Touring in grand style with Bentley

Touring in grand style with Bentley

IT’S hard to say something unkind about a car when it makes you feel beautiful. So it is with the all-new Bentley Continental GT, so whether you’re basking in its brilliant exterior glow or wrapped in the perfection of its cockpit, you'll be hard-pressed to find one thing to criticise. The two-door coupe is pleasing on most sensory levels - sight, sound, sensation and olfactory. It looks pretty enough to eat, too, but we’re not going there.

Madam Wheels got up-close (but not quite that personal) with the Continental GT a week or so ago as part of a media drive Bentley had organised to showcase the car in Queensland. Our base was the Palazzo Versace, the finest digs on the Gold Coast, which were looking better than ever after a recent facelift to refresh its lobby. The new lighter, softer features are the first stage of full-body overhaul designed to bring the hotel through the next decade and beyond.

It was the perfect setting, therefore, in which to take in the new Continental GT which has undergone a significant transformation of its own since its first iteration in 2003. The original car’s design inspiration came from the 1952 R-Type Continental which, in its day, was considered the world’s fastest, most luxurious four-seat car.

Introducing a W12 engine, all-wheel drive and an unprecedented blend of luxury and performance, the initial Continental GT’s creation heralded an entirely new market segment - the modern luxury grand tourer - which the British automaker absolutely dominates to this day.

That became obvious as the media posse left the marble, columned grandeur of the Palazzo for our first encounter with the all-new version of the car. Walking on to the hotel’s porte cochere that sunny Queensland morning, we were dazzled not by the brilliant Spring light but the sparkling string of Continental GTs decorating the Versace’s circular driveway. They shone like precious jewels on a Bulgari necklace crafted from sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls and oh, so many diamonds.

Diamond styling features heavily throughout this car, most notably in the stunning knurling on the iconic Bullseye vents, bezels and dials - so pretty on the eye and surprisingly pleasing to handle, too. Each headlamp is illuminated with 82 LED lights inspired by the finest cut-crystal. And the distinctly Bentley quilted upholstery can be upgraded with a diamond-in-diamond treatment, too, a pattern which took 18 months to perfect.

But don’t take all this talk of jewellery to mean that the Continental GT is a girls’-only car. It absolutely is not. From the qualified racer drivers who’ve had it on the track, to the pack of male journalists who joined Madam Wheels on the media reveal, this car gets a resounding thumbs-up all round.

Our guide for the event, independent drive-day expert and race car driver Luke O’Neill, says he’s particularly impressed by the car’s breadth of ability.

“It will do everything,” says O’Neill, who also works with McLaren and Aston Martin, among other high-end brands. “It’s [got] the best interior on the market and, in my opinion, it ticks every singe box - from driving it fast on a race track to driving it comfortably on the road.”

We got to test the latter during a two-and-a-half hour drive out which meandered through rolling hills, organic farmland, freshly hewed cane fields and lush national parks to lunch at the magnificent Picadilly House in the hinterlands of Byron Bay. We were paired-up for the ride so we could swap between having fun at the wheel and testing the many features and handy technology accessible in the cockpit.

Sitting in the 20-way adjustable seats set the tone for what lay ahead, cocooning us in the plush leather (there are 15 different hide variants), with our spec optioned with cooling, heating and massage functions for both driver and passenger.

The car’s technology is underpinned by an electrical architecture new to this car made up of 8km of wiring using 100 million lines of software code. The benefits of all this are most accessible in the all-new 12.3” touchscreen which uses a menu structure based on the latest smartphones. It’s able to be customised, as can the fully-digital main instrument panel - a first for Bentley - which gives an almost-3D effect to the main dials. All of the electronics are a snap to use, and the nav system is uncomplicated.

An optional Bentley Rotating Display in the dash is pure Bentley. This three-sided rotating system - displaying in turn the touchscreen, three analogue dials (temperature, a compass and chronometer) and the Bentley veneer - took two years to develop and uses 40 moving parts. Bentley actually ran a competition among staff to come up with a fancier, perhaps more-fitting name for the display, but somehow this one stuck.

On our drive experience, Bentley had supplied us with a “Bentley playlist” which we enjoyed through the mid-range of three audio systems available in this car - a 1500W, 16-speaker system from Bang & Olufsen aimed at the lifestyle-oriented customer. A Naim 2200W, 18-speaker alternative can be optioned in as an upgrade. At that level, music aficionados, particularly, might appreciate the sound-deadening quality of the laminated acoustic glass used for the windscreen and windows.

Driving in Comfort mode, my co-pilot felt there was something of a turbo lag when he opened things up, though that seemed to go away when I switched to Dynamic. The car’s quick, too, managing the sprint to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds (though we were told a proper motoring journalist experiencing the car a day before improved on that time). I didn’t test it when driving through the curves and undulations heading towards Byron Bay, but the efficacy of Bentley’s intelligent Dynamic Ride System became apparent regardless. The ride was responsive and handling precise, and lateral roll was practically non-existent. We could have been riding on cushions.

The agility and light handling of the Continental GT belied the substantial look of it - in fact, the W12 body is 80kg lighter than it used to be. The aluminium skin has, in places, been creased, formed and crafted under extreme heat to deliver the sharply defined, athletic haunches over the back wheels. In the rear, elliptically-shaped taillights reflect the silhouette of the exhaust pipes below. It’s a simple effect but these little things matter. Together, the result is pure elegance.

The Bentley Continental GT has 17 exterior paint colours available as standard - our favourite is the Sequin Blue seen here. Of course, Bentley offers full bespoke colour-matching for its customers, too.

Overall, the Continental GT really is the epitome of high-performance style and luxury, and is a fitting vehicle with which to launch the luxury British brand into its centenary year in 2019.

No doubt, it will feature heavily in the many parties the brand has lined up during the festivities ahead, which will serve to highlight one sure thing about Bentley's Continental GT - this car won’t be needing a facelift anytime soon.

Madam Wheels Verdict

Yes, please. I’ll take two. The Bentley Continental GT is the epitome of luxury on wheels, with every beautiful facet thoughtfully designed and expertly crafted. You couldn’t be anything but delighted behind the wheel of this car.

Buy: If you want it all. The Continental GT delivers everything the modern urban car enthusiast could want or need.

Avoid: If you don’t want to stand out in a crowd because this car is definitely a head-turner.

Likes: The jewel-like finishes and the attention to the most minute detail.

Dislikes: It’s really just not possible to criticise anything.

Delivering: Now

Bottom line: $422,600 before on-road costs.