The Centurion

In 1919 Walter Owen (W.O.) Bentley created a car company with a simple objective to build “a fast car, a good car, the best in its class.” This week Bentley celebrates its Centenary and in those 100 years it has created some of the most iconic Grand Tourers the world has ever seen with the latest being the third generation Continental GT.

You will notice that the colour of the Continental GT changes depending on the angle and light.

When I first laid my eyes on the Midnight Emerald coloured Continental GT that I would have the pleasure to drive for the next 24 hours my overwhelming thought was that this car has a lot of presence and you really wouldn’t want to mess with. It is such a substantial imposing figure with its 22 inch wheels and crystal-esque LED headlights that you just want to stare into like a dazed deer.

As I stepped inside the cabin and my mouth drops even further “wow”, I almost have to pinch myself to check that I am not dreaming, as I realise that I am about to drive a true legend. I was limited to just 200km in the Conti, but I wanted to do 2,000km! How much trouble would I be in if I tried out the literal meaning of this car and took a Grand Tour of our beautiful continent? The Conti GT is so fast and the cabin is so comfortable that I am sure it would be possible to drive from Sydney to Melbourne and back in 24 hours!

As I looked at the dash I contemplated “Could I drive from Sydney to Melbourne and back in 24 hours?”

The Mulliner Driving Specification ($25,075 option) adorning to my Continental GT included the expensive smelling and supple leather diamond quilted seats in Camel/Cumbrian colour combination, plus a great list of other very special features. The ‘diamond in diamond’ stitching took Bentley 18 months to develop and 712 stitches make up each diamond shape and this gives you an idea about the level of detail that is in this Bentley. The 20-way electrically adjusted seats were also fitted with the Comfort Specification ($6,950 option) which includes heating, cooling and the massage function. The choice of five different massage types combined with the heated seats is just heaven and would make driving long distances in this car a very relaxing experience.

Look closer and you can take in all of the minute details that make a car like this so special to be in. Like the Diamond Knurling (the etching detail) surrounding the air vents, clock and other cabin features ($3,854 option), the veneer in Liquid Amber that stretched from the doors across the dash ($2,881 option) and the rotating display ($12,319 option). The rotating display has three sides including the 12.3” high resolution capacitive touch screen high definition display, three analogue dials displaying outside air temperature, a compass and chronometer, and a blank veneer panel. The only disappointing thing about the rotating display was that the metal bezel across the dash did not line up with the bezel on the display.

Once I had finished admiring all of the exquisite detail on the interior of the Continental I hit that start button and the W12 engine stood to attention. You really don’t hear much from the engine even when you put it in Sport mode as there is so much sound deadening in the Conti, even the windows are laminated acoustic glass. This allows you to immerse yourself in your favourite music piped through the 1,500W 16 speaker Bang & Olufsen surround sound stereo system ($13,106 option). The system even has illuminated speaker grills that look magical at night almost like a fireworks display.

For cruising down the highway I selected the ‘Bentley’ drive mode from the four drive mode options (the other two drive modes available are Comfort and Custom). Bentley mode offers the best of both worlds from a comfort and performance perspective. This gave me time to investigate all of the features you can access from the touchscreen and how the car can be customised into your perfect driving machine.

But when it was time to have some fun in the Conti and to really enjoy that epic engine I switched to Sport mode. The 6.0 litre twin-turbocharged W12 engine produces 467 kW (626bhp) @ 6,000rpm and a staggering 900 Nm of torque between 1,350-4,500rpm. This translates to 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 333km/h in a car that weighs 2,715kg! Official combined fuel consumption is 12.2L/100km and for my 24 hours I used 23.2L/100km.

When I really pushed the Continental GT through the corners I could feel the weight impinging on the driving dynamics. The 8-speed dual clutch transmission didn’t always want to change gears when I asked it to as I pulled on the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for a downshift. But the Active All-Wheel Drive and 315mm wide rear tyres did a fine job containing those 900Nm when I was accelerating hard. I had to remind myself that the Continental is a Grand Tourer and not an all-out sports car and there is only so much the engine and electronics can do to overcome the weight of the vehicle.

My Conti was fitted with the Touring Specification ($16,244 option) that includes adaptive cruise control, Bentley Safeguard Plus (Emergency Lane Change Assist and Intersection Assist. The system intervenes if there is a potential for a frontal collision, preparing Continental GT for a safe full emergency stop if required), Head-up Display and the mind blowing Night Vision. For night driving you also get High Beam Assist as standard and this negates the need for the driver to manually turn off high beam and it works very well. A feature that the Conti didn’t have that I thought it should was a 360o view camera system; it only had a standard reversing camera with front and rear sensors.

The Continental GT is a four seat car, but in reality it is a two plus two seater as you really can’t fit adults in the back as there is limited head and leg room and to fit adults in the front seat passengers would be sitting uncomfortably too far forward. My back seat passengers were not impressed at all by the Conti and my son said it was a “five out of ten” and reminded him of the space he had in the Ford Mustang. My daughter also complained that her car seat was at an unusual angle most likely due to the contoured design of the rear seats. You do get two ISOFIX/rear tether child seat restraint points, but you need to be careful when fitting a seat so that you do not scratch the car as you lift in it. You would also need to do some thorough research into your car seat selection in order for a full-sized seat to nicely fit into the Conti.

The rear seat occupants don’t get air vents, but the small side windows in the back do open. There are two cups holders and USB ports and a 12V outlet under the centre console between the two rear seats. My curious kids also discovered that the panel between the two rear seats can be removed so that you can access the boot from the back seat or to stow long items in there. The boot is a good size and would comfortable carry your luggage for a weekend away and it has a 12V outlet as well.

All new Bentleys come with a three year unlimited kilometre warranty and 24 hour roadside assistance for the first three years of ownership. The Continental GT does not have an ANCAP safety rating, but it does have drivers and passenger front airbags and side impacts airbags and an active pedestrian protection system.

The Bentley Continental GT starts at $422,600 plus on-road costs and as tested my Grand Tourer was $514,076 plus on-roads. There are 17 standard paint colours, 15 standard hide colours and one standard veneer, but in fact the opportunity for you to customise your own Continental GT is almost endless with Mulliner Bespoke.

The Design Studio at Bentley Sydney where you can create your very own masterpiece.

When you drive a Bentley Continental GT you are immersed in the history of taking a Grand Tour across Europe. The Conti certainly continues that proud lineage with a vehicle that oozes excellence. Seeing this one parked in our garage like a protector of our realm my son said “It looks like it belongs there” and I couldn’t help but agree with him. Visit your preferred Bentley dealer to experience a Continental GT for yourself.

Pros Cons
It is a true Grand Tourer The misalignment of the dash bezel  
The luxurious finish in the cabin No 360o view camera system
The glorious W12 engine Lack of space for rear seat passengers
Chasing the sun in the Bentley Continental GT.

Photographs by Driven Women Magazine.