Pushing opulence to new heights, without sacrificing performance driving, the Bentley Continental GT is in a class of its own.
Motoring: Bentley Continental GT
The life of a motoring journalist is indeed one of extremes. Not that I’m complaining, of course. But stepping out of a $422,000 Bentley (plus on road costs and the many, many expensive, essential options that take the final price well beyond half a million dollars) into a Kia Picanto, one of the cheapest cars you can buy (and run), has a way of focusing the mind.
It’s a lot like glamping in the Flinders compared to pitching a two-man tent on the Coorong. The basic premise is precisely the same, but there’s an enormous gulf between the two.
It does seem churlish to point out that for the base price of the Bentley, you could buy 26 Kia Picantos. I’m not sure which would impress the neighbours more: one ultra-luxury coupe in the driveway, or a fleet of cars that, parked nose to tail, would take up 95 metres of the roadway outside your house. Twenty-six Bentley Continentals? You’d need to reserve almost half as much kerbside again.
Nobody needs a Bentley Continental (or 26 Kia Picantos, for that matter) but life is short and to the best of my understanding, we pass this way only once.
The first thing to know about the Bentley is that it is powered by a 12-cylinder engine with two twin-scroll turbochargers. It is a thing of beauty, requiring six and a half hours to assemble and developing 467kW of power and 900Nm of torque. Compared to the previous V8 (and eight cylinders really should be sufficient for almost anyone), the W12 is 7.5 per cent more powerful and has 25 per cent more torque. Amazingly, it is also more efficient, proving once again that engineers can work miracles. The Bentley’s official consumption is 13.6L/100km, achieved by the car’s brain shutting down six of those 12 cylinders when they aren’t needed. No matter how hard you concentrate, you’ll never be able to tell whether the car is running on all or just half of its available cylinders.
In Comfort mode (you can also choose Sport, Individual and Bentley modes) the ride is better than almost any other car you can name. It turns Australian goat tracks into German autobahns. Switch to Sport mode and gear changes happen later, throttle response and steering sharpen appreciably and the exhaust note takes on a more menacing timbre. Despite the considerable inertia inevitable with a kerb weight of 2244kg, the Continental relishes spirited driving, all the while reassuring you that if things get too animated, the largest set of brakes on any series production car (including 10-piston calipers) will quickly bring things back under control.
Of course, a huge part of the Bentley experience is the luxurious and superbly finished interior. There is an air of bespoke perfection in the cabin that has to be experienced to be believed. Every material, from leather to carpet, is of the highest quality. And whatever combination you can conceive will be met by Bentley’s Mulliner customisation division. Mix and match colours, specify which timber finish you prefer, choose a leather that nobody else has … every whim will be catered for.
Mere mortals will take a few moments when they first sit in the Bentley to absorb the ambience. Knurled metal knobs recall a long-past era. At the push of a button, the infotainment screen can be rotated to be replaced with a spread of three jewel-like analogue gauges, push the button again and they hide themselves behind a flat wood or piano black panel. The vast 12.3-inch colour touch screen includes a full range of features including a 360-degree camera, high definition maps, vehicle connectivity and much more. You’ll take months to explore all it can do. Ahead of the driver is a customisable LCD screen to display precisely the information you need, including the traditional analogue speedometer and tachometer.
Thanks to its considerable size, the Continental makes fewer compromises than most coupes. The rear seat will accommodate full-size humans without them brushing their heads on the roof or folding their knees up around their ears. Even the luggage space is reasonable at 358 litres, sufficient to take a couple of suitcases or a set of golf clubs.
The Bentley is a truly impressive motor car. But it isn’t perfect. If you are concerned about safety and want autonomous emergency braking, you’ll have to add $11,000 to the price (AEB is included in the City Specification package). And, like many luxury cars, the Bentley gets a three-year warranty.
A purchase decision between the Bentley or the Kia will, of course, never happen in the real world. The Bentley simply makes every journey a special occasion. And it’s hard to put a price on that.
This story first appeared in the Dec 2019 / Jan 2020 issue of SALIFE magazine.