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2020 Bentley Continental GT Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner

Automobile logo Automobile 3/11/2020 Michael Floyd,William Walker

It's not a stretch to say that if it weren't for the smashing success of the modern era Continental GT, the Bentley marque may not have been around to celebrate its recent 100th birthday. In fact, the Bentley Continental GT has become so successful that it has evolved into its own mini-lineup of sorts, featuring multiple powertrain options and variants galore. And the third-generation, 2020 Bentley Continental GT, which launched in the midst of Bentley's centenary party, is shaping up to be an even more expansive (and expensive) proposition. It's a car that's become so good we couldn't help but name it a 2020 Automobile All-Star.

a car on the side of a road: 2020 Bentley Continental GT at 2020 Automobile All Stars © William Walker 2020 Bentley Continental GT at 2020 Automobile All Stars

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After decades of languishing under the stewardship of Rolls-Royce, Bentley started to regain its footing in the 1980s and '90s as a sporting alternative to Rolls, drawing from its legendary Bentley Boys/Blower history as its lodestar. Bentley also eventually drew interest from the likes of Volkswagen AG, which gained control of the crew from Crewe in 1998. Volkswagen ownership opened up a wealth of new development opportunities and economies of scale for the storied British automaker. But it also needed a wow factor car, something to wake up the broader collective consciousness to the fact that Bentley was back in a big way—it needed the Continental GT.

The Conti burst onto the scene in 2003 with swoopy, coupey good looks and its beef-eating W-12 engine. It wasn't perfect, but it was perfectly timed—a hot new grand tourer to help usher the revamped Bentley into the new millennium and to showcase the first tangible fruits of Volkswagen's benevolent stewardship.

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Though the new, third-gen 2020 Bentley Continental GT doesn't have the star power of that first car, it's world's better in just about every measurable way. How's this for some measurables? The 2020 GT V8 we evaluated during All-Stars pumps out 542 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque from its 4.0-liter twin-turbo engine, as opposed to the first-gen car's twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12 at 552 hp and 479 lb-ft (the latest GT's W-12 puts out 626 hp and 664 lb-ft in case you wonder). At 3.9 seconds to 60 mph, the Conti GT V8 is roughly a second quicker than the first-gen GT, and just a couple of ticks off of the new W-12-powered car. At 4,773 pounds, it's also some 500 pounds lighter than the last generation Conti V8.

While that's svelte for a Bentley Continental, it's still plenty heavy, and the car is dimensionally big for a coupe, something that wasn't lost on us as we hustled it along our All-Stars road loop. That said, there were plenty of kudos for how well all that mass moved when hustled during each of our editors' test drives. "This behemoth is far more sprightly than it has any right to be, with plenty of comfort, speed, and grip," said features editor Rory Jurnecka.

Bentley engineers dialed in that sprightliness through several key ride and handling components, including an active all-wheel-drive system that varies front/rear torque split depending on the situation. The Conti GT's signature suspension system (standard on the W-12 car, and optional on the V-8) is called Dynamic Ride, a 48-volt powered setup that uses active anti-roll bars in conjunction with a three-chamber air suspension and continuously adjustable suspension dampers. Dynamic Ride helps fine-tune the ride and handling balance between compliance and grip, a big deal for a big car in which ride comfort is as important as delivering a more buttoned down, sport-oriented setup.

It's a luxury car with a hot rod streak," said social media editor Billy Rehbock. "It's happy to be hustled through windy roads or play on an open highway."

Editor-in-chief Mac Morrison said, "The Continental GT seems somewhat nonsensical on paper, but then you drive it and find out that a two-plus-ton car can still be plenty of fun."

a car driving on a mountain road © William Walker

So while it's not a flat-out track rat (if you want that, save your fat sack of cash for the coming Supersports and Speed versions), the Bentley Continental GT proved eminently capable out on the open road. This car's primary mission is as a high-speed grand tourer, with a heaping helping of luxuriousness on the side. It performs its duties flawlessly with a stiff upper lip—keep calm and carry on at any speed.

When you're out there touring, you'll do it in a cabin that does a masterful job of isolating you from the cacophony of the outside world at highway speeds, with the exception of its rumbling, twin-turbo baritone exhaust note that politely intrudes when you decide to summon its services. "Quiet when unprovoked, nice grumbling rumble when provoked. Fast too!" said our resident racer Andy Pilgrim of the GT.

More than any other facet of the new-generation car, it's the Continental GT's interior appointments that shine brightest. And we mean gleam. Metal accents abound, everything from the Bentley hallmark organ-style pull air vent controls to the drive mode dial and various other touchpoints in between. Bentley has also touted elements such as the extensive leather stitch work, with intricate diamond patterns on the seating and door panels. And then there's the flipping center-stack area that can display the infotainment screen, several analog style dials, or just a panel that integrates with the rest of the dash via the touch of a button. Yes, it's a gimmick of sorts, but one of the more impressive and imaginative we've seen from a high-end luxury automaker.

a car parked on the side of a mountain: 2020-Bentley-Continental-GT-All-Stars-winner-6.jpg © William Walker 2020-Bentley-Continental-GT-All-Stars-winner-6.jpg

This particular test car also came with an Edition One package, a $47,765 (no, that's not a typo) grouping of adornments that further amplified the GT's interior and exterior with numerous higher-end touches. The wow factor (and the price) weren't lost on us. Exclusivity costs money, and luxury marques are always ginning up more ways to separate the wealthy from some extra cash.

"The bodywork looks muscular, yet elegant, a perfect indication to prime you for what's in store before you slide behind the wheel. The interior is sumptuous and doesn't feel like it comes from another manufacturer," said Rehbock, one of our younger staffers who was smitten with the GT. "The price is a bit inflated because of that Edition One package, but even if it didn't have any of the special edition fluff, it'd still be an exceptional car."

Grizzled veterans such as contributor Arthur St. Antoine espoused similar thoughts. "Best-looking Crewe-mobile in a long time," he opined. "There is some real edge and rakishness to this one. Interior is equally stunning—you really get what you pay for here. Same with the car's speed and moves—sometime I'd like to gun this thing from, say, Berlin to Munich. Bet I could beat the airlines."

Praise wasn't unanimous for the Bentley coupe, with some believing it hadn't made a game-changing leap over the previous car. That, and its heft and hefty price garnered some mild negative feedback. But when the votes were counted, the GT came up big. Crewe should be proud.

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Contributor Basem Wasef succinctly summed up why we voted the Continental GT a 2020 Automobile All-Star: "The Conti GT, especially in V-8 form, turns out to be a near-ideal expression of a grand-touring coupe: Swift, opulent, and effortlessly capable—it's a car that begs for many, many miles of open road."

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 Specifications
PRICE$201,225 (base)/$284,659 (as tested)
ENGINE4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/542 hp @ 5,750 rpm, 568 lb-ft @ 1,960 rpm
TRANSMISSION8-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE16/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H190.9 x 77.3 x 55.1 in
WHEELBASE112.2 in
WEIGHT4,773 lb
0-60 MPH3.9 sec
TOP SPEED198 mph

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