The Grossglockner is the highest peak in Austria. At 3,798m, the ‘Black Mountain’ towers over the region, standing guard over one of the greatest roads in Europe: the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. Impossibly green pastures dotted with wildflowers bank the long curves of its lower stages. Quickly the gradients begin to increase and the corners sharpen; grassy meadows give way to rugged black rock outcroppings and sheets of glacier-white snow slowly melting even in the Spring sun.
It makes for one of the best road trips in Europe – and is a perfect proving ground for Bentley’s brand-new Continental GT.
To really put the car’s name to the test – quite literally – we’re taking it on a grand tour of the Continent, first through Austria and then across into Italy.
Mankind has been crossing the Alps here for more than 3,500 years – from the Celts to the Romans. The only thing all-conquering here today, though, is the Bentley. Armed with a brand-new 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 engine – 626bhp at 6,000rpm, thanks very much – the Continental decimates the steep mountain tarmac. Zero-60 mph comes in just 3.6 seconds – and the torque is available from astonishingly low revs. There’s 900Nm available from just 1,350bhp – a 25% lift from its predecessor. So with even the slightest toe tap, you’ve hit the next corner before you can shout ‘brake’.
Which is fortunately not an issue, as the new Conti has the largest and most powerful iron brakes ever made for a production car. And they are prodigious. Thanks to a fair degree of technical wizardry, break pressure moves around the four wheels to help you turn in and out of corners more dynamically. Compared to its predecessor, the new Conti is considerably lighter, too.
Courtesy of its new superformed aluminium panels, 80kg has been shaved off the body alone, bringing it under 2,250kg.
Now, this isn’t exactly lightweight in the grand scheme of grand tourers. However, partnered with Bentley’s highly sophisticated Dynamic Ride System – the same 48-volt active anti-roll control developed for the Bentayga – it’s an incredibly poised car.
It’s fitting that James Bond’s first car was a Bentley, as there’s no doubt Q would be impressed
Eight kilometres of wiring, 92 ECUs and 100 million lines of software code are used in this complicated electrical architecture, all helping to mitigate even the slightest whiff of body roll. Active torque vectoring from an electronic centre diff allows the car to shift torque around where it needs it to, which makes it all the more stable and enjoyable to drive.
The 48km mountain pass we’re driving has a total of 36 turns, and scythes upwards towards the Edelweissspitze at 2,500m above sea level. The Conti glides along the ribbons of road with poise and aplomb. Not to mention a throaty growl which is enough to drown out the rush of waterfalls and riverlets made by the melting snow.
We’re in Austria’s largest national park, an area of 1,800sq km extending across Tyrol and Carinthia. The stunning surroundings certainly help take the Continental experience to the next level. Although, whether you’re in Salzburg or Sutton, as long as you’re inside the impressive Conti you’ll be smiling.
The Côtes de Genève finish on the centre console, machined on aluminium just 0.6mm thick, is a beautiful new option. It’s like looking inside a super-sized Swiss watch – just as beautiful, just as precise.
There are nods to the Bentley logo everywhere – from the instrument panel (like two balanced wings spread across the cabin) to the door handles (look carefully, and you’ll realised they’re a Flying ‘B’).
The new Bentley Rotating Display is a fun addition, too. It’s fitting that James Bond’s first car (as written by Ian Fleming) was a Bentley, as there’s no doubt Q would be impressed. Press a button, and the three-sided feature rotates between a 12.3-inch touchscreen, a perfectly aligned piece of wood veneer and a trio of analogue gauges. The latter two are ideal for those looking for a ‘digital detox’ – as well as a reminder of Bentley’s storied past.
WO Bentley proclaimed his mission statement: “To build a good car, a fast car, the best in its class."
But if you want technology, it’s abundant. There’s head-up display, night vision, and even an intelligent sat-nav system that foresees corners and feeds back to the engine management system ensuring the right gear is selected. Then there’s the sound system that ranges from ‘standard’ – 650 watts, ten speakers – up to what can only accurately be described as ‘stadium’ – 2,200 watts and 18 speakers from Naim.
Bentley’s iconic knurling is there, too – and the familiar shapes are taken to the next level in the ‘diamond in diamond’ quilting option. To achieve this, 2.8km of thread are used per car, with more than 310,000 stitches made by hand. The result is as impressive as the numbers – and is testament to the 18 months of development that went into the pattern.
The diamond motif is subtly reflected in the exterior styling – specifically in the new multifaceted headlamps inspired by old-school cut-crystal whisky tumblers.
The rest of the exterior is just as sharp thanks to Bentley’s industry-leading super-formed panel technology. Essentially, the shapes and lines are created by heating flat sheets of aluminium to more than 500 degrees celsius before air pressure blows the sheet over the mould.
It’s what makes that distinctive powerline possible, flowing from the headlamps then continuing over its muscular haunch.
These lines are modern interpretations of the original – the first Continental R Type, built in 1952. At the time, it was the fastest four-seat car in the entire world. Fifty years later, and with more than 70,000 sold, the Continental GT has become the most successful model that Bentley has ever made.
This latest iteration is sharper, lighter, faster and more refined than its predecessors. When WO Bentley founded his company in 1919, he proclaimed its mission statement: “To build a good car, a fast car, the best in its class.” Almost 100 years later, Benno Brandlhuber – the product line director for the new Continental GT – was set the same challenge. And there’s no doubt he’s succeeded: it is a grand tourer de force.
The Bentley Continental GT is on sale now, starting from £159,100, however it has already sold out in the UK for this year so you’ll be waiting until at least Spring 2019 before you can get behind the wheel. For more info, see bentleymotors.com