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Almost a decade ago, the first modern Bentleys reinvigorated the marque, taking the line from the days of the dusty Arnage and Azure and catapulting it into the world of celebrity with the chic Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible, and the companion Flying Spur sedan.
With awesome performance, all-wheel drive, and unimaginable handling for their size, the Bentley two-doors return once more for the 2013 model year--this time, with a more efficient powertrain available, a new twin-turbocharged V-8 with almost as much horsepower and performance, but markedly better fuel economy, than the W-12 that still defines the Continental lineup.
Last year, the Continental GT and GTC underwent a subtle transformation, a reworking that gives them a more defined appearance while maintaining clear continuity. These well-dressed linebackers may look like sportscars from the side, but from any quarter-view or from either end, their bulk comes into plain view. They're simply massive, though the 2012 redesign trims some of the heft away with deft new folds in the sheetmetal, achieved by superheating aluminum panels and forming them while they're aglow. In coupe form, the Continental's a forward-moving piece of art; the convertible's a more relaxed-looking collection of references to the past. Minor differences tell the W-12 and V-8 cars apart: V-8s have red-enameled badges and a black grille with a vertical spline of chrome, as well as figure-eight exhaust tips and inwardly angled supports on the front air dam.
Both sport an interior that's dressed to the highest standards in the automotive industry, with traditional materials woven in with modern elements like a large LCD screen. Bentley logos abound, stamped into yards of hand-stitched leather, tooled into aluminum and chrome, framed by real aluminum and a choice of wood trim (eucalyptus on V-8 cars, if you like). Up front and center: a Breitling timepiece, the true gauge of the cockpit, even if it's not the information hub of it.
From the day it was new, the Continental GT and GTC have tapped a 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, W-12 engine for their lurid power, and delivered it to the ground through a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. The W-12 was massaged to 567 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque for the 2012 model year--an increase of 15 hp and 37 lb-ft more than the prior versions. For 2013, a Speed edition pumps up power to 616 hp and 590 lb-ft, and adopts an eight-speed automatic. Bentley puts the 12-cylinder coupe's 0-60 mph times at less than 4.3 seconds and sets its top speed of 195 mph, with convertibles running slightly slower, and Speed coupes hitting 60 mph in 4.0 seconds and topping out at 205 mph. These are astonishing feats for cars that weigh nearly three tons. Straight-line acceleration is stunning, but gas mileage in the W-12 cars is fairly dismal, at about 11/19 mpg.New for the 2013 model year is what rightly can be considered the future of Bentley, a new 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 that's a cousin of the powerplant engineered by corporate cousins at Audi. In the Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible, the V-8 develops 500 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. Coupled to a new eight-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive, it can accelerate to 60 mph in about 4.6 seconds--just a few tenths slower than the W-12 cars, Bentley says. It's also responsible for a 40-percent reduction in fuel consumption versus the 2008 Continental lineup, at an estimated 18/26 mpg, and can deliver about 500 miles of driving range on a single tank of premium unleaded fuel. How it gets there is a combination of cylinder deactivation, direct injection, and lower internal friction--along with the extra gears in the transmission, which can also drop down four gears at once if so needed.
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. The V-8 car loses about 50 pounds from the front end, and it's noticeable: once you've recalibrated for its curb weight and four-passenger capability, the it feels effortless in straight-line speed, scrubbing it off with right-now insistence through optional carbon-ceramic brakes, bending progressively into corners once you've set the dynamic dampers to sport mode--which also tightens the steering and quickens the shift responses.
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. And 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 audio system has pure, flat sound, for just an additional $7000 or so. 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 2012 Bentley Continental GTC, and our first drive of the 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 at our sister site, MotorAuthority.