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First Drive: Bentley Continental GT (2018) carefully modernised

You can’t overstate the importance of the Continental GT to Bentley. Not only for the bottom line (a whopping 66,000 sold since it arrived in 2003), but also because the 2dr coupe set the tone for the whole brand. In Bentley’s timeline, BC means Before Continental.

It’s a handsome thing, the new 2018 Continental GT, at least in profile, where the front wheels have been shifted forward 135mm to improve the weight distribution and drop the engine lower and further back in the chassis. Fifty-five per cent of the weight still sits on those front wheels, but there’s less of it than before – the body alone is 80kg lighter, helping the new car weigh ‘only’ 2,244kg. But Bentley has made no secret of the fact that a heavy kerbweight helps deliver the road-crushing stability and momentum that characterises the way its cars drive.

In an example of function following form, the more athletic-looking new Continental GT is also more athletic-driving. The 48v electrics have been the making of this car. The old Continental GT used to heave and struggle to keep its mass in order. Now it doesn’t. Three-chamber air suspension dampers and electronically controlled actuators on the front and rear anti-roll bars combat heave and roll and mean the car changes direction astutely and grips very hard indeed. It’s noticeably less nose-heavy and really will carry and maintain speed across country.

You can affect things too – a rotary controller on the console switches between Comfort, Bentley, Sport and Custom modes. In the first two, up to 38 per cent of power can be directed to the front wheels; in Sport that drops to 17 per cent. The ride firms up and the engine and transmission sharpen their wits. Bentley mode covers most requirements ably. The old car’s 40:60 power split is now fully variable, sending 100 per cent of torque to the rear as often as possible to the benefit of fuel efficiency and emissions.

But what you’ll notice first is just how monstrously fast it is. All that torque arrives at the road with a new-found suddenness and aggression. This was intentional. Customers wanted their cars to pack a bigger punch, so gone is the gentler surge, replaced by an immediacy that takes some getting used to.

Don’t get me wrong – it’ll still destroy any road more ably than almost any rival, certainly better than an Aston Martin DB11, but it no longer has the same portly waft. You’re more aware of what it’s up to. There’s a bit of wind noise, the 22in wheels fitted to this car kicked back and were noticeably noisy on some surfaces, the steering didn’t glide through my hands as effortlessly as it used to. In short the car has become more sporty, and in doing so has lost some of the steamroller ability to crush distance that it used to have.

Perhaps this is a good thing – it’s clearly what buyers wanted, and I’m certainly not going to decry the brakes, which finally, finally deliver enough stopping power to match 467kW of hard-hitting W12. Still sounds good, this motor, all bass rumblings from a distant engine room. Barely needs a gearbox. Just hook fifth and leave the 12 pistons and double-barrel blowers to get on with it.

Inside is as much of a revolution. Not that much more space for passengers or luggage, but the driver ambience and comfort is second to none. It’s feature-packed (wifi, head-up display, night vision, 650W stereo) without feeling oppressive, the tech not allowed to win out against the wood and leather. There’s even something pleasingly mechanical about the optional rotating display.

Seat comfort and driving position is first class, just watch (literally) the visibility. The confluence of A-pillar and door mirror makes for a big blind spot, while the rear view is much narrower than you might expect. R3 395 000 to start. A lot, admittedly, but some way beneath a Ferrari Portofino. W12 coupe not your thing? V8s and convertibles will follow. And likely a hybrid, too. Like we said, a Bentley for a new age. OLLIE MARRIAGE

SPECIFICATION

  • Price: R3 395 000
  • 5950cc, W12 twin-turbo, AWD, 467kW, 900Nm
  • 12.2l/100km, 278g/km CO2
  • 0–100km/h in 3.7secs, 333km/h
  • 2244kg
  • VERDICT: Less wafty than its predecessor, but easily the most dynamically capable Bentley ever.
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