2018 Bentley Continental GT
Drifting on packed snow with the throttle nailed and the tail cocked full hooligan is questionable behavior in a $200,000-plus Bentley Continental GT Speed—especially when it’s a prototype only two-thirds of the way through its final development schedule. But such activity, plus three encounters with roving reindeer herds, is par for the course when you’re embedded with Bentley’s top engineers wrapping up their winter test routines near the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland.
Full disclosure: This report deviates from our first-drive review norms. While we did drive a camouflaged third-generation Continental GT, scheduled to appear in final form at this fall’s Frankfurt auto show, for every minute in the driver’s seat we experienced an hour as a passenger. Compensation came in the form of unrestricted dialogue with three of Bentley’s top engineers: head of quality Jürgen Kern, powertrain chief Paul Williams, and whole-vehicle engineering director Cameron Paterson.
Bentley is launching the Conti with its flagship engine: a revised version of the company’s 6.0-litre W12. The motor produces 626bhp and a colossal 900Nm of torque between 1,750rpm and 4,000rpm – enough to take the car from 0-60mph in 3.6 seconds, and on to a 207mph top speed.
The W12 now has cylinder-deactivation tech (which earns it the TSI badge), and this, along with the switch to a dual-clutch transmission from the old torque-converter automatic, plus a part-time four-wheel-drive system, helps to slash CO2 emissions by 16 per cent, to around 278g/km. Bentley claims the car can now travel for more than 500 miles on a single tank of petrol.
Other powerplants will follow – notably a V8 petrol, also with cylinder deactivation. And there’s likely to be a hybrid, too, although senior sources say Bentley faces a challenge to introduce electrification to the car without altering its character too much.
Along with its convertible sibling, the GTC, the GT is based on a new platform called MSB, which has been co-developed with Porsche.
The change is part of a weight reduction effort that should drop the car substantially below the 2375kg of today’s GT. However, it will not fall below two tonnes, Dürheimer said.
Below the range-topping 6.0-litre W12, which produces 18bhp more than the outgoing W12, an updated version of the current car’s 4.0-litre petrol V8 will be offered. The V8’s power output is likely to be beyond the 521bhp of the current S model.
There will also be a petrol V6 plug-in hybrid (PHEV), which will use a set-up that develops 410bhp in today’s Porsche Cayenne PHEV.
It is unlikely that Bentley will offer a diesel V8 option in the Continental, even though the unit is already used in the Bentayga.
Speaking at the Bentayga’s launch last year, Dürheimer said his “personal goal is a sustainable, stand-alone business with an annual production volume of 20,000 units”. He envisages seven model lines, although the production version of the EXP 10 Speed 6 sports car that would be among the growing line-up has yet to be signed off. Bentley could also add its first electric car to the list – as previewed by the EXP 12 Speed 6E.
A 12.3-inch ‘retina-quality’ display is the cabin’s technological centrepiece. When the Continental GT is switched off, the facia looks like a single, flush piece of wood veneer. Fire up the ignition, and the screen rotates to show the infotainment system.
However, the set-up is actually a three-sided display that can rotate again to show a trio of analogue instrument dials – a chronometer, outside air temperature and a compass. The rotating screen has 40 moving components, uses two separate motors – each with its own gearbox – and adapts to temperature and atmospheric pressure.
The 2017 Supersports represents the epitome of the second-generation Continental, says Bentley Continental product line director Paul Jones; the distillation of the engineering and development lessons learned over the car’s seven-year lifespan. What Jones won’t confirm is that it’s also probably the last hurrah for the second-gen Conti, which is due to be replaced by an all-new model built using VW Group’s MSB architecture by the end of the year.
In addition to its mechanical upgrades, the 2017 Supersports is identified by new, more aggressively styled bumper fascias front and rear, a trunk-mounted rear wing, and new multi-spoke 21-inch forged alloy wheels. The grille, headlight surrounds, greenhouse surround, side vents, and other minor trim items are all finished in gloss black. Inside, the Supersports gets unique checker-pattern carbon fiber trim on the dash, and Supersports logos stitched into the seats.
A tri-tone color split for the interior leather is available as an option. Also optional is the Supersports X specification, which offers eight unique duo-tone exterior color combinations, as well as additional carbon-fiber trim pieces, and a titanium exhaust system.
Just 250 Supersports will be available for the U.S. Prices start at $293,700 for the Coupe and $322,600 for the Convertible, with the first cars expected to arrive in the third quarter of this year.