2012 Bentley Continental GT Preview

The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director

A gentleman's GT with unflappable grip and hefty, deft road manners, the Bentley Continental GT grows a little sharper and more focused for the 2012 model year.

The Bentley Continental coupes and Flying Spur sedan reincarnated the British brand, back when they were new last decade. This year the coupe and convertible earn newly styled bodies and uprated drivetrains, but the changes do little to alter the Conti's awe-inspiring heft and luxurious feel.

Priced from less than $200,000 in base form, the two-doors can spiral up to more than $250,000, depending on which version you choose. But all models share a look, one that's not very much different from prior editions. It's been finessed for a more distinct front end and a slightly lighter appearance down its sides, but mostly, the massive Continental GT and GTC look like well-dressed linebacks, big and bruising but utterly refined. The pillarless Continental GT coupe reads "sportscar" down its curvaceous flanks, though it's truly massive to behold; the GTC convertible seems more classic, its proportions relaxed by the removal of the roof.  Inside, the Conti's cockpit is one of the most serene, well-fitted places in the automotive sphere: traditional materials and shapes sit comfortably against a big LCD screen and other modern conveniences, while Bentley logos tuck discreetly and indiscreetly, sometimes, amid square feet of real wood and chrome and yards of carefully stitched leather. Front and center, the dash wears a Breitling timepiece, just like any other Hall of Famer would. 

Since launch, the Continental GT has drawn power from a 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, W-12 engine teamed with a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. This year, nearly every version gets an uprated version of the drivetrain, with 567 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, some 15 hp and 37 lb-ft more than the outgoing model. Bentley estimates 0-60 mph times of less than 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 195 mph, an astonishing feat in a vehicle that weighs almost three tons, or more than some seven-seat utility vehicles. The former Speed versions have taken the model year off, but the Continental GTC Supersports Convertible is carried over from its 2011 form, with 621 hp or 631 hp as an ISR (Ice Speed Record) special edition. These versions are capable of 0-60 mph times of 3.7 seconds or less, and a claimed 204-mph top speed. Acceleration is awesome, but gas mileage is terrible: the Conti GTs are rated at 11/19 mpg.

For a vehicle of its mass and length, the Continental GT has sublime, capable road manners. The standard computer-controlled shocks and three-mode ride control--dubbed Continuous Damping Control (CDC)--combine with all-wheel drive now tuned to deliver more power to the rear wheels than to the fronts. So set up, the Conti GT is amazingly willing to press hard and deep into corners. Its brakes are big and deeply capable, even before you upgrade them to the optional carbon-ceramic rotors, the most powerful brakes ever found on a production car, Bentley says.

As large as it is, space isn't the Continental GT's forte. While the driver and front passenger have plenty of shoulder and knee room, as well as ample headroom to go with their fabulously supportive seats, the back seat is difficult to enter easily, and legroom and shoulder room aren't in abundance. All passengers will marvel at the Continental's sensory rush of top-quality materials, from the plush carpets and fine wood and leather, all the way to the padded ski-sack pass-through that expands the cargo room somewhat.

Neither safety agency has crash-tested the Continental--can you just imagine?--but all versions get standard front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and all-wheel drive. Convertibles are fitted with automatic pop-up roll bars for added rollover protection, while Supersports versions have revised stability control that lets owners experience a little more wheelspin. Even in the GTC convertible, it can be difficult to gauge the Conti's far-and-away rear end, so the standard rearview camera is much appreciated.

The Continental comes as close to handcrafted as possible, by design. All have standard electronic climate control, Bluetooth and a DVD navigation system that also controls climate and audio functions. The navigation system sports Google maps and a vibrant 8-inch LCD touchscreen. A Naim-engineered audio system has pure, flat sound, for just an additional $7015. The GTC convertibles come with a power top that folds in 25 seconds; it's woven with great quality and damps out a lot of ambient road noise. We heartily recommend the Mulliner package of quilted leather, knurled chrome, and turned aluminum trim, as well as the optional lambs-wool rugs.

For more on this spectacular line of coupes and convertibles, see our first drive of the Bentley Continental GTC.

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