In developing a dashing, suave leading character for his Casino Royale novel, Ian Fleming turned to the Bentley Continental for influence. Fleming himself owned a 1953 Continental, a motorcar awash in style. The clean, sensible design from the Mid-Century Modern era comes shining through in the Bentley. And, the solid principles of the car are also mirrored in Ian’s fictional character, James Bond.
Article by John Grafman
In the novels, the Bentley Continental is refined in successive stories. The 4.5-liter is modified to 4.9. The supercharger with clutch activation was one of those discrete additions. That would be in keeping with the nature of an agent working on behalf of the crown. Of course, in the cinema versions, Aston Martin is the car we most associate with Bond.
The modifications roaming around in the British author’s mind ceased with the fictional Mark ll Continental conjured-up in His Majesty’s Secret Service. Nevertheless, Bentley Motors has been continually improving its offerings. The real-life legacy is the new Bentley Continental GT First Edition.
The third generation Bentley Continental GT fits with the creative vision that Ian Fleming was well-known for
For 2020, the third generation Continental GT fits with the creative vision that Ian Fleming was well-known for. Perhaps, it’s not the beauty, power, or the gadgets that make this version so magnificent, but rather the elevated level at which these are executed at. Refinement and quality are equal parts of the Bond mystique.
“There are just three lines which make any Bentley Continental instantly recognizable,” says John Paul Gregory, Head of Exterior Design, explaining the sketching of the Continental GT. Gregory continues, “The fast fly line – the silhouette of the car. Then the power line which is the sharp line which comes over the front wheel, and then the haunch over the rear wheel. These three lines define the core character of the Continental GT.”
In the flesh, the exterior form in choices like Hallmark Silver, part of the 70 hues available in the optional Extended Range of colors ($6,090.00), retains a familiar look from the prior generation. Yet, the design now puts the emphasis solidly on the expression of motion. Creases on the fenders and hood are dramatic but revealed in a subdued fashion. The graceful radiuses leading in and out of those creases are also modeled in an elegant manner. Those alone are enough to indicate that this is an ultra-premium product. Of course, the same level of thought and achievement is throughout the GT.
Creases on the fenders and hood are dramatic
The hood and curvaceous front fenders flow from the LED matrix headlamps (featuring high beam assist) and blend together at the front end. The organic feel continues to the A-pillar in a way that provokes images of speed by reduction of dimension and prominence. The surfaces embody the same sensitivity and weight as the lines on the renderings.
The exterior design has evolved over time, as well as the processes employed to derive the refined, sculpted execution of the bodysides. “The exterior design of the new Continental GT is based on a bold new vision that is unmistakably Bentley,” our source at Bentley informs us. “While the Continental GT retains the classic elegance that made its forebear so popular, the form of the new car is more sculptural and sharply defined and takes much of its inspiration from the critically acclaimed EXP 10 Speed 6 concept car.”
An entire body side made from the Super Formed process
“To allow for such a bold reimagining of the Continental GT, the aluminum skin has been crafted using Super Formed technology – a precision technique working with aluminum heated to 500°C which has previously been used on Bentley fenders. This method allows designers to invoke more complex, sharply defined body lines and a deeper, sculpted haunch muscle. The Continental GT is the first production car ever to have an entire body side made from the Super Formed process. This gives the car the key signature lines of the original Continental still dominate, with the ‘power line’ travelling from the headlights to the muscular rear haunch.”
The raked back windscreen and trailing roofline are one uninterrupted form. Besides the attractiveness of the flowing shape, this proves friendly at triple-digit speeds. In fact, this model is capable of 198 MPH. Assisting stability is a recessed, integrated rear wing that is automatically or manually deployed. And for the record, we didn’t come close to the top speed on public streets and highways, however the thought did cross our minds.
Inspired from the critically acclaimed EXP 10 Speed 6 concept car
The oval, LED taillamps are a dead giveaway that this is not the same as the prior model. Furthermore, the rear of the car is what most are seeing anyway given the power of the V8. These feel very at home with the curves of the body, albeit the lamps do not directly mimic the body.
This model is not only a First Edition, but it’s also a Centennial Edition. This celebrates one-hundred years from 1919-2019 with badges on the hood, trunk, wheel centers, and the key fob. This is identifiable by a Centenary Gold metallic detail that encompasses the iconic Bentley “B” on badging. And, it’s hard to miss the welcome (puddle) light illuminating the ground beneath, while the treadplates provide a further reminder of the history of the brand. This added bling comes in the form of the $1,850.00 Centenary Package. While hundreds of car manufacturers have come and gone in the past century, Bentley Motorcars is one of the very few to stand the test of time.
The discrete Union Flag badging on the side of the fenders and on the dashboard indicate the First Edition model, which symbolizes, as the name implies, this is the first of the new model. This is a combination of several optional packages; the Mulliner Driving, City, and Touring Specifications. That’s the cold, factual meaning. If asked what the First Edition means in a sensory, single word the answer would probably be “Brilliant”.
Bentley Motorcars is one of the very few to stand the test of time
The combination includes nearly an A-Z of what Bentley can offer. Features in the Mulliner Driving Spec include primarily appearance related upgrades. These are 22” lightweight forged alloy wheels with black or bright paint in either hand or fully polished finishes, the stylish Diamond-In-Dimond quilted stitching on seats, door and rear quarter panels, a wider selection of veneers, the drilled alloy foot pedals, indented leather headliner, and the jeweled-finished fuel filler cap.
The City Specification groups the key options for around-town convenience. This entails the top view camera, traffic sign recognition, pedestrian and reverse traffic warning, city assist, automatic dimming mirrors, and hands-free boot opening. Many OEMs have upped their game, so maybe it’s no surprise that Bentley Motors provides a robust selection of technology related features.
Complimenting the City Spec is the Touring Specification option package for those longer drives. The most appreciated head-up display, adaptive cruise control (ACC), lane-keep assist, night vision, and the Bentley Safeguard Plus (which intervenes if there is a potential frontal collision) are all included. The ACC makes life a dream on congested freeways and operates very smoothly. Similarly, the head-up display is essential for focusing on the road ahead.
One of the most expensive optional packages from any OEM at a breathtaking $47,765.00
The combined options create the First Edition package, which is certainly one of the most expensive optional packages from any OEM at a breathtaking $47,765.00. That being said, these features are wonderful, as we note in our coverage.
The interior certainly does not disappoint. The Bentley Continental GT First Edition offers one of the finest interiors imaginable. Standard, one can pick from five premium leather colors sure to satisfy, however optional choices like the Linen colored hides against Beluga dyed leather captivates immediately as the door opens. The door panel and seats are magnificent with the elaborate Diamond-In-Diamond patterned stitching. As the seats are works of art, it’s questionable if anyone should ever be allowed to plop their rear into these quilted and leather embossed masterpieces. The 20-way adjustable controls include massagers with various settings, easy to change on the touch screen. As expected, the controls also adjust the side bolsters, lumbar support, and the headrest. The cooling and heating settings reside on the center console.
Surprisingly, the dash is very much what Ian Fleming would conceive of. The exceptionally clean dash and instrument panel are by virtue of a well-integrated center screen. This is a slap in the face of the floating, tablet-esque screens that seem far too prevalent. What Bentley does is open up the design by screen placement. Of course, the front screen is a 12.3” high-resolution, capacitive touch, infotainment screen. But wait, there’s more. With a push of a button the screen rotates, like the license plate on James Bond’s DB5. Viola! The screen disappears and in its place a set of gauges materializes in the center console. A third rotation has neither the gauges or screen, but continues the veneers across the interior.
This marriage of new technology and old is wonderful
This marriage of new technology and old is wonderful, even if used sparingly. As most of the functionality lies on the screen, which includes everything from audio, to climate, to navigation, it’s clear that the gauges will only be used for special moments. But, this does draw further connectivity between the 2020 model and those that Fleming fell in love with.
Less dramatic, but clever nonetheless, are the doors. Actually, the doors have the ability to open and stay in position at anyplace in the arch of the door swing. Typically, a door has only a few indents that hold the door in place when opening. This is not as remarkable as the City Specification, but it’s a feature that can be used each and every time the car is driven. In real world conditions however, the weight of the door on an incline can cause this feature to struggle.
The infotainment screen inside the Bentley Continental rotates, like the license plate on James Bond’s DB5
One advancement that Ian Fleming would most certainly find essential for Bond is the Bang & Olufsen for Bentley audio system. The B&O BeoSonic control is a first that replaces the usual audio treble, midrange, and bass with a touchscreen interface for adjustment of four audio moods entitled Bright, Energetic, Warm and Relaxed. BeoSonic is simple and really requires no explanation to engage. This controls the 1,500-watt BeoCore amplifier and the 16 active speakers that match the Continental GT for exceptional power. The aluminum grilled speakers are not just a design feature but illuminate as part of the interior lighting that welcomes the occupants. The Bang & Olufsen for Bentley system is optional ($6,770.00).
The dash and door panels are dual finish veneers, such as Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus over Grand Black. This option offers less distraction and greater incorporation of the center screen (when in off mode) than any of the lighter shades of wood. A thin chrome band divides two colors on the woodwork. This is visually less heavy than a singular color. Also, this emphasizes the width and length of the interior in the same way a tailored, Savile Row pinstripe suit of the well-dressed gentleman creates the illusion of greater vertical dimension. The configurator online shows seven differing woods, albeit one can opt for far more as Bentley does have in-house bespoke customization.
Essential for Bond is the Bang & Olufsen for Bentley audio system
The interior is a treasure trove of thoughtful design with each piece of metal, wood, and leather. The optional dimpled leather, indented hide headliner (replacing the standard Alcantara headlining) is adding a delightful touch to a surface often overlooked.
And, the panels in the footwell are also over the top. The vast majority of cars maximize the area to the sides and in front of the forward occupants by having form fitting panels that rise from the floorboards that reflect the exterior. Often, the panels look and feel like these were insignificant consideration in the development process. Not with the Bentley Continental GT. These provide a substantial, structural impression, as if these forms are uncompromising to other considerations. And, the leather trimming is top-notch, too. The additional space the panels absorb from the interior is minimal in comparison to the effect provided.
Bentley has arguably the finest craftsmen in the business. Noel Thompson has been with Bentley for fifty-years and began his journey at age 16. Noel is highly skilled at his art of trimming. In short, it’s the old school techniques that make these motorcars something far removed from a mass market product. Thompson even uses a dining fork to gauge the distance between stitches on each steering wheel, which is his specialty. Now that’s a tasty job!
The Bentley Continental GT interior is a treasure trove of thoughtful design
VW Group bought Bentley in 1998, yet the company has enough foresight to keep the traditions that makes this brand special. Nevertheless, Noel Thompson says, “The factory is now bright and modern with an automated track and shows little resemblance to the old days. Virtually every aspect of the business has changed for the better – more models, more retailers, better customer communication. We now have people travelling from all over the world to visit the factory every day.”
Of course, the steering wheels of today incorporate heaters and sensors, which the Lane Keep Assist (LKA) uses to know that the driver is still engaged. And, this charming and mildly complex heated, duo-tone, 3-spoke, hide trimmed steering wheel comes at a price – $1,020.00. Unfortunately, LKA, like several other similar systems from other OEMs, wants to wrestle with the driver over control just a bit more than what’s appreciated. But, it’s easily deactivated.
Virtually every aspect of the business has changed for the better in the 2020 Bentley Continental GT
The functionally elegant design of the interior is complimented with sensory treats, like the Diamond Knurling Specification surface of the Bentley Dynamic Ride (BDR) control on the center console. The knob is tactilely delicious, and the BDR is equally wonderful. The shape and finish were inspired by a ring and is found on the BDR, the organ stop controls, clock bezels, and the bulls-eye vents.
Not only will a turn of the BDR knob adjust the height of the three-chamber air suspension to one of four levels, but it affects how the power comes on, and the rewarding, popping burble coming from the tailpipes. The throaty tone is vaguely reminiscent of the Merlin aero engine. Oh, it should be mentioned that bringing on the power has a tendency of devouring the fuel in a most rapid fashion. The BDR conveniently changes the demeanor of the this consumption. This feature is also an extra charge of $5,395.00.
The Bentley Continental GT’s throaty tone is vaguely reminiscent of the Merlin aero engine
The 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, V8 does not leave anyone wanting for more power, yet there is still a V12 for those so inclined. Fleming’s Q undoubtedly would find the cylinder deactivation a marvel. This seamlessly turns this into a fuel efficient 4-cylinder in an impressive 20-milliseconds when the 8-cylinder power is not required. The Brits claim 25.2 combined MPG. On our drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs the Bentley Continental GT manages to only consume a nominal 26-mpg while holding steady at a moderate 80 mph. However, a slight blip of the throttle quickly vaporizes the gains.
The eight-speed, dual clutch automatic transmission is unique in how it allows the car to disengage when coasting. With an aerodynamic body and a large mass, this Bentley feels like it can just glide on forever once enough momentum is achieved. Paddle shifting is both available and for the most part unnecessary. The automatic does a superb job and conforms perfectly to the BDR.
The theoretical range on this grand tourer is over 600 miles with the 23.78-gallon tank, driven extremely conservatively and relying heavily on the adaptive cruise control. On city streets, the miles between refueling will be substantially less. However, flexing the Bentley’s 4.0-liters capabilities is one of life’s greatest pleasures, sort of like dating a smart super-model. In other words, don’t expect to be getting anywhere near this kind of economy.
Fleming’s Q undoubtedly would find the cylinder deactivation in the Bentley Continental a marvel
Now, that range might seem less than impressive until considering the Bentley Continental GT tips the scales at a 4,773 pounds, which is stuffed into body that’s just 55.31” tall and 190.94” long. The Continental GT is not bloated, but rather a rock solid, muscular motorcar. At 542-horsepower, with 568-lb.-ft of torque between 2,000-4,500 rpm, the curb weight is a non-issue, at least in typical situations.
Blasting to 60-mph takes a scant 3.9-seconds in this GT. The all-wheel drive allows the power to be extracted and transferred effectively, favoring the rear wheels. This falls into a rarified field of supercars that can accomplish sub-four second 0-60 sprints, holds four adults, and operates on petrol.
At 542-horsepower, with 568-lb.-ft of torque between 2,000-4,500 rpm, the curb weight is a non-issue
The area stretching from Palms Springs to La Quinta is accommodating with long straights and flat ground. The city planners also have our best interests at heart with numerous streets with 50-mph speed limits. What more could we ask for?
Roaming the coastal terrain of the Santa Monica Mountains shows the Bentley Continental GT is engineered for agility and adventure. The front and rear hollow, lightweight anti-sway bars coupled with the BDR adaptive chassis allows for a dynamic, confident drive. During the tighter sections of the canyons, the Bentley does indeed feel like a two-ton motorcar. Yet, it’s also very much in control. No strange or disturbing lateral rolling takes place; however, the feeling of mass is hard to ignore. This is an exercise in contrast, as cars of this size aren’t supposed to handle anything like this.
The Continental GT, designed, engineered and handcrafted in Crewe, Great Britain, lives up to its reputation. The buttery smooth operation is spiked with blistering fast action. A squeeze of the peddle on the right almost immediately presses us back into the seat. Blindingly quick launch speed brings on a tunnel-vision effect. Bentley boys and girls need to focus considerably further down the road than they otherwise would in most cars, as the distance comes up surprisingly quick.
The Bentley Continental GT is engineered for agility and adventure
Racing is in Bentley’s blood, and the Continental GT is no stranger to the track. The iron disc brakes and black painted calipers consume the void in the 22” wheels. These are a testament to the decades of heritage. The massive brakes are able to haul this grand tourer back to zero in a hurry. The response comes on in a very predictable fashion, smoothly and effectively.
However, for the vast majority of the enthusiasts out there, it isn’t the brakes that will keep them from running away with the new Bentley Continental GT First Edition. It’s the price. While the basic price for the GT is a relatively reasonable $198,500. Optioned up with all the goodies, this breaks the bank at a $284,659.00.
As the saying goes, what separates the men from the boys is the size of their toys. And as you can imagine, Santa might just have a tough time getting this toy onto his sleigh or down the chimney. On the other hand, old Saint Nick probably won’t be too upset if he has to personally hand deliver the Bentley Continental GT First Edition to the garages of a few fortunate boys and girls. And by the way, don’t be too surprised if Santa Claus arrives just a few days late!