Bentley has unveiled its new Continental GT at the Paris motor show.
It will cost from £135,760 when its reaches dealerships in the first quarter of 2011. That's a cost increase of almost £10,000 on the current car's £126,500 sticker price.
The new model is charged with continuing the magnificent success of the 2003 original.
It might not look too different, but the Conti' has gained a raft of major updates, including a new engine and a still-secret 4.0-litre direct injection V8.
Fresh lookThe new GT is identical in length, height and wheelbase, but its body is wider at the wheel arches to accommodate wider tracks (increased by 41mm front and 48mm rear). The radiator is a little lower but more upright, which allows a longer bonnet to reduce the previous impression that the Conti’s nose is a little short.
The body’s lines are simpler, crisper and better defined because Bentley has adopted super forming – shaping of aluminium panels at 500deg C by air pressure – which allows more accurate manufacture of large pieces.
The designers have also eliminated one whole body joint (where the front bumper previously met the wings) to give what exterior design boss Raul Pires calls a “more bespoke” look.
The stance has been adjusted, there are more modern headlight treatments (the inners are now much larger than the outers, and have surrounding LEDs to handle minor functions) and there is “a new muscle” that defines the edge of the bonnet, visible from the driver’s seat.
The rear, 50mm wider, incorporates plain-looking tail-lights which show the familiar twin ellipses of the outgoing model when lit.
The bootlid, beneath the spoiler, incorporates the ‘double horseshoe’ shape recently introduced with the new Mulsanne, and there is a new diffuser.
Under the bonnetThe 2011 version of Bentley’s familiar twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 gets handy tweaks to its engine management electronics and some new low-friction measures that together boost both power and torque, from 552bhp to 567bhp and from 479lb ft to 516lb ft.
The enhanced power is still transmitted by a paddle-shift ZF six-speed automatic, but the latest version of that ’box has a ‘quickshift’ function which halves shift times to an ultra-rapid 200 milliseconds while providing a multiple downshift function.
The gearbox will now go, if required, from fourth to second in one action – which should help on quick country roads.
The combined effects of more power and faster shifting have marginally improved the Conti' GT’s already huge performance: top speed is now 198mph, and 0-60mph has been shaved by a tenth or two to 4.4sec.
A new torsen centre differential splits torque 40/60, front to rear, a modification already used with the high-performance, low-volume Supersports model.
The move gives the new standard model significantly better handling balance when driven hard, keeping it on line better as it exits slower corners under full power.
However, on loose or slippery surfaces the system, which monitors and adjusts each wheel independently, compensates for slippage instantly by sending torque to where the grip is.
Bentley isn’t saying much about its all-new V8 except that the capacity is 4.0 litres. It is highly likely to be turbocharged and it’ll come a year after the new Conti’s launch next March. The V8 version will still have four-wheel drive, engineers say.
On the roadThere’s no better evidence of Bentley’s penchant for thoroughness than its decision to redesign the suspension uprights to save unsprung weight and package the optional 21-inch wheels, using a new process called cast forging, which allows the component to be immensely strong, yet hollow.
This improvement works with wider tracks front and rear, the optional 21-inch wheels on ultra-low-profile tyres and rerated springs, its continuously variable dampers and its anti-roll bars to sharpen the car’s agility and improve its handling balance.
There’s a new, more sophisticated electronic stability control that helps the car cope better with high-corner entry speeds, and allows keen drivers a little more opportunity to allow the car to step out on exit, before the system intervenes. There are three drive settings: Normal, Sport and Off.
Driver's seatThe new Continental GT gets a swoopier fascia, still with white-on-black dials but with a new shape that echoes Bentley’s ‘winged B’ badge.
There’s a new, more modern touch screen to control non-driving functions, such as navigation, ventilation, phone and hi-fi. It also contains a new 30GB hard drive, plus a new, and much more supportive, ‘cobra’ seat design.
The front seats are both thinner and lighter, which means they contribute most of the weight saving and improve rear knee room by several inches.
Rounding off the changes are larger door bins and a new acoustic package, which brings an 11 per cent reduction in car-generated noise at 85mph.Steve Cropley