Automobile

2019 Bentley Continental GT

Austria’s Grossglockner High Alpine Road had only recently opened for the season when we nosed our 2019 Bentley Continental GT through the toll gate. With spritzing rain and the melting snowpack wetting the tarmac, we began our ascent of the more than 8200-foot pass, winding and unwinding the wheel through one switchback after another as we stair-stepped into the clouds and then descended through a thick fog. The previous Continental GT would not have been happy on this road. Sure, it could have stormed up the mountain, pulled along by the ample thrust from one of its turbocharged engines, but it would have suffered through the turns, impatiently waiting to unleash its torque once the wheels were again pointed straight.

Although this is still a luxurious grand tourer and not a playful sports car, the new Continental is surprisingly at home on the mountain pass. Instead of overburdening its front tires, it uses all four contact patches, steers faithfully, and exhibits a graceful fluidity that its predecessor never knew. The Grossglockner revealed a new Continental GT that felt fitter, fleeter, more energetic—as if the car had been given an elixir of youth.

That run up the Hochter Pass dovetailed with the new Continental’s visual impression. First introduced for 2004 and reworked for 2012, the Continental GT led the brand out of musty obscurity with nearly 70,000 total units sold—a huge number by Bentley standards. “It has become our icon,” says chief exterior designer John Paul Gregory. “It’s very important that it be instantly recognizable.” The overall size, shape, and key design elements are retained, and yet the new version looks wider and lower, even though those dimensions have changed by less than an inch. Credit the broader, more upright grille, set lower in a more sculpted fascia.

It’s flanked by new headlamps with 82 LEDs arranged in matrices (which unfortunately will be dumbed down for the U.S. market, with simple high- or low-beam functionality rather than the ability to switch off individual LEDs to shape the beams around oncoming cars). Design-wise, the most critical features are that the fascia is more than four inches closer to the front wheels, the wheelbase has grown by 4.1 inches, and the rear overhang also is longer, all of which dramatically improve the car’s stance. There’s a longer hood, which also is lower because the engine sits lower and farther back in the chassis. Sleeker taillights are set in a concave oval panel, emphasizing the car’s width. The body panels are aluminum—save for the composite trunk lid—helping the car shed a claimed 168 pounds, although at an estimated 5050 pounds it’s still a hefty machine.

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