W12 Bentley Continental GT gets refreshed styling and the ability to lose six cylinders in a bid to improve fuel economy

What is it?

Bentley's best-selling model; it claimed more than 50% of the company's sales last year, and one that has found more than 52,000 homes since its introduction back in 2003.

The changes for Bentley's facelifted Continental family are, in some cases, wide-ranging and in others specific. Namely, all cars get restyled grilles, bumpers, boot lids and exterior chrome details, and more colour choices (now 117 standard ones), additional alloy wheel designs and different leathers and Alcantara interiors.

More specifically, there are no changes to the V8 engine's power and torque, but Crewe's two-fingers-to-the-establishment W12 motor has been given the 'green' treatment in its non-Speed entry-level form. It has more power and torque than before, but can now run on half its cylinders at a cruise, helping save fuel and lower CO2. It's this engine that we're testing. 

The addition of optional high-speed WiFi won't get Bentley's most traditional buyers spilling cognac on their Chesterfields with excitement, but for Bentley it's another important technological step forward for what it knows is an increasingly tech-savvy marketplace. 

What's it like?

Even if it didn't need it before, Bentley has found another 15bhp and 15lb ft from its huge W12 lump, but the bigger story is its new cylinder deactivation, which works in a different way to the V8's.

You still need to be above third gear, the engine needs to be at the correct temperature and the throttle needs to moderated correctly, but where the V8 drops the same four cylinders to become a V4, with the W12, Bentley had to take a different approach.

"We had to use different software, which drops one bank of cylinders for 55 seconds, before switching both banks back on for three, then switching to the other bank for a further 55," explained Continental product director Paul Jones. "It'll just keep doing that - it's the only way you keep both cats warm enough."

Technically impressive stuff, and, unlike elsewhere in the VAG Group, you won't find a dash light illuminating to let you know you're running on fewer cylinders - it's not what Bentley owners want, apparently. 

You'll have a job working out when it's running on six, too - as with the V8 Continental - because it's nigh-on impossible to tell when the W12 begins its mechanical juggling act just a metre away in front of you.

Of course, when you've had enough of saving fuel, planting the throttle brings about similarly monumental performance as before. The eight-speed ZF gearbox is quickly to select the appropriate gear, and then as promised, from 1700rpm you're experiencing all of the W12's torque.

The result is relentless in gear performance, enough to ensure complete confidence in every overtaking situation, but it's not brash, visceral performance, as is the intention. You're aware it's happening and that the trees are flying past more quickly, but it's more muted than you might expect from within your quilted Connolly cocoon.

The W12's handling is telling of its GT focus. The nose feels heavier than the V8's and the steering pretty vague, both are more suited to fast sweeping bends rather than tight switchbacks. The body is well controlled for something weighing this much and pulling the gear lever back to Sport mode sharpens the throttle nicely. Ultimately though, you're fully aware of its bulk at all times.

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Happily, grip levels are very high. Our soaking wet test route was often a test of nerve, but the wincing and breath-holding were always met with assured, stable cornering. Keen drivers will lament the fact you're so far away from everything going on, but really, in the GT, that's the point.

Ride quality is good, too. The standard air suspension has four modes and dialled right back it takes camber, potholes, and broken surfaces in its stride while keeping the Conti's big body in check, too. The sportiest setting is a touch too firm, with potholes particularly sharp. The sweet spot is in between.

Inside the quality is still very high. The leather, the inlays, the chrome inserts are all genuine and look and feel the part while the front seats are superbly comfortable yet supportive. The rear seats are best reserved for bags, but if you need to carry a couple of adults they'll be happy on short journeys with the front seats adjusted accordingly.  

Letting the side down is the aging infotainment system. Against newer systems, it looks dated and is slow to react, but Bentley knows it, choosing to wait for its Bentayga to showcase its latest tech.

The £875 WiFi option is worth the extra, though. It uses a sim card to bring high-speed internet to up to four devices, and we managed to stream music and use a laptop simultaneously with no issues.  

Should I buy one?

The engine changes are welcome. Okay, so most Conti owners don't mind too much how much a tank of fuel costs, but the act of having to stop is far more inconvenient. Bentley reckons the W12 now has an achievable range of 400+ miles, and having to stop just once on your way to Nice will appeal to many potential customers.

Given the choice, we'd still opt for the V8S coupé. It manages to blend luxury and handling more competently, you'll never feel shortchanged and will end up saving a few pounds too. That said, for many the W12's grandeur will prove more attractive, and there's now an even more compelling case for spending the extra. 

Bentley Continental GT

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Location Norway; On sale Now; Price £150,500; Engine 12 cyls, 5998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 582bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 531lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2320kg; 0-62mph 4.5sec; Top speed 197mph; Economy 20.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 327g/km, 37%

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Paul73 5 June 2015


Jeeees guys, you can't just go making new words up....
Frightmare Bob 4 June 2015

The nose and tail seem to

The nose and tail seem to have had an unfortunate encounter with the ugly stick.
abkq 4 June 2015

Frightmare Bob wrote: The

Frightmare Bob wrote:

The nose and tail seem to have had an unfortunate encounter with the ugly stick.

+1 ... I would also draw attention to the cacophony of poorly coordinated elements in the interior. Don't Bentley designers look at Rolls Royce to see how an elegant & sophisticated interior should be done where all the design elements work with, not against, each other? Bentley uses all the expensive materials beautifully put together but the ambience is all wrong. After decades of being no more than rebadged RR, unfortunately VW isn't up to the task of reviving the Bentley brand in terms of aesthetics. The potential good news is that Bentley has just got a new design boss. One lives in hope ...