The only thing people mentioned about the Bentley Continental GT in 2012 was the addition of V8 power. This was supposed to help Bentley meet incredibly stringent emissions regulation. It also had another byproduct: It took the lackadaisical Conti and made it into a driver's car.
People have raved about the V8 all year. They said it was driver focused and that it felt sharper. They said it overshadowed the W12 and that it was the better car. It's less expensive, less powerful, more balanced, and sounds better. So why is there still a place in the lineup for the W12?
(Full Disclosure: Bentley wanted me to drive the Continental GT W12 so bad that they dropped it off outside the office for Thanksgiving weekend, just like they did for the pilgrims. )
In 2013, the Bentley Continental GT will be celebrating 10 years since its debut. The original GT was the first product to come out of a wholly VW-owned Bentley, and it brought a number of firsts with it to the famed British brand. It had a VW-sourced W12 engine instead of the 6.75-liter V8 that's been the mark of Bentleys for decades. It was also the first all-wheel drive Bentley to hit the road.
But traditions be damned, because the Conti GT went on to sell like the Bentley version of gangbusters. An all-weather British muscle coupe with German build quality? People couldn't get enough of that shiznittlebamslipslop. Bentley lightly redesigned its most popular car in 2011 but they kept the all-wheel drive and the W12.
The problem for the Continental GT W12 — like for many older siblings — is its annoying and overachieving younger brother. However, the W12 needn't be intimidated by it's little bro. It's still an incredible car, just in very different ways.
The Continental's redesign in 2011 sharpened some corners and exaggerated the already massive proportions of the big British super coupe. I didn't much care for it when I first saw it. But it's one of those cars that really grows on you as time goes on. Now I find the first generation car staid and boring with this one more dramatic and imposing, which is exactly what a Bentley should be.
To differentiate itself from the V8, the W12 has a less aggressive front air dam, different exhausts, and badges. I prefer the oval pipes on the W12 as opposed to the figure eight tips on the V8. Figure eight tips?
In the words of GOB Bluth, COME ON! That's trying too hard.
The interior is crap. Wait, did I write "crap?" I meant orgasmically splendiferous. Apologies. Apologies all around.
Fit and finish is superb and everything just feels expensive. That's because it is expensive. The seats are supremely comfortable and the massage function should be permanently left in the 'very on' position.
What I do find curious is the gear selector. it appears to be lifted directly from my mom's old 1999 Audi A6. Taking some parts straight from the corporate parts bin is ok if they aren't obvious. And while this piece probably isn't exactly the same as those found on old Audis, it's so reminiscent of one that it was all I could think of.
The W12 is 55 pounds heavier than the V8, but also has 567 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Those are increases of 67 horsepower and 29 pound-feet over the little V8. That's more than enough to take the 5115 pound leviathan to 60 in just 4.3 seconds, or 0.3 quicker than its highly rated brother.
It's also deceivingly fast. I wouldn't describe the car as neck-snappingly fast, but rather it's gentlemanly quick. You step on the gas and then glance down to find out that you're going fast enough to go to jail. Thankfully you own a Bentley, which means you can easily bribe your way out of hard time. It has enough thrust to attain an adequate speed in a respectful and dignified amount of time.
If you are at those speeds that would cause consternation from local law enforcement and you need to slow down, the W12 has gigantic brakes to help you out.
They aren't grabby or aggressive, they are exactly what you'd expect. A stab of the slightly numb pedal will immediately shave off a prodigious amount of speed. And much like the acceleration, it'll slow you down faster than you'd think.
I prefer a more aggressive pedal with a good amount of initial bite. But that isn't what the Bentley is about. Nothing about this car screams "aggressive driving." It politely suggests "boulevard cruising." And it's excellent.
The adjustable suspension settings can vary from comfort to sport. In comfort it's like driving a pillow over a road of marshmallows. I tended to leave it in the second most comfortable setting, which gave me an idea of what was going on with the road, but also let me relax in my barcalounger with no worries or cares of any sort.
No, it doesn't pound the road into submission and force it to be its bitch. The W12 works along with the road in order to create the ultimate automotive relaxation experience. Going back to the Miata after the Bentley was like going from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to Orville and Wilbur's first flight.
I kind of hate to fault the W12 here because handling isn't what it's intended to do. 5,115 pounds is a lot of weight to carry around; It's kind of like driving a car made out of Bruce Vilanch.
I threw it into a number of corners expecting it to deal with them poorly. It was better than I expected. Throwing all that front-heavy mass — weight distribution is 56/44 — into a sharp corner should result in understeer. And it does. But the Conti's computers intervene and do a fantastic job of keeping it shiny side up and on the black stuff.
So it definitely isn't what you'd call a sprightly handling machine which is what I expected. It's meant to cruise. That's what it does with aplomb.
The 2012 W12 cars have the ZF 6-speed automatic while the V8 got the ZF's all-new 8-speed unit. The 8-speed is the better gearbox.
That's not to say that the 6-speed is bad. It's quite smooth and shifts are pretty quick. In manual mode it will match revs on a downshift but it won't hold a gear. That's always annoying. Unlike the 8-speed, which can shift down five gears at once, the W12's 6-speed can only go down two at a time.
My test car came with Bentley's Naim supplied audio system. For $7,015, it better be the best car stereo in the world. I know I've previously bestowed that honor on the Audi A7, but I have to take it away. Every single song sounds fan-freaking-tastic. Even terrible music like Steely Dan is bearable.
But the engine note is just too quiet and not evocative enough. I put the windows down because I thought the sound deadening might just be isolating the engine note to the outside. Nope. It just isn't a great sound.
So the Conti has a bunch of modern doodads and goomzigotz like a rear view camera, park distance control, nav, adaptive cruise control, massaging seats, iPod connectivity, and more.
It also has a handset for your phone as well as bluetooth. But the bluetooth never once found my phone. I read the manual and I looked for how to do it on the internets. I followed the steps exactly. The Bentley didn't want anything to do with my phone.
Perhaps it knew I wasn't a member of the upper crust and was actually riff raff of some sort?
Everything about the W12 is expensive. Base price is $189,900. The stereo is $7,015. The "Mulliner Driving Specification" package is $8,050. As far as I can tell Mulliner Spec adds some nice little trinkets like drilled pedals and a "knurled sports gear lever." Those options plus others brought the Conti up to $222,565.
Off the top of my head, the closest competitor to the W12 is the Mercedes CL600. That starts at $30,000 less than the Bentley. But the point of this class of car isn't value. It's a perception. If you buy a Mercedes because it costs less than the Bentley, then you never really wanted the Bentley, did you? The 'value' in the Continental GT is the image you project as a connoisseur with impeccable taste. It's not that you saved some money.
You either get it or you don't.