Bentley Continental GT Prototype

THE SILHOUETTE IS certainly familiar. So is the aristocratic throb of the big W12 at idle, but the driving experience is alien for something hailing from Crewe. Fourteen years after its inception, the original Continental GT has matured into a vastly improved machine compared with those blunt, wallowing coupes of 2003, but the truth is a VW Phaeton’s underpinnings can only be honed to a certain degree. Physics will always tell. So here at last is an all-new Conti GT, and it promises to be a very different beast. It’s based on the new VW Group MSB platform, better known to you and me as the new Porsche Panamera. However, not only has 200mm been snipped from the big Porsche’s wheelbase, but Bentley engineers were sitting at the table with their colleagues from Stuttgart even at a conceptual stage.

The result is that Bentley has gained Porsche technology such as the PDK transmission and the ‘hang-on clutch’ 4WD system. In turn, Panameras benefit from increased localised stiffness in certain areas to boost rigidity. Why? Because Bentley demanded it, knowing its car could not afford the road noise and refinement levels tolerable to Porsche customers. As you might expect, the new platform is much stiffen stronger and lighter than its ageing predecessor. Proportionally, the car is much more coupe-like. In terms of exterior dimensions, not a lot has changed, but the front wheels are pushed significantly farther forward, the engine moved rearwards and the car’s beltline is now higher. The result, disguised on these rough development cars, with their bulky cladding mimicking the hunched form of the current car, is a much leaner, sportier aesthetic. The weight distribution is also significantly improved, with a 52:48 split front to rear (the old GT was 56:42), and the car is around 100kg lighter. Okay, so that’s still over two tonnes, but then Bentley isn’t skimping on the luxury aspect.

The W12 remains the centrepiece of the Continental GT range. It’s essentially the heavily revised unit introduced in the Bentayga SUV. While no official figures have been released yet, bet on around 485kW with 900Nm. As mentioned, it’s now connected to Porsche’s latest win-clutch ‘box. Gone too is the old Torsen centre diff with its fixed 60:40 torque split, replaced by Porsche’s electronically controlled clutch. The new GT is 100 per cent rear-wheel drive almost all of the time, only sending torque to the front when slip is detected.

For a car as multi-faceted and complex in character as a luxury GT, it would be foolhardy to draw any sweeping conclusions from a handful of laps around Anglesey Circuit and a passenger ride across South Africa’s northern territories a few months previously. However, one thing is obvious: no car wearing a Bentley badge has ever driven like this. The good news starts the moment you open the door. The driving position is much more rakish than before, the steering wheel coming out to meet you, and the view through the letterbox wind screen imposing in a classic, big-grand-touring style. Although the fit-and-finish on these development cars is still understandably a work in progress, it’s clear the Conti will once again have an interior to wow, with acre s of timber and a surprise-and-delight feature that I won’t spoil for now. At last, a thoroughly modern electronic architecture allows Bentley to offer a cutting-edge infotainment setup, the 12.3-inch widescreen system from the Panamera being redeveloped with a unique Bentley front end.

Traditionalists will be relieved to see as mattering of buttons on the centre console. They’re part of engineering chief Rolf Freeh’s belief in keeping things simple. That’s also borne out by his approach to driving modes. Yes, the GT has Com fort, the everyday ‘Bentley’ mode and Sport, plus an individual’ mode that can be tailored by the driver, but there is just a single setting for steering response regardless of the mode selected.

“I don’t like adapting to different steering modes. I wanted a really precise centre-point – not with a heavy offset either side, but nearly linear behaviour.” It’s the steering l notice first. It’s not especially weighty-no surprise in a luxury car – but it has an accuracy and a lack of Stiction that lead the driver to trust its actions. Bentley’s other secret weapon is the 48-volt active anti-roll system, as seen on the Bentayga. Here, the electro-mechanical roll bars aren’t so much about just stabilising the body as separating that function from the other tasks the springs and pneumatic dampers undertake.

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