Frech says one of the objectives for this new car is to appeal to a younger set of customers: “Even in the last year, however, we’ve seen a shift in the customer base. The US market, for example, is already getting younger. Of course, the marketing has improved and the dealerships have improved, but I strongly believe the GT3 motorsport programme has helped a lot. The old-fashioned image of a Bentley driver – the old guy with the hat – has gone because we’ve showed [with the GT3 car] what the Continental is capable of.”
The best way to appeal to a younger generation, I suggest, would be for the new car to be more exciting to drive than the slightly reluctant outgoing model. Before I drive either of the development mules, I’m allowed a few laps in a current Continental GT W12 to refamiliarise myself. As it happens, I rather like the existing GT, but I’m not going to pretend it’s up to much on a circuit. The heavy nose means it trips into understeer early, the automatic gearbox feels lazy, the columnmounted shift paddles are awkward to use and the throttle response is dim-witted. The GT was never designed as a track car, of course, and it takes only a handful of corners to reaffirm that.
However, it takes just one corner, Anglesey’s very first, which is a heavily banked right-hand hairpin, to realise that its replacement operates on an entirely different level on a circuit. It’s better in every single area by huge amounts, better on the scale of the scorched Australian outback, better by vast expanses, better by distances only the Pilgrims who voyaged across the Atlantic in the Mayflower could ever comprehend. Listen, it’s just better.
For one thing, the steering – electrically assisted, whereas the current GT uses hydraulic assistance – is a vast improvement in terms of precision, feedback and accuracy. The front end also gets into a corner so much more willingly, and then holds a much better line, rather than washing out. Thanks to the clever Bentley Dynamic Ride anti-roll system, the body remains uncannily flat in the bends, too, rather than rolling and lolloping around like a sailboat in a storm. The dual-clutch gearbox is also much snappier, the steering-wheel-mounted paddles are easier to operate and the engine is much more responsive. With more than 592bhp on tap, the new car doesn’t have a great deal more power than the outgoing one, but it feels so much more accelerative.
There’s torque vectoring by braking on both axles now, which makes the car nimble and agile, and the new variable four-wheel drive system is much smarter. Most of the time, it powers the rear wheels only, but when necessary, it can divert up to 100% of the available torque to the front axle. The Continental GT hasn’t suddenly been transformed into some crazed drift monster, but it does feel supremely well balanced and secure under power and there is a useful amount of adjustability in the chassis. The stability control doesn’t feel terribly refined when you really wring the car out, though, the whole body juddering as the car strains against its electronic safety nets. At least, it doesn’t just abruptly cut drive like the least subtle systems can do.
When exiting tight corners with those safety nets turned off, I was surprised to see great plumes of smoke appear behind the car as the unloaded inside rear wheel torched its rubber. The Continental GT wouldn’t snap into power oversteer, notably, but that manic wheelspin did seem a touch unrefined.
The seating position is vastly superior, too, sitting you low in the car rather than perching you up high. It remains to be seen how any of that translates onto the road, which is all that really matters, but the signs are that the new Continental GT will be a huge step on from the current model. It really should be, of course: Bentley has had 14 years to think about how Old Faithful could be bettered.