Is it fair to define the Bentley Continental GT as a modern-day icon?

On the basis that rivals chiefly built in Maranello and Gaydon have persistently kept it from the top rung of Autocar’s road test rankings for super-GT cars, you could convincingly argue that it is not.

Then again, few other machines at the pricier end of the spectrum have had such an overwhelmingly positive impact on their maker’s fortunes, and certainly not when that maker possesses the history, cachet and general pomp of Crewe’s famous automotive export.

Bentley was acquired by Volkswagen AG in 1998 but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Continental GT appeared with a 6.0-litre W12 engine at the head of a sumptuously appointed four-wheel-drive chassis. In the 15 years since, the car’s blend of opulence, performance and character has remained all but unrivalled, with the result that more than 65,000 have been sold worldwide.

For an idea of how sensational a figure that is, consider that last year only 186 examples of the super-luxury Mulsanne saloon were sold in Europe.

In replacing the mainstay of its range, it would seem that Bentley has sensibly erred on the side of caution. The cab-rearward stance remains, as does the basic layout, but they belie the fact that this car will transform what the marque offers its customers.

There is substantial potential for some degree of autonomous driving, for instance, and a plug-in hybrid powertrain will at some point find a home in this Continental GT.

However, for us – and, we suspect, you – the appeal of this new model is far simpler to isolate.

If a flat-footed chassis shared with the ill-fated VW Phaeton saloon hamstrung the old Continental GT, it is the fact that this fresh generation uses a platform common to only its VW Group sibling Porsche that gives us greatest hope.

Indeed, interiors to match Rolls-Royce’s and performance to worry Ferrari are almost to be expected of this car, but it’s the prospect of a truly engaging drive that has the potential to transform the Continental GT into a world-beater.

What Car new car buyer marketplace

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Bentley range

Driven this week