Few cars and few roads will render you speechless. But every once in a while, the two collide, creating an unforgettable experience. That’s the case with the 2012 Bentley Continental GT coupe and a remarkable drive on a road less travelled, in the heart of Muscat, the capital of Oman in the Middle East.
The Continental is a cherished nameplate in the Bentley brand. In 2003, the original Continental GT hit the streets after rave reviews at the Paris Motor Show. Now, its successor builds on the repute of its iconic predecessor—it’s more powerful and luxurious than ever before. Despite its understated, unassuming elegance, the new GT garners more attention than other exotics. But don’t let the Continental’s exterior fool you—it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Under the hood is a six-litre twin-turbo W12 engine, which produces 567 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. (Bentley is doing its part on the environmental front by introducing a new, more fuel-efficient four-litre V8 in 2012. Officials boast it’ll deliver a 40 per cent reduction in emissions compared with the W12 engine.)
When it comes to performance, prestige, and power, the Bentley Continental GT stands out from the competition. It isn’t showy or over the top, and it doesn’t shout its attributes. It doesn’t have to. Hit the push-button start, and the engine note is subdued; it’s not disturbing or loud, like a Ferrari or Lamborghini roaring to life. It’s a pleasant, refreshing note in the atmosphere that doesn’t make your head pound after an hour of driving it. Yet when you need a power boost, it’s there instantly with only a subtle moan from the exhaust signifying the W12 is kicking into high gear. The rest of the time, the cabin remains whisper-quiet.
The sweeping roads are beautiful in Muscat, Oman, which is bordered by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The desert landscape coupled with the rugged, mountainous backdrop is epic, although the few roads surrounded by brown sand look odd displayed on the navigation screen. Prior to 1970, Oman was pretty isolated and only had 10 kilometres of paved roads; now, it’s a different story. As of 2007, the latest figures available, there were 20,184 kilometres of paved roads. Bustling multi-lane highways and sweeping, smooth roads intertwine throughout the area. Familiar sights such as Shell gas stations and McDonald’s restaurants line the route. Merging onto the highway and overtaking slower vehicles is a cinch.
When it comes to performance, prestige, and power, the Bentley Continental GT stands out from the competition. It isn’t showy or over the top, and it doesn’t shout its attributes. It doesn’t have to.
This Bentley hugs the winding roads beautifully, gliding gracefully with precision, speed, and accuracy. The Continental GT, which is 65 kilograms lighter than its predecessor, is an elegant, supple ride. It’s not stiff or harsh. It’s also easy to drive. Spending several hours behind the wheel doesn’t get cumbersome or uncomfortable—it would be equally at home running errands or going out for a night on the town. It’s a powerful yet graceful supercar. Hit the throttle and there’s instant torque and power. The coupe is nimble and quick, hitting 0 to 100 kilometres an hour in only 4.6 seconds. There’s little turbo lag off the line, too. The steering is tight and accurate, requiring little input from the driver. The all-wheel-drive system is a sporty 40:60 rear-torque bias compared with the 50:50 bias of the original GT. The engine is also flex-fuel capable, which means it can run on both unleaded gas and up to E85 bioethanol, or a combination of the two. Mated to the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel–mounted paddle shifters, which are very responsive to the touch. If you want a more dynamic ride, just hit the paddle shifter to change gears. If you forget to upshift or downshift, it’ll do it for you, making it a stress-free yet exhilarating ride. The transmission also has a quick-shift system, which cuts shift times by 50 per cent and enables double downshifts for a more spirited drive.
From the exterior, the essence of the original Continental GT design lives on. Its shape harks back to the original design. “The effort of the second generation was twofold: to keep the character of the first generation of the GT because it was a huge success—we sold 46,000 Continentals, of which more than half were coupes—and at the same time create a new second-generation car which has all the improvements and all the goodies customers would expect,” boasts Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, former chair and CEO of Bentley Motors, who retired earlier this year.
On the surface, there do not appear to be many alterations in design. But take a closer look and you’ll spot the subtle changes, which update the body but retain the iconic style. Although wider and shorter, it’s not a drastic leap forward in design, so it won’t alienate loyal fans. Taut, crisp lines and fluid curves give the Continental GT a sleek, muscled physique that matches its powerful performance. A new jewelled headlamp design with Bentley’s traditional four-lamp format, LED daylight running lamps, a mesh radiator grille, and flared oval exhaust tips grace the exterior. Twenty-inch alloy wheels are now standard, but if you want to blow onlookers away, go for the optional 21-inch designs—it’s the first time they’ve been offered on the Continental family.
The Continental seats four; the front seats fit like leather gloves, with heat, cool, and massage functions right at your fingertips. And believe me, under the blazing 30ºC-plus temperatures of Muscat, the air conditioning and ventilated seats are welcome additions. The front seats have scalloped backs, creating extra knee room for the two back-seat passengers. It’s appreciated, because it’s a little cramped riding in the rear. But for quick jaunts, even adults can ride in the back without feeling claustrophobic. The trunk space is surprisingly big—it’s 358 litres, which translates into enough room for several golf bags.
Inside, the Continental GT is a feast for the eyes. The interior is opulently appointed, fashioned from the finest natural materials to create a luxurious atmosphere. Everything is entirely hand-built and exquisitely crafted. A bold, sweeping dashboard and instrument panel finished in premium leather hides feels soft to the touch. The beige leather and bird’s-eye maple set against my tester’s Aegean blue shade is a showstopper. If you’re a gadget guru, you’ll love the numerous buttons and chrome-bezel dials that’ll perform every function imaginable. All the gauges and dials are of the finest quality, and everything is positioned within the driver’s reach. A new eight-inch touch-screen infotainment system includes 30 gigabytes and satellite navigation with route guidance to help find any destination. A rear-view camera and a front and rear park distance control system act as a second set of eyes so you won’t ding the body of your precious Continental. There are many other details to appreciate, including a luxury eyeglass case with Bentley wings fitted over the cup holders; it can easily be transferred into a purse or jacket pocket when not in the car. And when the door is closed, a new electrical seatbelt presenter automatically slides the strap closer to the driver and front passenger, making buckling up easier; you never have to twist and turn backwards, fiddling to find the seatbelt. It’s a minor detail, but one that makes your life a little easier from the moment you step inside the cabin.
At a standstill or on the road, everywhere in Muscat we travel, people flock to the Bentley. We get thumbs up at every turn and pit stop from drivers, tourists, and residents alike.
Sometimes the road less travelled paves the way for an adventure of a lifetime. But you don’t need to take a trip to Oman to experience the unparalleled performance and prestige of the new Conti GT. You can do it at home in North America, too.