2016 Bentley Continental GT First Drive

Posted on Jun 15 2015 - 7:33am by Lisa Chan

A serpentine pass with 11 hairpin turns, running down the side of a mountain in western Norway. I’ve seen this road before in photos, but in person, I’m both giddy and in awe. The pavement looks like haphazardly draped garland on this perfect bit of sculpted land. The Trollstigen (“Trolls’ Path” in English) is a huge tourist attraction, and I can see why. But I’m about to have way more fun than the pedestrians who made their way to the summit in buses and shuttles. I’m going to drive this road. In a Bentley.

2016 Bentley


The crew in Crewe claim their Continental GT is the finest grand tourer in the world. And along the Trollstigen, not to mention the other winding roads in western Norway, that’s easy to believe. The Continental is big and beautiful. It’s supremely comfortable. It has everything a driver or passenger could ask for. And good golly, is it powerful.

Bentley introduced the Continental GT in 2003, with a second generation arriving in 2011. For better or worse, the changes for 2016 are minor. This isn’t an all-new Conti, rather a light refresh in order to bolster what the big Bentley already does well.
The most obvious change for 2016 is the front bumper. It’s been restyled to incorporate more aggressive fenders and a lower air intake that spans the full width of the car. Around back, there’s a subtle lip spoiler built into the deck lid. V8 S and Speed models get a new rear diffuser. Fancy new side vents are present on all models, with a big metallic “B” shape. Finally, new 20- and 21-inch wheel options are available, including attractive directional alloys available on GT Speed models. But I’m not sure if these updates – particularly the front fascia – improve upon the original formula.

Less obvious are the interior updates. There are new colors, as well as a straight-fluting pattern on the seats (GT Speed models get a super luxurious quilted pattern). LED lights accent the cabin. The lighting in the instrument panel and on the center stack is brighter and more crisp. You can get WiFi in the car, and can connect up to eight devices at once. But these improvements don’t fix longstanding grievances with the Continental interior. For starters, the infotainment system is horrendously outdated and slow to respond. Many of the controls look their age, even alongside an updated steering wheel and resurfaced shift paddles. The main gear lever reminds me of a Volkswagen Passat circa 2005.Make no mistake, the Continental’s cabin is still a wonderful place to spend time. Every single surface looks and feels great. It’s supremely quiet at speed, but isn’t so isolated that you can’t hear the throaty exhaust on V8 S and Speed models. In fact, Bentley is particularly proud of the enhanced exhaust tone – a lesson learned from the more vocal GT3-R. While the standard GT W12 remains gentlemanly and subdued, the V8 S and Speed have a raucous sound. Provoking the throttle brought grunts and growls that filled every mountain tunnel with ferocious echoes. It’s no Jaguar F-Type, but throw the V8 S in Sport, run it to redline in third gear, get off the throttle, and you’ll hear an uncharacteristically menacing Bentley sound. I love it.

The same V8 and W12 engines carry over from last year, mostly. The 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W12 now makes 582 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque, up from 567 and 516, respectively. The varaible-displacement system in the W12 can now run six cylinders on partial throttle, resulting in a five-percent increase in fuel economy. Of course, that just means 20 miles per gallon combined for the standard GT W12. Speed models raise the W12’s output to 626 hp and 607 lb-ft, unchanged from 2015. There, 60 miles per hour arrives in four seconds flat – the quickest configuration for the Continental range.

Lovely and powerful as the 12-cylinder Continentals are, the V8 models are even better – specifically the S. They’re powered by the same 4.0-liter, twin-turbo unit as before; an engine also found under the hood of the Audi S8. It’s a gem, making 500 hp and 487 lb-ft in standard guise, and a healthy 521 hp and 502 lb-ft when that S kit is added. Yes, the W12 makes more power, but that’s not the point. The V8 is more eager to rev high, and shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission feel quicker when paired with the smaller mill. The V8 feels like more of an athlete compared to the larger, brutish W12. Even so, there’s a lot of car for these engines to move. V8 models tip the scales at 5,060 pounds, with 12-cylinder Continentals weighing in at 5,115.Down the Trollstigen, I’m driving a GT Speed painted in a handsome almost-black “Spectre” hue. The air suspension is hunkered down, and through the incredibly tight hairpin turns, the car feels huge. The 21-inch wheels dig in and grip the road at lower speeds. Going into corners at higher velocities reveals understeer, something that’s baked into the all-wheel-drive tuning of all Continentals. The light steering doesn’t communicate the heft of the car, though the tiller builds weight progressively and offers feedback throughout the entire range of motion. The big brakes come in handy on the steep, 10-percent grade, slowing the Speed down with parachute-like quickness. If you only notice the car’s weight in one place, it’s when you’re pounding on the stop pedal.

The GT V8 S is 55 pounds lighter than the W12, and all that weight comes right out of the car’s nose. The S is less prone to plow into a corner. The communication from the front wheels to the steering is better, too. The transmission’s sport setting holds gears as long as you desire, and the paddles are big, column-mounted units that are a joy to use. The V8 S is the best driver’s car of the Continental GT range. Bentley isn’t shy about admitting that, either. After all, when it came time to engineer that GT3-R road car, the V8 S was used as the starting point, not the more powerful Speed. Furthermore, despite its power decrease, the V8 S matches the W12’s 0-60 time at 4.3 seconds – three-tenths of a second slower than the Speed.

When I reach the 2.5-mile section of road that Bentley has shut down for private use, I’m delighted to get out of the GT Speed and into the V8 S. This car stays flatter in the corners than the rest of the GTs; it feels more urgent, more eager. And it makes that noise. Aural stimulation alone is enough to make me want the V8 S over every other Continental GT.Next, I hop in the soft and supple W12 convertible. The W12 Continental is less engaging than the other models, no matter the body style. It’s not as planted as a Speed. And it’s certainly not as nimble as a V8 S. Here, the 582-hp W12 engine acts like a good sidekick. It provides ample support when desired, but stays out of the limelight. It’s quiet. It’s refined. But it’s still fantastic.

In the less stiff convertible body, the refined Continental GT W12 feels like a traditional grand tourer, less like a sporting one. Think Mercedes-Benz S600 Coupe versus S63 AMG. And with the top back, I can take in the sights and smells of another Norwegian specialty: the Atlantic Road.

This is a five-mile stretch of road with eight bridges that connect an archipelago of islands along the west coast of Norway. There are no tight turns, no particularly involving series of bends. The Atlantic Road instead commands all of your senses, and a convertible as plush and powerful as the Continental GT is the best way to take it all in. A beautiful car against a breathtaking backdrop, and a perfect way to cap a fantastic day of driving.