Bentley created the Continental GT, a model that has a 6.0-liter 12-cylinder twin-turbocharged engine, that is able to deliver more than 500 BHP and that sends the power to the wheels through a paddle-operated, six-speed automatic transmission. The interior designers made sure all shapes and sizes can be accommodated to offer ideal position. The designers tried to create a car with as much room as the most spacious coupe on the market. The secret is under the bonnet, the size of the engine. Each turbo is much smaller than would be a single unit designed for the same purpose. This is the first model the carmaker designed in the virtually world. This process actually, reduces development time and costs. To offer perfect riding and handling, the carmaker created a chassis strategy and it consists of a still body. It will be equipped with 19-inch wheels and ventilated brakes at each corner using the latest Bosch anti-lock system with Brake Assist and Emergency Brake Force Distribution.
Featuring a 6-litre, 12 cylinder, twin-turbocharged, engine with more than 500bhp driving all four wheels through a paddle-operated, six speed automatic gearbox, the Continental GT offers true supercar performance combined with the interior space, versatility and ease of ownership to make it not merely viable as an everyday car, but a natural for the role. In this respect as well as many others, Bentley believes the Continental GT to be unique.
The Continental GT was designed and engineered by Bentley at Crewe and is manufactured there in all-new facilities that combine state of the art technologies with the unique hand finishing and attention to detail that have been the hallmark of all cars to wear the winged "B". It goes on sale in the second half of 2003 and will bring the prospect of Bentley ownership to a wider audience of discerning enthusiasts than ever before. And while the Continental GT is a Bentley from bumper to bumper, the role of the company's Volkswagen parent can scarcely be ignored.
The dream of building a new Bentley coupe is not new - indeed it has been alive at Crewe for over 20 years. But it was only the £500 million vote of confidence placed in the marque by VW that brought the dream to reality. And VW has more than merely made funds available to design an all-new car. It has also enabled Bentley to transform the Crewe factory into a thoroughly modern centre of manufacturing excellence, ensuring not only that Bentley is in better shape today than ever, but also guaranteeing its design, engineering and manufacturing sovereignty as far into the future as it is possible to see.
Interior design and style
The cabin of the Continental GT is designed to make Bentley devotees and marque newcomers feel equally at home. Those familiar with the Bentley way of doing things will be reassured, comforted and cosseted by the expanses of top quality hide and fine wood veneers; those for whom Bentley ownership is a new experience will discover a new level of luxury, style and effortless good taste. Most notable perhaps is the symmetrical nature of the facia with a centre console rising up and curving left and right in front of the passenger and driver in a shape that intentionally reflects the design of the famed Bentley wings. It also has the effect of creating the same atmosphere on either side of the car so that the passenger feels almost as much part of the action as the driver.
For the man or woman behind the wheel, however, a unique driving environment awaits. It goes without saying that an ideal driving position is easily achieved - Bentley's interior designers have been as far as to measure New York basketball players to make sure all shapes and sizes can be accommodated.
Bentley is one of few car manufacturers to retain seat design as an in-house field of excellence, and anyone who has travelled any distance at all in a Bentley knows how important this area of design is to the marque. The particular challenge with the Continental GT was to offer a sublimely comfortable seat complete with considerable front and rear travel, a multitude of electric adjustments and integral seat-belts. Seat-belt performance is naturally one of the most important safety aspects of any car, and those in the front usually have their upper anchorages in the B-pillar. With a pillarless design like that of the Continental GT, however, this has not been possible and Bentley's designers are pleased not only to have met all the safety targets of the integral seat and belt, but to reach them without compromising the interior style of the car.
Those used to sitting in the back of most high-performance coupes will scarcely believe the amount of thought that has gone into creating the rear cabin. Far from appearing as afterthoughts, the rear seats have been designed with the same care and attention as those in the front. Back seat passengers sit well apart with deeply scalloped recesses for their elbows, allowing adults ample personal space.
The toughest task facing designers of all luxury car cabins these days is to present the controls and information interfaces in a way that is both uncluttered yet easy to use. At one theoretical extreme is the car where every function or display has a control of its own, at the other is the car with one control and a single display for all the car's operations. Bentley's solution is to use intelligence, common sense and ergonomic know-how to cherry-pick the best elements from both extremes, and combine them in a cabin that is both effective and attractive.
Most routine operations used frequently when the car is in motion - such as the cruise and basic music controls - can be operated direct from the steering wheel. Other functions such as the air-conditioning, navigation, computer information and more advanced entertainment features are individually controlled, but displayed on the same screen sited in the middle of the centre console.
Instrumentation is provided by classically styled dials that live in deep recesses ahead of the steering wheel, while a small screen directly in the driver's sight-line monitors all relevant in-car systems.
All around the cabin, unmistakeable Bentley touches abound. Perhaps most easily spotted are the classic bullseye ventilation outlets with their organ stop controls - a feature no Bentley has been without for a generation. Then there are the aluminium pedals, chrome instrument surrounds, knurled finishes to many of the ancillary controls, and the centrally mounted analogue clock.
Naturally wood and leather remain as integral and essential a part of the Bentley furniture as ever, but they have been tailored to suit the Continental GT's role as the most sporting Bentley produced since the R-Type Continental, proving that these most traditional materials can still create a contemporary feel if understood and used properly.
Though craftsmanship remains as important as ever, these enduring skills have been supplemented by some 21st century technology allowing, for instance, wood to be dramatically curved in a way that would simply not have been possible in the past. And while the leather is still applied to the car with as much loving care as ever, it is cut from the hide using a new digitised process that ensures minimal levels of wastage and maximum efficiency.
The design brief for the Continental GT was as simple to state as it was difficult to realise: create a car with as much room as the most spacious coupes on the market, equip it with the performance and responses of the world's most dynamic supercars and retain the whole within compact dimensions.
There are many questions raised by such a demanding specification and it took sizeable measures of blue sky thinking and detailed innovation before it could be realised.
But go looking for the real key to providing sufficient interior room and you"ll need to start your search under the bonnet. There you will discover that the secret of the Continental GT's interior room is, in fact, its engine. By choosing the basic architecture of the W12 powerplant used elsewhere in the VW Group, Bentley's engineers were provided not simply with the opportunity to develop it into a unique Bentley engine, but also to exploit its phenomenal packaging attributes.
Instead of using two long banks of six cylinders, as featured on all conventional V12 motors, the W12 staggers the cylinders in each bank creating effectively two extraordinarily narrow angle (15deg) V6 engines sharing a common crankshaft and giving rise to the "W" formation.
This naturally provides a phenomenally short engine for its considerable capacity, and frees up space that can be reapportioned to the car's interior. Indeed it is the shortest twelve cylinder engine on the market.
Even so and allowing for extra room provided by the super-short engine, there was still some hard thinking to be done if the interior space targets were going to be met within the swooping roof line of the Continental GT. Happily, help was again at hand and this time it was provided by history.
One key to maximising interior space is raising the so-called "H" point - the position in which the driver and front passenger hips naturally sit, and which in all Bentleys is elevated above where it would be in a conventional supercar. The benefits are many: first it means the commanding driving position - another Bentley hallmark - is retained; secondly it means the driver and passenger's hip to heel angle is as close to anatomical perfection as is possible. Finally, and critically, a high and upright driving position liberates vital room in the back for rear seat passengers.
The result is a true two plus two, a phrase rather devalued today by being applied to cars with little more than a ledge behind the front seats. In the Continental GT it means a car capable of carrying two adults and two children in comfort for unlimited distances.
Another less obvious but no less important benefit of the Continental GT's design is the omission of a B-pillar. There are many aesthetic reasons for adopting the pillarless look, but for those inside looking out and particularly those in the back, the unbroken expanse of glass from the front to the rear of the cabin provides a feeling of great space and airiness. In the GT coupe, the pillarless feature and other design touches such as slimmed down front headrests mean an unparalleled view from the rear seat for a car in this class.
Even the 355 litre luggage capacity has only been achieved through fresh thinking and innovation. In cars of this size, it is accepted practice to site the fuel tank between the boot and rear seat, adding to the overall length of the car, removing interior and boot capacity and, crucially, removing the possibility of loading long items through the boot into the rear cabin. The Continental GT's fuel tank, however, is under the floor of the car. It's a tricky piece of design for to house a 90litre tank there requires it to straddle the transmission tunnel but there's no doubting the effectiveness of the result. Not only is there enough boot space to swallow enough luggage for a family fortnight away, if that holiday happens to be to the ski slopes, it will take all four sets of skis inside the car or two pairs of skis and a couple of snow boards. All of this mind, without having to resort to an unsightly and insecure roof rack.
The Continental GT is the first Bentley to have been designed entirely in the virtual world. That is to say every single component, down to the smallest washer or bolt was not merely computer designed, but designed into the Continental GT concept alongside every other part.
Using the very latest CATIA-based Computer Aided Design (CAD) programmes, the Continental GT represents a huge step forward in Bentley design technology. With all components existing in the virtual world before a single one is created as a physical property, it is possible to see how each part interacts with all the others, illuminating problems and conflicts that, in the past, may never have come to light until the part had been machined.
This process cuts down development time and costs and, rather more importantly, it enables Bentley's engineers to design in reliability and consistency in each component and assembly, to deliver unprecedented levels of quality in the finished car.
Indeed, one critical aspect of the design work that is now done in the virtual world enables Bentley to produce theoretically perfect component designs before the Data Control Model (DCM) is made.
The DCM is as close to a mathematically faultless physical model of the interior and exterior of the car as it is possible to have.
And it is from this that are taken all the measurements used to specify the tools that will make it when production starts, so the importance of getting it right can scarcely be overstated.
Designing the car this way results not simply in a better built and more reliable product, it is also likely to be safer too. Bentley's advanced Dynamic Crash Analysis (DCA) capability means much of the trial and error traditionally associated with providing a car with good impact resistance has been bypassed. Indeed so highly developed are the procedures that Bentley's engineers can put a Continental GT through a real world crash test with great confidence that the result will vary in no major way from those suggested in virtual world.
Nevertheless it should be understood that DCA, as with all virtual design work will never replace real world test procedure, nor was it ever designed to. Its role is simply to ensure that by the time these tests are conducted, the product is in as good shape as possible to meet each new challenge.
Even before it had been determined how the Continental GT would be powered, two crucial decisions were made and set in stone. First, the Continental GT would possess a new level of performance - one that placed it among the very fastest cars on earth; secondly the provision of that performance would remain inimitably Bentley. Reconciling these issues would require a great deal of power, but more importantly, huge torque delivered evenly across the rev-range.
The W12 formation engine was a natural choice for Bentley. Not only did it have the potential to deliver these objectives, it also boasted the incredibly compact dimensions required to realise the Continental GT's packaging requirements.
Importantly the basis of such an engine already existed within the VW Group. While Bentley would still need to design its own application of it (not to mention the facility in which it would be assembled), the advantages of taking a known quantity, if only as a starting point, are clear to see.
Once this decision had been made, it was necessary to change entirely the specification of the engine to adapt it for the very particular purpose needed by the Continental GT. First of all it was clear that the power output of the standard engine - while impressive for a normally aspirated engine - was not going to generate the kind of power and torque figures required to make it not only a great engine but, more importantly, a great Bentley engine.
It was both impractical and undesirable to increase the engine's capacity beyond its existing 6-litre displacement so Bentley's engineers decided that it should be turbocharged. Forced induction was first used on standard Bentley road cars as long ago as 1928 with the introduction of the famed "Blower" Bentleys, while turbocharging has been a hallmark of Bentley engine design for 20 years. So, in line with modern practice and consistent with the Bentley Arnage Series Two introduced earlier this year, the use of twin turbochargers was selected as the preferred means of delivering a dramatic hike in both power and torque.
Using two turbochargers on an engine with two banks of cylinders has many advantages over the old, single turbo method. For a start, because there are two of them, each turbo is much smaller than would be a single unit designed for the same purpose. This means they have less inertia and therefore accelerate up to and back down from operating speed much more quickly, minimising turbo-lag. Two turbochargers also means the car's catalytic converters can be sited next to the exhaust manifold where they heat up extremely quickly, offering greatly reduced exhaust emissions, particularly when the engine is cold.
For this application KKK turbochargers were chosen and carefully integrated into the under-bonnet package.
At the same time, Bentley's engineering team modified the internal componentry of the powerplant until all its power, torque, emissions, consumption and durability targets had been met or exceeded. Further details of these changes will be released nearer the time when the car goes on sale in the second half of next year.
For now, however, it can be confirmed that Bentley will make good its promise to power the Continental GT with an engine of "more than 500bhp". But power is nothing without the torque to back it up. The idea that a Bentley should be fabulously responsive from very little more than idling revs is not new - indeed it was a precedent set by WO Bentley's first six cylinder cars over 75 years ago - but the Continental GT will take the execution of the concept to new heights, providing relentless acceleration from 2000rpm to its red-line.
Having created one of the world's most powerful and responsive engines, it was clear that an equally extraordinary transmission would be needed to transmit its power and torque to the driven wheels.
The use of four-wheel drive was decided in the earliest stages of the project and if this sounds like something of a departure for Bentley - which has only ever made rear-wheel drive cars in its past - it was felt that this new level of power demanded a commensurate level of control. Besides, if the Continental GT was to be exploited by its owners to its maximum potential, it would need to be not just useable, but utterly at home in all environments from the Santa Monica Boulevard to the compacted snow surfaces of Alpine resorts.
Nevertheless, in order to ensure that the right Bentley feel is communicated to the driver, Bentley's powertrain and chassis engineers have experimented extensively with the distribution of torque to the front and rear axles. This has been done to provide the Continental GT with all the security of a four-wheel drive system but when appropriate, the added fun factor inherent within a rear-wheel drive layout.
Providing the link between the driven wheels and the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission built for Bentley by ZF and the first of its type in the world to be used in an ultra-high performance coupe. Firstly, the new transmission was modified by moving the differential forward, which allowed the drive shafts to be as far forward as possible, thus enabling the wheels to be close to the front of the car. But the defining characteristic of this transmission, apart from the use of six ratios, is its ability to lock its torque converter in normal driving, providing the same immediacy of response expected of manual transmissions. Despite this, shift quality is so good that often the most obvious evidence of a gearchange having taken place is the repositioning of the rev-counter needle.
Tiptronic actuation means that the car can be used either as a conventional automatic or as a clutch less manual where gear changes take place only on command from the driver, via either the gear lever or paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. Naturally fail-safe mechanisms are incorporated to ensure it is not possible to over-rev the engine when changing down in tiptronic mode or stall the car by slowing too much in a high gear.
It is a fair observation that a 6-litre, twin-turbo engine with tremendous torque does not strictly need six gears to keep itself on the boil. Then again, to look at any element of Bentley performance in terms of need is perhaps to miss some of the point of the marque. It's true that many Continental GT drivers will spend much of their time allowing the transmission to shift itself or even using the tiptronic function to lock the gearbox in a certain ratio and allow the engine's massive torque to carry the car along. However, Bentley also knows that most of its customers for the Continental GT will be enthusiasts who will relish the prospect of flicking up and down the gearbox at the pull of a paddle or the push of a lever. Under the circumstances, six speeds seem entirely appropriate.
Perfecting ride and handling is one of the most complex and difficult areas of car design. For the Continental GT designers this job has been doubly tough for few cars, if any, have been brought to market with a greater expectation of excellence in both areas.
Even so, by starting with well defined and extremely ambitious targets and then applying clear thinking and the skills of a 25-strong chassis engineering team to realise them, the Continental GT has been equipped with a chassis that should appeal to sybarites and thrill-seekers equally. The result is a car with firm rather than harsh suspension, impressive resistance to roll, pitch and heave yet compliant enough to ride poorly surfaced roads with absolute equanimity.
The basis of the Continental GT's chassis strategy is an extremely stiff body, without which, even the most sophisticated of suspension systems can be undermined. To this was applied the very latest in suspension technology featuring an innovative double wishbone arrangement at the front - designed to minimise torque reactions through the steered wheels - and multi-link rear axle behind. Extensive use of aluminium has been made, notably in the control arms, to lower unsprung mass while the entire front subframe of the car is fashioned from stainless steel.
Air springs are used at each corner in place of conventional coils, each one containing its own infinitely adjustable electronic damper. The application of pressure to an air spring (best thought of as bellows contained within a metal tube) is uniform while coil springs are subject to side forces that, in turn, lead to damper friction, the bane of any chassis engineer's life. Also the bellows can move through different shapes as they expand and compress, effectively allowing variable spring rates to be used.
Two more advantages of air springs are that they can be smaller and therefore easier to package than conventional coil systems and secondly, they allow a car to maintain its static ride height, regardless of load, so the car does not suddenly become spongy to drive when fully laden.
The electronic dampers fitted to the Continental GT do more than offer a few different settings for the driver to play with. Within their set parameters they are, in fact, capable of adjusting themselves infinitely and continuously without the driver ever being aware of it.
A central computer processes information fed to it from sensors around the car and instructs the dampers accordingly, each damper is capable of adjusting its damping control many times during a single event, such as a wheel moving up and down over a bump. The key is for the computer to analyse both the car's body and wheel movements to ensure both remain in harmony with each other.
Naturally both traction control and the latest Bosch Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) are fitted though they can be disabled at the discretion of the driver. The secret to understanding their function is to see them as additional to the Continental GT's exceptionally well-mannered dynamic behaviour, rather than as an essential ingredient in keeping a car of these capabilities safe. Bentley knows that many of its customers will want to turn the electronics off from time to time and they need to be certain that even without these aids, the Continental GT's handling remains supremely secure and capable.
Most of the time, however, the ESP will be enabled, but inactive; should it be required by the driving conditions though, it will be deployed automatically but unobtrusively, so as not to intrude on the Bentley driving experience.
The Continental GT is capable of monitoring a whole range of dynamic attitudes such as lateral acceleration, individual wheel speeds, throttle position and brake pressure. No car can defy the laws of physics and there are certain extreme conditions that even ESP will be unable to guard against, but as an extra line of defence for the unfortunate driver caught out by unexpected circumstances, its safety value is real and evident.
That said, as the most sporting road-going Bentley since the R-Type Continental, the Continental GT is a driver's car through and through and Bentley's chassis engineers - enthusiasts all - have been acutely aware that not only must the chassis have the raw ability to match perfectly the engine's phenomenal output, it must provide it in a way that indulges and engrosses its driver.
To this end, a huge amount of work has been done analysing spring, damper and anti-roll bar rates to ensure the car has the right sporting stance on the road. Exhaustive testing of different steering geometries has then been undertaken to eliminate unwanted torque reactions, and also to provide the appropriate amount of "feel" in the chassis. In particular, the Servotronic rack and pinion steering has been evaluated to ensure it delivers the right response in terms of steering, but also feedback to the driver.
Wheel and tyre choice is, of course, crucial to the development of any chassis, and while work continues apace in this area, the Continental GT will come with 19in wheels as standard.
Braking will be provided by all new, ventilated disc brakes at each corner featuring the latest Bosch anti-lock system with Brake Assist and Emergency Brake Force Distribution.
Once all the specification of the chassis had been determined, the Continental GT was put through the most rigorous real world evaluation programme of any Bentley in history, a process that continues to this day. From race tracks such as the famed original Nurburgring to mountain passes and sinuous switchbacks all over the world, the Continental GT is being tested and re-tested to fine tune its exceptionally promising chassis specification to provide ride and handling standards that don"t merely rise above the class standard but define it.
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