Bentley Continental GT| first photos |

Published: 07 September 2010

Do not retune your computer monitor. This is the new, second-generation Bentley Continental GT unveiled today. It might look like a gently polished version of the familiar Conti silhouette that’s plagued football grounds and London’s swankier west end districts since 2003, but trust us: the new Bentley Continental GT is a properly new model.

For a start, every body panel and piece of glass in the Mk2 Conti is different. Dirk van Braeckel and his design team in Crewe have taken the familiar Continental design and sharpened it. This car is the same but different. There’s even a new 4.0-litre V8 engine added to the line-up, just in case you doubted change was afoot.

Come on! How different is the ‘new’ 2011 Continental?

You’ll spot the new Conti from the front most easily: those Mulsanne-inspired speccy-four-eyes headlamps are distinctive, the inner lamps powered by xenon on low beam and LED on high beam; the outer lenses are day running lights and illuminate entirely by diode. The Bentley grille now sits 40mm lower too.

Park an old and a new Continental alongside each other and you’ll be surprised by the diverging side profiles. Like the transition from Mk1 to Mk2 Audi TT, the glasshouse (or DLO, in designerspeak) is 26mm shallower, making for a more ‘slammed’ appearance on the new Continental GT arriving in early 2011.

The door handles are now on the side character line rather than breaking up the sheetmetal too. And see those door mirrors? They’re the same as on a Mulsanne, they are.

How will the new Bentley Conti GT drive?

Probably very like the last one, which is to say like the Orient Express on speed. The basic engineering architecture is carried over and the car has an identical wheelbase and overall length. However, there are numerous technical upgrades: the track is wider front and rear, new lighter steering knuckles are now hollow and the wheelarches have swollen to accommodate 20in rims as standard, though many will upgrade to newly available 21in wheels.

Drive is now diverted more to the rear with a standard 60:40 split in normal driving, juggled by a Torsen central diff. The ZF six-speed gearbox is claimed to halve shift times using tech pioneered on the Supersports, but ZF’s eight-speeder is coming according to chief engineer Ulrich Eichorn (and we’d point out that enables hybridisation as seen on BMWs and future Jaguar Land Rover products).

Most importantly, the new Conti GT makes greater use of lightweight aluminium throughout. The front wing is now a singleformed aluminium piece; the boot and bonnet are both made from aluminium too. Previously the bootlid and wings were steel – all helping to contribute to a 63kg weight saving.

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And the new Bentley engines?

The 6.0-litre W12 continues, uprated to 567bhp and 516lb ft all the way from 2000-5000rpm. But the big news is a new 4.0-litre V8 co-developed with Audi. And get this: it’s the engineering breakthrough promised in 2007 when Bentley promised a new powertrain to cut CO2 emissions by 40%! Not a diesel or hybrid power pack in sight…

The new V8 is biofuel compatible and likely to be turbocharged when it arrives in early 2012. The lower powered Continental will have global appeal – with a lower price point in the UK and an appeal in markets such as China with a 4000cc tax break. No further information is available on the smaller lump.

What about inside the new Bentley Continental GT?

We’ve always loved the ambience in the Continental and all they’ve done is magnify its strengths. There’s a new top-end Naim hi-fi, a 30GB hard drive, the maps are now powered by Google and double glazing is standard to hush any unseemly wind and road noise.

They say there’s an extra 46mm rear legroom thanks to new thinner seats (the seatbelts are no longer integral) but to be honest it’s still cramped back there and we’d recommend waiting for the LWB Conti Flying Spur if you regularly ferry John Terry and Ashley Cole from Boujis to Chelsea.

Plenty of attention has been given to the media interface. There’s a wider digital screen now with touch sensitive controls. And the best bit inside? There’s now a 3mm foam layer under the leather dash to give a better squidge factor. It works – brilliant tactile fun and better than layering hide on plastic.

Why the Bentley Continental is important to Crewe

The Continental is the model that transformed Bentley. They’ve sold 23,000 Contis since 2003; up until its arrival, the company had sold just 16,000 cars in the previous 80 years. This boom sent Bentley sales rocketing from 1000 a year to 10 times that in just four years.

Problem is, buyers in this sector are especially fickle, warns global sales and marketing  director Stuart McCollough. ‘People come in and have a car for six or 11 months and then buy something new,’ he says. Buyers spending this cash want the latest thing, the newest toy. Hence time to upgrade the Continental family to tempt those buyers back for more of the same.

Although prices have not yet been announced for the new Conti range, expect them to start close to the current car’s £126k. Sales of existing Supersports, Continental Flying Spur and Continental GTC convertible will continue but in the fullness of time they too will be upgraded in a similar fashion.

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By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet