Things move at a different pace in Coventry, the headquarters for Bentley Motors. Change comes slowly and deliberately, but come it must, as the maker has lately been demonstrating.
Soon after the introduction of the all-new Bentley flagship, the big Mulsanne saloon car, the Volkswagen AG subsidiary is pulling the wraps off an updated version of its best-selling Continental GT. But any sense of déjà vu is understandable. Despite what the maker claims are some significant technical enhancements – the use of advanced body production systems, a new FlexFuel W12 powertrain and an updated infotainment system – the overall look is very much in line with the outgoing version of the luxury coupe.
The launch of the next-generation Bentley Continental GT couldn’t come at a more crucial time. The British maker scored an impressive hit with the original coupe and the numerous Continental variants that followed – such as the GTC convertible and Flying Spur sedan – the brand’s overall volume soaring to more than 10,000 cars a year.
While that might seem insignificant in a world where Corollas and F-150s can wrack up that volume in barely a week, that was a major achievement in the ultra-luxury market, a roughly 500% increase over what Bentley and former partner Rolls-Royce typical sold in a good year together.
But Bentley sales are down by roughly two-thirds from their peak and while the global economic downturn is clearly a factor, the reality is that the rich are more like the rest of us than it might seem. Where once they appeared willing to go decades between model updates, the demand for the new and fresh is now forcing high-line makers, like Bentley, to update their products faster than ever.
The design team, in Crewe, has clearly aimed to achieve a careful balance. While Bentley’s Tuesday morning webconference was notably short of specifics – such as vehicle dimensions – these images show that the maker didn’t stray far from the familiar shape of the old Continental GT, with its bold nose and grille and the arching roofline that flows rearward into the muscular wheel arches.
The next-generation Bentley Continental GT will remain a classic 4-seat Grand Tourer.
But a closer look reveals some subtle yet significant new details. The front shoulders flare up a bit higher. The “power line” that zips around the front wheel arches before flaring rearward, splitting the door handles, is sharper, with the crispness of a properly creased Seville Row suit. The rear wheel arches are more dramatic and have a more upscale look lifted from the new Bentley Mulsanne. From the rear, the trunk – or “boot lid,” as the British call it – now shares the double horseshoe shape also lifted from Mulsanne.
Significantly, to achieve the sharper lines, Bentley has adopted the new superforming technology which makes it easier to mold aluminum panels into complex shapes. The use of the metal was no accident. Bentley hints that it has reduced the weight of the new Continental GT – though by how much it isn’t yet saying.
The headlights, again familiar, have incorporated new LED bulbs which now serve as Daylight Running Lamps. Integral washers have also been adopted.
With the new model, Bentley has enhanced the split-cockpit feel of the new Continental GT. There’s an all-new gauge cluster and a new and larger LCD screen capping the center stack. It no longer will share the basic look and feel of the old Volkswagen Phaeton, a common complaint about the old GT. It remains to be seen just how far Bentley will go in terms of technology. Early on, the maker seemed almost boastful about staying a step behind on technology, but it has been racing to update products like the new Mulsanne, reflecting the fact that today’s affluent buyers are as tech savvy as their children. The new navigation system will be able to display real-time Google Map images for a more realistic view of where you’re heading.
On a less technical — but still much-appreciated — side, Bentley promises more rear legroom compared to the old car’s previously cramped cabin.
The new Bentley Continental GT will, of course, offer a great degree of customization, starting with an exterior color palette of 17 different hues. The coupe will now come standard with 20-inch wheels and 21s are available.
Two years ago, the VW subsidiary’s CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen promised that Bentley would improve the fuel economy of its line-up by 15% and reduce well-to-wheels CO2 production by 70% with the introduction of its next-generation line-up. Again, specifics are in short supply, but the marque is suggesting there will be notable gains with the updated version of the Continental GT’s 6.0-liter W12, even though it will deliver notable increases in both horsepower and torque — at 567 hp and 516 lb-ft.
A new, high-output eight-cylinder engine (likely derived from a Volkswagen W-8) will be added to the line-up. Specifics haven’t been released but Bentley claims it will yield a 40% reduction in emissions.
The big engine will be mated to a new 6-speed QuickShift gearbox which is claimed to reduce gear change times by half. The decision to stay with a six is something of a surprise, however, in a world where highline makers are increasingly migrating to 7- and even 8-speed gearboxes. Bentley says a driver will now be able to use the Continental GT’s paddle shifters to achieve immediate double-gear downshifts for better use of engine torque and engine braking.