The new Bentley Continental GT is more powerful and fuel-efficient, thanks to the new W12 engine
Bentley Continental GT is a game changer The Bentley Continental GT offers an excellent ride, capable handling and stunning performance. PHOTO: MARK FAGELSON AND RICH PARDON

In 2003, Bentley introduced a very different car from the Bentleys that we knew - the Bentley Continental GT.

This was the very first all-new Bentley that had nothing to do with Rolls-Royce and everything to do with the new owners Volkswagen-Audi.

Its initial price in Singapore was about $750,000 without a certificate of entitlement. But despite the hefty price tag, there were 40 deposits for the new Bentley.

In 2011, there was a single major model update and casual observers found it hard to discern between old and new.

But this year, Bentley introduces a wholly different Continental GT, one that is a clean break from the 2003 and 2011 versions.

The Continental GT is the premiere luxury coupe that has ruled that niche with some 70,000 examples sold during that period. There are very few grand coupes that seat four in comfort, have a 12-cylinder engine and offer supercar-rivalling performance capabilities.

That formula has not changed for the new model. It is not built on the platform from the VW Phaeton, but on the same platform that gave rise to the Porsche Panamera.

Today's platform sharing is so sophisticated that unique cars can be created, but still enjoy cost and technological efficiencies that would otherwise be too much to bear by manufacturers who make niche models.

One of the things that no other company will ever share is Bentley's W12 engine. It defies the current trend of downsizing, and maintains a 6-litre displacement. It is tuned for 635hp and 900Nm of torque, yet the new car emits 16 per cent less CO2 than previously at 278g/km.

Much of the efficiency can be attributed to the new W12 engine and its management that includes cylinder deactivation.

Equally important is the new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that features a sailing function that allows the car to freewheel at cruising speeds when conditions are right. This dual-clutch transmission includes a launch function as well as smoother shifts in comfort mode to match the traditional torque converter gearbox. However, its quicker shifts are better suited to the sportier character of the new GT.

The new architecture of the body structure pushes the front axle further forward such that front overhang is reduced significantly, giving the car the appearance of a longer nose and rearward cab. This also improves the front-to-rear weight balance to 55:45 from 58:42 previously.

Weight has been reduced from 2,320kg to 2,244kg and though the overall weight reduction of 76kg seems small, the engineers had pared away more than double that amount, enabling them to add more hardware such as the active anti-roll system, among others.

In spite of its heft, the Continental GT sprints to 100kmh in just 3.7 seconds which is 0.9 second quicker than its predecessor and reaches a top speed of 333kmh, up from 319kmh.

Far more impressive is the way it overtakes, leaving slower vehicles floundering in its wake of controlled fury when the W12 is called upon to deliver its entire payload. In Sport mode, it also has quite a raucous exhaust roar, which drums up its appeal.

There are a few programmed modes for a wide gamut of driving experiences, ranging from Comfort to Sport. The new three-chambered air springs, first seen on the Porsche Panamera, do an excellent job of soaking up the bumps despite the large 22-inch wheels and tyres. But I found that the "B" (Bentley) mode is the best position for almost all driving situations. In this mode, the car is well connected and sorted to deliver a truly enjoyable GT drive experience.

I was initially not bowled over by the new styling partly because the outgoing Continental GT looked current enough.

But, after a long day's drive through two countries and a couple of mountain passes, in a pack of 11 coloured or differently specced Continental GTs, the design gains appeal.

If you are one to fawn over small exquisite details, then you will be enamoured by the finishing touches to all the surfaces in the cabin, from the knurling of the knobs and the rotating information panel to the new diamond within a diamond quilting of the leather.

The new Bentley Continental GT exudes not just great style and craftsmanship, but it is also an excellent GT car that does everything right, from offering an excellent ride to capable handling to a stunning all-round performance.

Unfortunately for its competition, Bentley has once again raised the bar for this genre of car.