We’re lounging on the terrace the Kitzbühel Country Club, a members-only hideaway high up in the Austrian Alps. The view is stunning. And we’re not talking about the snow-capped peaks and daisy-covered hills — instead the four cars sitting in the car park below.
There’s an ivory-coloured 1952 Bentley R-Type Continental; the sweeping coupe that started it all. And then the three Volkswagen-backed re-imaginings; the blubbery 2003 car, the sharpened 2011 facelift and, at the front and in a seductive azure blue, the brand-new third-generation Continental GT of 2018.
It is a gradual evolution, but the result of its styling revisions is dramatic. Finally, a contemporary Bentley that can steal glances from the 1952 Bentley R-Type. And, with its cosseting cockpit and state-of-the-art innards, it promises to be the finest riding Bentley grand tourer of all-time.
The styling: streamlined and muscular
The 2018 car has a much wider grille and prettier face than the car it replaces, a more streamlined body with shorter front overhang, longer rear, muscular haunches, and entirely reworked posterior.
Several of the styling cues, from the concave and convex shapes to the milled aluminium interior details, were inspired by vintage aeroplane fuselages. It’s the sort of car you’d expect a modern-day Howard Hughes to drive. Other details are inspired by Côtes de Gèneve watchmaking, while the chic yet bellicose headlamps are a nod to cut-crystal whiskey tumblers.
Technology & performance: Zero to 60mph in 3.7 seconds
The car is so advanced it requires 5 miles of wiring, hidden away behind nine cows and ten square metres of wood. Its heart is a 6.0 litre turbo-charged W12. Those 28 pistons have been moved backwards by 150mm to behind the front axle, so as to make a more balanced and fun-to-drive automobile.
Zero to 60mph takes 3.7 seconds, 0.7 quicker than the outgoing model. Top speed is 207mph, and it’ll stop staggeringly quickly too. The car is 80kg lighter than before, and Bentley has upped the ante on braking by fitting the most ginormous anchors of any road car.
There is four-wheel-drive, making it all the more refined in corners, and a delightful eight-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox, adapted from Porsche’s PDK system.
This car is so important that Bentley delayed its launch by a few months to tweak the software that controls it because the changes weren’t smooth enough. They are now. Other Porsche collaborations include the suspension, derived from the Panamera, but again perfected by Bentley.
There’s nothing hand-me-down about this £159,100 car. With Bentley borrowing the best bits from Porsche and making them their own, they’ve managed to get one up on Aston Martin and their use of AMG Mercedes’ special stuff.
Comfort: vintage luxury meets modern tech
The cabin is a brilliantly-judged blend of vintage luxury, modern technology and rakish sportiness. One of the most unusual gimmicks is the world’s first three-way rotating dashboard. This triangular motorised panel has three different faces; blank wood veneer, 12.3-inch infotainment screen, or three analogue dials displaying the outside temperature, a compass and a chronometer. The rotating action calls to mind 007’s changing number plates, spinning around with an barely imperceptible whirr. This is a digital reimagining, with just enough nostalgia.
Each interior is crafted from nine bull hides, stitched together elegantly by 1.7 miles of thread. The leather is shaved to a thickness of just 1mm in order to save weight. The diamond-patterned embroidery, which in addition to the aluminium details lends to the Aviator atmosphere, requires 310,000 stitches per car. And, adding to the serenity are the custom-designed Pirelli P-Zero tyres, designed to be noise-cancelling.
The GJ verdict:
This feels much more special and sprightly than the old car and the power delivery is the most linear of any GT car we’ve driven. It is shockingly fast but, while the performance thrills, it is the refinement that really impresses. The Aston DB11 is a little more sporty, but it cannot match the Bentley for cruising composure. The Rolls-Royce Wraith matches it for refinement but would be left for dead in the corners. The only GT that can edge the Bentley on its sense of occasion is the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso, which is £39k dearer and cursed with divisive styling.
Overall, if you want a rakish and luxurious 2+2 that can gracefully hoover the autoroutes at high-speed and reward on the alpine passes, look no further than the Continental GT. Bentley set out to build the best Grand Tourer in the world. They’ve succeeded.