You notice the speed first in the Bentley GT. Plant your foot on the gas pedal, and the car — all 5,900+ pounds of it — launches forward in seamless and nearly silent acceleration that takes your breath away and threatens never to give it back. It barges past 60 mph in little more than four seconds and will, given enough road and lack of law enforcement, bludgeon through the atmosphere to an indicated 198 mph.
Not behavior you’d normally associate with a Bentley — but then this is no ordinary product from the once-British, now German-owned marque. This is the first of a new lineage from the Volkswagen-group company that will include the GT and, in time, a four-door and a convertible, too — a lineage that has been designed and beautifully constructed to bridge a gap in the luxury car market.
Traditionally, when looking at cars costing more than $150,000, buyers have had to choose between outright sports cars (Ferrari, Lamborghini) that offer as much comfort as a park bench, or super-luxury cars (Rolls-Royce, Bentley) that squeal their tires in displeasure when asked to do little more than drive in a straight line. There wasn’t a car that offered supercar performance with comfortable accommodation for more than two people.
Now that the Bentley GT has arrived, there is.
The performance part of the equation comes in a twin-turbocharged version of VW’s 6-liter W12 engine. This complex but compact unit can conjure a magic combination of 552 bhp and a dump truck-like 479 pounds per foot of torque, from 1600 rpm up, which the driver regulates via a silky slick six-speed auto box controlled by paddles on the wheel, at the stick or left in auto.
You don’t notice it in normal conditions, but the GT is four-wheel drive with air suspension and electronic damping. It doesn’t matter if you have no idea — and care less — how all this works, as all you need to focus on here is that the car drives, corners, and rides superbly. There is little road feel at the wheel — in keeping with the cabin’s splendid isolation atmosphere — but the driving enthusiast will appreciate the precision action and response.
There’s no sensation of the car’s massive weight affecting negatively the cornering or braking. There’s also no perception that the GT — a car costing precisely half the Continental R’s $300,000 — in any way skimps on interior materials. The perfectly matched Connolly hides and trim wrap the driver and passengers in a cocoon of fragrant luxury. There is none of the silver metal organ stop controls or knee-deep carpeting of the other members of the Bentley family, the GT preferring a more modern, cleaner approach to the cabin design.
The same applies to the GT’s exterior design. Taking a reductive approach to the classic Bentley lines, design director Dirk van Braeckel and his team of 47 design staff — up from the mere three who had done the Flying B’s design work prior to the VW takeover — has produced a new form that echoes key forms from the Bentley bloodline while adding a few of its own.
The result: supercar presence you must experience to appreciate. In pictures, it looks large and imposing; in the showroom and on the street, it looks as compact and athletic as a car this big can. Watching it sweep past in a roar of tire noise and engine growl, you are struck by the GT’s simple beauty.
But this is not a car built purely to catapult you toward the horizon. The GT also has an array of features for everyday driving. Stuff like the integral back massager, the vast trunk (achieved by putting the fuel tank beneath the car’s floor), and the parking sensors that allow you to tuck it into a parking space without ruining the paint or rims.
The arrival of a Bentley has always signaled the approach of someone of taste and discernment, and the GT won’t do anything to change that — when it arrives.
The one drawback of producing a car as highly desirable as the GT at such a comparatively affordable price point — from $149,990 — is that the number of people who consider it within their means rises exponentially. While thrilling for marketers, this challenges supply: The first two years’ production is already sold out and, with glowing reviews being the norm, you had better put your son’s name down for a GT at the same time you enroll him in school. The Bentley GT really is that good.