Bentley engineers have been testing next year's new 2011 Continental family down in the Alps of Austria – and these new spy photos reveal the replacement Bentley Conti.
Lightly be-stickered disguise masks the detail of this test car, but you can still make out the changes from today's Continental. Just. It's similar, yet subtly different: the front lights have a more Mulsanne-ish geometry, the air intakes are recontoured, the number plate surrounds are different front and rear and the surfacing is said to be markedly different under that chequerboard disguise.
It seems probable that this car is testing the new Conti's uprated hardware; this mountainous spot in Austria is used mainly for brake testing.New Bentley Continental GT: what's the big picture?
Surprise, surprise: higher efficiency is top of the wishlist on project BY62X, we hear. The design under Dirk van Braeckel is decidedly evolutionary, but sutble aero tweaks massage the drag figure down from 0.35 to 0.30.
The planned roll-out of bodystyles largely reflects the running order of the first-gen Continental:• Continental GT coupé
2010 Paris motor show debut, on sale autumn 2010• Continental Flying Spur saloon
Autumn 2012• Continental GTC convertible
Late 2013What's new under the skin of the 2011 Bentley Continental?
The front and rear track are stretched out for a wider stance and better roadholding, CAR understands, while the old VW Phaeton-related front suspension is dropped for an axle derived from the Audi A8's. Air suspension is lifted from the Audi parts shelf too.
Keeping the new Continental's weight in check is part-alloy construction, with a new aluminium front end, a steel rear and a largely alloy bodywork. It's enough to cut 200kg from today's 2350kg kerbweight.And the engine room?
We expect a thoroughly uprated 6.3-litre W12, now with an eight-speed ZF transmission and four-wheel drive (accounting for the still-hefty mass). Cooking versions get 580bhp/516lb ft, while Speed models due around 2014 will boast a fulsome 650bhp/590lb ft.
Interestingly, a plug-in hybrid version is under consideration but is apparently contingent on higher-performance lithium-ion batteries becoming available. A 4.2-litre V8 turbodiesel is also rumoured, with 375bhp and 590lb ft.
The new BY62X project plans to raise prices and volumes slightly on the Continental family. Bentley forecasts a higher take-up of Mulliner options too. Regular options will include 21in wheels, radar cruise control, carbon silicon carbide brakes, split-view monitors and – in the Flying Spur – a brace of champagne glass holders and a fridge big enough for a bottle of bubbly.
Sounds like Bentley is bouncing back after a difficult period following the recession. The Continental family is the cornerstone of the modern company: back in 2003, Bentley sold just 1000 cars – leaping to 10,014 in 2007, fuelled by the expanded Conti family and a booming economy. They'll be hoping in Crewe that the good times are coming back soon.