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British luxury cars are known for their conservative approach to change, and the second-generation 2012 Bentley Continental GT follows that tradition.
The original Continental GT coupe was a landmark when it was introduced in 2003, quickly re-establishing Bentley as a serious player in the market for ultra-luxury two-doors. The GT delivers a remarkable combination of style, speed and comfort that few cars in the world can match.
The new 2012 Continental GT, due in the United States spring of 2011, is an evolution of the original, with lots of small improvements and subtle changes that make a better, more responsive and even smoother car. But it won't leave current Continental GT owners with a Bentley that suddenly seems dated or old-tech.
Styling updates are subtle, starting with a more upright grille and LED running lights that trim the main projector beams. Key body panels are fabricated with a new technique that takes single sheets of aluminum and heats them to 950 degrees Fahrenheit, then shapes them under high pressure. It eliminates welds or seams and allows curves with much tighter bends. The new body also improves aerodynamics, reducing the drag coefficient slightly to 0.33, and reducing lift at the front and rear axles. That should mean smoother, quieter and more stable running at ultra-high speeds.
The 2012 Continental GT is nearly the same size as its predecessor. It's 189.1 inches long on a 108.1-inch wheelbase: about the same size as an Aston Martin DB9, 10 inches shorter than the big Mercedes-Benz CL coupe. The only Continental GT dimension that changes substantially for 2012 is the track, the separation between the front and rear wheels. Track increases by 1.6 inches in front, and 1.9 in the rear. That allows slightly larger tires and should mean even more lateral grip in corners. The new GT will come standard with 20-inch wheels and fat, Z-rated performance tires.
Weighing more than 5,100 pounds, the Continental GT is still a heavy, substantial car, but it's actually 143 pounds lighter than its predecessor. With slight increases in horsepower and torque, its power-to-weight ratio improves 6 percent. As one might expect, the performance figures are impressive: 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, on par with some of the world's exotic sports cars, and a top speed of 198 mph, according to Bentley.
Bentley engineers have gone to great lengths to keep the Continental GT smooth and quiet when it's cruising near that remarkable top speed. The glass is extra thick and acoustically glazed. There are dense, under-floor shields and hidden anti-vibration panels throughout the interior.
Inside, the new GT is everything one expects. There will be a range of choices for expansive polished wood trim, or machined aluminum, if you prefer. The long cut-wool carpet looks almost like combed sheepskin. All the other surfaces are soft, padded leather, with big, comfortable seats and a hand-finished, bespoke quality that lesser luxury brands don't match.
The dash is shaped roughly like Bentley's Wing logo, with the gauge cluster filling the wing on the driver's side, and the navigation system and primary controls stacked where the B would be. There's a new high-resolution touch-screen interface for navigation and infotainment functions, with Google Maps capability, a 30-gig hard drive and SD card slot. The new controls combine a couple of knurled aluminum knobs with the touch screen, and we've found they work better than any point-and-click system out there.
There's a bit more legroom in back, and plenty of space for adults, thanks to a new seat design. On the other hand, it still requires some serious twisting and ducking for adults to climb into the Continental GT's rear seat.
New features include front seat-belt presenters that automatically slide the belts out in front of the shoulders when passengers settle into the seats. There's also an optional removable storage case designed to hold keys, pens or glasses, sized to slip easily into a purse or jacket pocket. The case is crafted from veneers matching the GT's interior, with inlaid Bentley wings, satin-chrome edging and leather lining. It locks into a slot above the drink holders in the center console.
The Continental GT continues with Bentley's 6.0-liter W12 engine, designed with four banks of three cylinders. It has twin turbochargers, and it's lighter and more compact than the typical V12. With changes to the W12's electronic controls, output increases by 15 horsepower and 37 pound-feet of torque, to peaks of 567 hp at 6000 rpm and 516 lb-ft at 1700 rpm.
The GT's 6-speed automatic transmission has been reworked for faster manual shifting, and the driver can now downshift more than one gear at a time. The standard all-wheel-drive system has been tweaked as well, shifting the default torque split rearward, from 50 percent front/50 percent rear, to 40/60. That means that, in normal circumstances, more power is delivered to the rear wheels than the front. This gives the Continental GT the sportier feel of a rear-wheel-drive car, with the safety and traction advantages of variable all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Continental GT will come with the full complement of front, side and head-protection airbags, as well as dedicated knee airbags for front passengers. It features the most sophisticated types of ABS, electronic stability control and other active safety devices, and convenience features such as park assist.
Copies of the new Continental GT should be flowing steadily into U.S. Bentley dealerships by April 2011, with retail prices starting at $189,900 (an increase of about 5 percent over 2010). Other variants of the current Continental, including the convertible and extra-racy Supersports, will continue after the new GT's launch.
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