Looking under the hood, I was impressed by the packaging of this engine. Volkswagen boasts about the compact design of the W-12, which was apparent even through all the plastic cladding.
The Continental GT keeps its 567 horsepower and 512 pound-feet of torque very manageable in everyday driving, largely through the grace of the six-speed automatic transmission, which is exceedingly well-matched with the engine. Acceleration is very smooth in the standard drive mode, and the huge power from the engine means the car climbs hills with no apparent effort.
The size of the car is not overwhelming either, despite its presence, making it easy to maneuver through city traffic. The wide side mirrors made it easy to see traffic to either side, although I still would like to see a blind-spot detection system here. The reverse camera is quite good, showing trajectory and distance lines. But considering a dinged fender will cost about as much as a new hatchback to repair, a surround-view camera system would also be nice.
Double-glazed windows and intense sound deadening contribute to a comfortable ride, but the suspension, in its softest mode, didn't completely isolate me from rough patches in the road. There was still a palpable feel of the car dealing with potholes and the like.
Bentley gives the Continental GT an adjustable suspension, with four settings from Comfort to Sport, and here are my two gripes about this system. First of all, I cannot imagine a Goldilocks sitting in the car, running through the different adjustments and thinking, "This one is too soft, and this one is too hard, but this one in the middle is just right." Bentley should really just make it a two-setting system.
Second, Bentley puts the setting adjustment on the touch screen, which is difficult to use while underway. I would much rather have the button, which brings up that screen, cycle through the different suspension settings. That way I wouldn't have to look at the screen as I am about to head down a particularly exciting bit of road.
And speaking of the Continental GT's sport handling, it came as a surprise that it could feel so light and easy through the corners. Something about the big rear fenders and upright wire grille give it the presence of a large car, the big 21-inch wheels adding to that effect. In normal driving, it feels very deliberate.
But things changed dramatically when I slipped the shifter into the S position and used that annoying screen interface to tighten up the suspension. The car became a little unruly at low speeds. The engine growled loud enough to hear through the thick windows and leather-lined everything, and wanted to deliver a big power spike every time I touched the gas pedal.
With the speed up, it flowed easily down narrow mountain roads, the 567 horsepower delivering more than enough push. And going into the turns, the car suddenly felt like a lightweight sports car. I could hear the tires whining, but the Continental GT felt eerily composed.
The adaptive suspension and Bentley's standard all-wheel-drive system were playing their parts in keeping the big car pointed where I wanted it. Likewise, the transmission, despite being an automatic, delivered fast, hard shifts when I hit the column-mounted paddles. Some of the Continental GT's cabin tech may not be first-rate, but its driving tech certainly is.
The 2012 Bentley Continental GT's performance gear, including all-wheel drive, transmission, and suspension, works sublimely together to deliver an excellent driving experience. The engine, while very powerful, is not the most economical around.
In the cabin, the Naim Audio system serves as a tent pole, offering a sublime listening experience, while other electronics let down the side a bit. The phone and navigation systems work just fine, but are a little average for such a pricey car.
|Model||2012 Bentley Continental GT|
|Power train||Twin turbocharged 6-liter W-12 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||12 mpg city/19 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||Not recorded|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, SD card, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Naim 1,100-watt 11-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$222,565|