2012 Bentley Continental GT

2012 Bentley Continental GT 2012 Bentley Continental GT
First Drive Review

What Bentley is asking you to do with the 2012 Continental GT is block out all the pink-over-white-quilted-leather GTCs you’ve seen on TMZ and all the murdered-out, 24-inch-rim-wearing Supersports at the SEMA show and instead think of its coupe as a timeless icon of ultra-refined performance. In its bid for immortality, the Continental GT changes very little for its first full makeover in seven years, as its bodywork—a bit crisper, a bit wider, and a bit more wide-eyed—evolves at a decidedly Porsche 911–like crawl.

Where’s the Wolfsburg?

Beneath the Conti GT’s louche associations was always a car that hewed to Bentley tradition, with hand-stitched leathers, book-matched veneers, and a roguish sportiness. And beneath that car was always a Volkswagen Phaeton. Although the Continental’s Phaeton platform carries over, all outward evidence of German involvement is gone, as a new center stack replaces the outgoing car’s Wolfsburgian HVAC buttons and much maligned, mildly reskinned VW infotainment system. Central to the interior is a new eight-inch touchscreen that fluidly guides you through Google Maps, a 30-gig hard drive, and the $7015 optional 11-speaker Naim stereo that is to sonic clarity what Ronald Reagan was to capitalism—defender, protector, and deshackler.

Around the screen are subtle improvements to the hide- and millwork. The biggest change inside is the more comfortable fluted- or quilted-leather seats, which are 77 pounds lighter in total than those of the old car. Overall, the GT shaves a commendable 143 pounds off the outgoing model’s weight, but it’s still very heavy at 5115 pounds. “This is our market position,” says Bentley chairman and CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen. “Let others build light cars.”

Continental Divide? Not Really

Does it drive differently? Hardly. It is still the same werewolf in a tuxedo, the same savage and powerful brute who dotes on his thimble collection. Its inscrutable combination of muscle and finesse bears evidence of endless tweaking. As in the Supersports, the final and enduring version of the old Conti GT, the Torsen-based AWD system has a 40/60 torque split that helps to dial out some of the GT’s fun-killing understeer. Also as in the Supersports, its ESP system will prevent itself from throttling back if it senses you’re serious about an upcoming corner. But the car is still grossly nose-heavy with the big twin-turbo W-12 hanging over the front axle.

Look under the hood, and you’ll marvel that the Conti GT turns at all. Yet turn it does, even if it is better suited to long sweepers than tight first-gear corners. The steering comes off-center predictably but weights up dramatically toward full lock. Slowing for a curve, the car dives forward and the brakes reveal a grabby spot in the middle of their travel. Grab a downshift from the column-mounted paddles, and all is forgiven: The six-speed ZF trans will let you plunge two gears in an instant to put you in the middle of the flex-fuel 6.0-liter W-12’s power band, an expletive-rife zone that begins at 1500 rpm and doesn’t let up until the horizon. This engine didn’t need any more power, but it gets some: 15 more hp, for a total of 567; and 37 more lb-ft, pegging the total at 516. Bentley expects the 0-to-60-mph sprint to take 4.4 seconds.

Entry V-8 on the Way

There’s a V-8 version coming later this year, with a 4.0-liter direct-injection engine shared with the Audi A8 mated to an eight-speed transmission. It will bring the Continental GT experience to a lower price point that is yet to be revealed, but perhaps it will be closer to the $150,000 mark than our test car’s optioned-up $226,975 (from a base price of $192,495). We hope it will be cheap enough to ward off any remaining Hollywood types.