The 2019 Bentley Continental GT Review: A Gangster in a Savile Row Suit
(Bloomberg) -- People often ask me which new car I’d buy if money were no object.
Here’s a strong contender: the 2019 Bentley Continental GT coupe.
Produced on the eve of the esteemed British brand’s centennial anniversary next year, the $214,600 Continental GT combines most things that discerning drivers love—it’s massively powerful and shockingly fast; it handles with the agility of an elite athlete; and it has a highly customizable, handcrafted interior that’s as pleasurable to inhabit after 1,000 miles as it is on the first mile. All of which comes wrapped in a brawny but handsome shell, like a hit man in a nice suit. It’s the best-looking GT on the market today.
A continuation of the excellent modern Continental GT line that Bentley started in 2003, the latest edition offers a lower and wider driving stance, more power, improved efficiency, and stabler driving dynamics as you approach its impressive top speed of 207 mph. (For reference, that’s faster than Lamborghini’s Huracan and Ferrari’s Portofino.)
I recently took a tungsten-colored Continental GT for almost 1,000 miles’ worth of driving between Los Angeles and Monterey, Calif. Here are the main reasons I loved (yes, loved) it.
Efficiency: This is not the car’s sexiest attribute, but it’s the most surprising thing about the Continental GT considering this four-seater weighs a hefty 5,000 pounds. The purpose of a GT vehicle is to be able to do grand tours, and I averaged more than 17 mpg over the course of my loan, enabling me to get from downtown L.A. to Carmel, in the Monterey region of California, on one tank of gas with some left over.
Credit Bentley’s clever engineering for the improvement (the prior-year model averaged 15.6 combined city and highway mpg). Its variable displacement system allows two cylinders in the W-12 engine to shut down when they’re not needed to maintain speed, which helps the car burn through less fuel. Et voilà! You’re in Monterey before you know it.
Speed: OK, this is perhaps the sexiest thing about this car: With a zero to 60 mph sprint time of 3.6 seconds and 664 pound-feet of torque, it’ll dust anything that dares challenge it, whether racing off a stoplight starting line or pulling up from behind on the open road. There were plenty of opportunities to put this to the test on the way up to Carmel, since it happened to be the week before the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and every guy driving a Pagani or McLaren seemed to be feeling his oats. But while Paganis and McLarens are track-oriented cars that can’t hit the streets without an owner stressing about scraping front splitters on the foot of every steep hill, the comfortable 626-brake-horsepower Continental GT felt like it had home-court advantage.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is almost magically smooth; shifting through sixth, seventh, and eighth gears happens instantly. Combined with the double-thick window glass that coats the cabin in near silence, it created an odd sensation of being utterly present but also removed as I pulled away from would-be challengers on the road, like watching it happen in slow motion on TV while simultaneously doing it in real life.
Interior design: This is where some buyers may balk at the Continental GT—not because it’s inelegant or poorly done; the interior includes the finest hides, chrome, and wood—but because it’s of a certain old-world style. The car has analog clock dials, quilted leather seats, and lots of wooden veneers. If you’re a future-loving first adopter, look elsewhere. Your home isn’t here. But if you enjoy the feel of cozy old studies with horsehair ottomans, walnut armoires, and cigar-smoke-soaked rafters, you’ll like the Continental GT.
In fact, if you happen to have some horsehair ottomans or cigar-smoke-soaked talismans from home, you can get the same materials built right into your car. Along with Rolls-Royce, Bentley is the most advanced automaker when it comes to building cars to clients’ precise requirements. (On some models, including the Mulsanne, as much as 80 percent of the design is heavily bespoke.) It’s all about reflecting each individual’s personality. Buyers can choose among eight wooden veneers (some of which are new this year) to line the dash, sides, and rear of the car. Polished chrome and new diamond-shaped brushing on knobs and buttons are available, as are personalized tread plates in the doorsills and custom-embroidered headrests. The standard-issue Continental GTs offer 15 different colors of leather to choose from, but the truth is that Bentley will do pretty much any color of hide you want—if you’re willing to pay for it.
Just because the interior of the car feels like a study, however, doesn’t mean it’s old-fashioned. One of my favorite of its attributes is the 12.3-inch rotating screen that forms the main component of the dashboard. It flips around at the push of a button to shuffle between among analog clock dials, a high-resolution touchscreen, and a simple wooden veneer cover that flows seamlessly into the rest of the dashboard. And I’m happy to report that this Bentley has USB accessibility, an improvement over past generations of Continentals that had none.
Presence: Monterey Car Week is a great setting to drive a new car if you want a real-life survey of where it falls in the six- and seven-figure universe. In that rarefied air, production BMWs, Audis, Mercedes-Benzes, and Porsches are as plentiful as Honda Accords—and just as overlooked. So I was surprised when, on streets filled with Pagani Huayras, Bugatti Chirons, and some of the most desired racing Ferraris and Porsches in the world, this relatively reserved Brit dressed in a reserved color (that slate-gray tungsten) garnered enough attention from the “carparazzi” to merit thumbs-ups and cellphone snaps throughout the course of the week. That has to do with its general presence: the wide chrome matrix grille set between 21-inch multispoke wheels, backlighting across the tread plates and sides of the car, full LED head- and taillights, and a low roofline curved perfectly toward the back so the car looks ready to land a blow.
With 17 standard exterior paint colors and 13 additional hues in the extended range, it’s certainly possible to play up the car with a brighter tone than tungsten. But you hardly need it.
The Bentley Continental GT is the kind of vehicle you can drive without explaining or apologizing for, when you want to look and feel like an adult, but you also like to go fast.
It’s a car that speaks for itself—so you can just enjoy the drive.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.