheer amount of torque of the full-specification W12.
This new-found level of precision provides the Continental GT with a whole new deck of cards to play with, allowing it to deal out exactly what it requires in order to deliver a full-house driving experience. That it manages to do so on the road without sacrificing ride comfort while allowing you to turn the wick up further on track makes the new Conti a remarkably impressive piece of kit. Ultimately, if you’re after a GT with a more defined sporting bent, the Ferrari Roma is much more agile and engaging, but if the grand touring bit of the experience is key there are few that do it better.