The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.1
A reputation as the premiership footballer’s car of choice has given the Bentley Continental GT an unfair status in the current pantheon of luxury grand tourers, somewhere between an Aston Martin DB11, Rolls-Royce Wraith and a top-of-the-range Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupe. The Continental GT has, however, improved with each iteration that has been launched, and it is one of the very best luxury four-seater performance-based cars about. Choose from the flagship W12 or hold your breath and wait for the inevitable V8 petrol or plug-in hybrid versions.
Reasons to buy
- Stunning good looks
- Spacious interior
- Immense power
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
The third generation of this venerable grand tourer is by far the best looking, with a much more pinched rear end, creased elliptical tail lights and a meaner front end, too. It’s as if the Continental has had enough of derisory footballer jokes and got angry, a sentiment it wears well. The wheels are now gigantic 22-inchers as standard, and the front ones have moved forward into the already short overhang, giving the car an even sportier stance, which is enhanced by that low, flowing coupe roof. Bentley’s designers make much of the new jewelled oval headlamps, which each contain - instead of big bulbs - 82 LEDs, their light refracting off cut-glass crystal-effect housings. It sounds needlessly poncey, but is quite beautiful in reality.
What's the interior like?
This is where Bentley knocks everyone else, even Rolls-Royce, out of the ballpark, and always has done. The company has a dedicated global staff of “veneer hunters”, for goodness sake, whose sole task is to travel the world looking for the next undiscovered, sustainable source of the very finest, rarest wood veneers in places like South American swamplands or Caribbean mangrove forests. And the interior of the Continental does not disappoint. There is now the ability to split the fascia into two different veneers, which means five changes of material on a narrow surface, and the result is both contemporary and breathtaking. The faultless, creamy cow hides covering the plush seats are taken from herds grazing in Austria, where the high altitude means no mosquitoes to blemish their skin. Ditto the absence of barbed wire.
On top of all this, the Continental has a snazzy toy; a revolving, three-sided panel in the middle of the dashboard, like a very expensive Toblerone. Push the button to select from a blank surface matching the rest of the fascia, three analogue dials or the infotainment screen (radio, sat-nav, phone, etc). The system adds a much-needed technology update to encourage younger customers into this car. Leather and wood is all very good, but it’s not very millennial, and there are increasing numbers of under-40s entrepreneurs who have the cash to splash.
How practical is it?
In context, being a luxury grand tourer, the Bentley again gets full marks. If you truly want to be in Vienna for lunch and Venice for supper, what you need is the perfect blend of pace and space. Et voila, the Continental GT. It feels far more capacious than an Aston Martin DB11 or a Rolls-Royce Wraith. It certainly shrugs off pretenders to the GT crown such as the McLaren 570GT in terms of storage and comfort. The two rear seats actually provide room for two teenagers, and in what is essentially a “two-plus-two” car, that’s a pleasant surprise. Up front, two 6ft 6in adults will travel all day in comfort, with loads of leg and headroom for a car that has such sporting pretensions. The boot is large enough for a couple of suitcases that would be big enough for a proper transcontinental tour, and the front seats move in 20 different ways, can be cooled or heated and provide a massage service, too.
What's it like to drive?
It’s the full five stars, again. This is a heavy, heavy car, weighing in at just under 2.5 tonnes, but while older versions of the Continental GT simply couldn’t hide their size and weight on the move, this third-generation car, built on a new platform, feels impressively lithe and focused.
You don’t have to know anything about complicated suspension to notice this, but for those that care, the technical explanation to the Conti’s newfound ability is the same 48-volt electrical system found in the Bentayga SUV. Despite the car’s super-plush ride, the body remains impressively flat in fast corners, when the laws of physics are trying their damnedest to induce body roll, and that makes the car feel sportier, more on the button. And, while the car is normally rear-wheel drive, in slippery conditions the Continental can send up to 38% of its torque to the front wheels, meaning stronger grip and traction.
You can tailor your car’s character – including the softness or firmness of the clever suspension - by twirling a central button to select different driving modes; Comfort, Bentley (standard) or Sport mode. Or, you can deploy Custom and mix it up a bit, perhaps with the Comfort suspension setting and weighty Sport steering setting.
How powerful is it?
There’s an old adage; horsepower is about how fast you crash into a straw bale, torque is about how far you move it. Well, the Continental uses both characteristics to give you the ultimate luxury experience, in that you would crash into the bale at tremendous pace, move it into the next county, and know nothing about either experience.
The car simply removes you from the fripperies of the outside world. You push the starter button, and you barely hear a peep from the W12 engine, and with a gentle press of the accelerator pedal, you hear a faint, unobtrusive waffle as you’re sent on your way with incredible smoothness. Press the pedal harder, and that waffle becomes a warble as the nose of the car lifts and you’re hurtled toward the horizon at what feels like warp speed.
The engine works in imperceptible harmony with the dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which is a first for Bentley and has been co-developed with Porsche. It swaps gears with every ounce of smoothness you’d expect from a Bentley, and the changes are sufficiently quick that you never have to wait for the engine to gird its loins for an overtake. The power is simply there, on tap, every time.
How much will it cost me?
Ah. All this improvement over the previous models has come at a price, apparently. The new version is significantly more expensive than previous generations, taking inflation into account. The base price is far more than an Aston Martin DB11, but then again, it’s less than a Mercedes-AMG S65. Surprisingly, a significant number of Bentley owners take their cars on a monthly finance deal, which can seem like the better option given the strong residuals for the Continental GT compared with much of the luxury market, presumably because the car comes out of the VW Group and most of the parts are a known build quantity, with no problems in the supply chain. For example, after four years of ownership, a GT will be more valuable than a Rolls-Royce Wraith. No one buys a Continental at base price, however, and you can expect to add about £30,000 worth of options before you even get going.
How reliable is it?
The Warranty Direct Reliability Index will make worrying reading for your average Bentley buyer. The brand sits at the bottom end of the manufacturer standings, and the Continental GT sits firmly in the list of the study’s ten worst-performing cars. That’s mainly due to the comparatively vast amount of money malfunctions cost to repair, and Bentley would argue that the poor performance is because these examples of the car are, by nature of their inclusion in the study, likely to be serviced and repaired outside of the Bentley dealer network, meaning the parts and labour used may not be of the necessary standard to keep trouble at bay. Judging this third-generation Continental on the reputation of its predecessors is tricky because this is an all-new car. The engine, transmission and chassis parts, while tweaked in Crewe, are shared widely across the VW Group, so they’re tried and tested. There is a three-year/100,000-mile warranty as standard. On the other hand, the new tech in this car means it has 100 million lines of software code, which is 15 times more than a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. That sounds like an awful lot of potential for things to glitch.
How safe is it?
The four-wheel-drive system gives occupants an extra feeling of safety over rear-drive competitors such as the Aston DB11. There are front, side and curtain airbags, but it’s a rather disappointing that you have to pay extra for the City Specification pack to get many safety features you get as standard on far cheaper cars, such as autonomous city braking systems or a pedestrian collision-warning system. Given the low-volume production of Bentley models, there is no safety rating by crash test organisation Euro NCAP.
How much equipment do I get?
It’s that usual luxury problem of “less but better”. In other words, a lot of attention goes on the detailing of the stitching, and less on just how much practical stuff is being jammed into the car. Bentley has never made any secret of the fact that it will never lead the way on tech; it’s happy to soak up features that the rest of the VW Group passes on. We wish it would therefore adopt Seat’s positioning of putting Shazam and Amazon Alexa in the car, but it seems if you’re a Bentley owner, you really don’t have the inclination for such modern rubbish. The good stuff is focused around the infotainment system which, as well as being part of the groovy three-sided rotating display, now has the ability to split the screen three ways to give occupants simultaneous access to music listings, phone book and navigation. Other than that, the “equipment” is all about the diamond quilting on the leather, the 12-colour mood lighting and the knurled chrome finishing.
The latest Bentley Continental is a proper dynamic proposition, as well as a great big sofa-on-wheels for seeing the world on. While the Bentley badge will always retain its appeal for gentlemen of a certain age who wish to be transported home from their club, it feels like a younger customer is there for the taking. The range of paint colours is sublime, the car has enormous presence on the road, and that interior is still second to none for long journeys, both in terms of comfort but also almost transcendental beauty.