All at once, Wolfgang Durheimer’s tenure as Bentley’s guv’nor makes even more sense.
Durheimer, one of the best engineers and managers within the Volkswagen Group, was also, you might remember, Porsche’s head of research and development when the Panamera was first launched, so he saw it through to a (pretty successful) completion.
Now, here comes a Bentley, the Continental GT, which is based on the same architecture as the latest Porsche Panamera. I suspect that having somebody of Durheimer’s influence around has been quite useful during this car’s gestation.
The latest $450K-ish Continental GT is nearly ready. The architecture it’s based on matters because it really defines how this latest Continental GT behaves, and Bentley would like it to behave with luxury first, and sportiness second.
Therefore, Bentley’s – Durheimer’s – influence over Porsche’s MSB platform, which underpins the Continental, shouldn’t be underestimated. It wasn’t a case of Bentley being given the hardware and told to get on with the job.
Bentley’s W12 isn’t an inherently balanced engine, but it is incredibly compact because it’s effectively arranged like two V6s around a common crankshaft. So it’s very short and it gives better weight distribution.
Bentley says it’s the most advanced 12-cylinder ever. Six cylinders can shut down and it has two turbochargers, but it’s the injection (port and direct injection) where it’s cleverest. It generates 467kW at 6000rpm, which is not a monumental increase over the most powerful versions of the previous Continental GT, and 900Nm from 1350rpm – which is.
It drives through a ZF dual-clutch eight-speed gearbox rather than a torque-converter unit, to which a W12 has so far always been mated.
Opinion: Torque converters are better than DCTs
The four-wheel-drive system is far more rear biased than before. Depending on the drive mode you’re in, only up to 38 per cent of power can ever go to the front, and if you’re in Sport, only 17 per cent will get there. So not only is the Continental GT a little lighter than before (although, at 2244kg, these things are relative) and the weight is distributed more evenly, but most of the time it’s also rear-wheel drive.
Ultimately, then, Bentley’s chassis engineers would like you to consider it a great car to drive rather than a great car to drive given its weight. Which is a tall order.
The 48v anti-roll bar system is back, as is air-suspension with three chambers at each corner. In the car’s ‘normal’ drive mode you’re working with two air chambers. Flick the switch to Sport and you lock out yet another air chamber. Flick it the other way, to Comfort, and you open up all three. In Sport, the spring rate is pretty much double that of Comfort mode. It’s all rather effective, with adaptive dampers, plus the active anti-roll bar keeping body movements in check.
The GT steers nicely too; the setup is smooth, precise and rewarding. And you can specify a different weight for the car’s individual drive mode.
On North Wales roads, body control is impressive, the steering’s keen and the balance is right. On the Anglesey circuit, the Continental GT hangs on gamely, in a way that a 2244kg car has no right to. It’ll even push itself into a slide on the exit of a corner, although control and agility aren’t as tight as you’d ultimately want. The W12 is more appealing than it has been because it makes a slightly better noise and has mammoth torque.
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It and the gearbox, though, are the most obviously unfinished parts. There’s an occasional hesitancy in power delivery if you’re off and on the throttle quickly and dual-clutch ’box needs work. Initial step-off is fine and it shifts cleanly at higher speeds but, in between, there’s an occasional clonk as it picks between gears, and it’s generally less refined than a torque-converter auto.
It’s so impressive elsewhere that once it gets those tweaks to see it over the line, it’ll be a world-class luxury GT car.
2018 BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT SPECS:
Engine: 5950cc W12, DOHC, 48v, twin-turbo
Power: 467kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 900Nm @ 1350-4000rpm
0-100km/h: 3.6sec (claimed)
Price: $450,000 (estimated)
Like: Physics-defying dynamics; pace; overall quality
Dislike: Engine/gearbox calibration still needs work
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars