It's not finished. That's the first thing you need to know about the Bentley Continental GT. It was kinda meant to be, but, alas, is not. There are a few months to get it right and, although the hardware is all there and, as we'll see, most of this new car is present and correct, Bentley would like me and, by association, you, to know that it's not yet done.
Right. Duly noted. This is the new Continental GT, then, the replacement for a car that has defined a new era of Bentley, post that amusing affair around the turn of the century when Volkswagen thought it was buying both Rolls-Royce and Bentley but wasn't. That turned out quite well for you and me, because now we've got two very distinct brands with very different driving forces behind them.
As part of VW Group, though, you'd expect Bentley to be entwined in group platform, architecture and component sharing, and so it proves. And because these days Porsche is also part of the empire, it leads the way on this kind of thing.
So beneath the Continental's shapely new skin - we're agreed it's pleasingly shapely, aren't we? - sits the 'MSB' platform that also underpins the latest Porsche Panamera. Which is good because, in the last Conti, weight distribution was chronically biased towards the front, but is now around 55:45 front to rear. Which is not perfect, but is better.
And it's as good as you'll get when you have a 635hp, 6.0-litre W12 engine in the front, as the Continental does for now (a V8 is coming later) and an eight-speed dual-clutch, not torque converter auto, bolted to it.
Power goes to all four wheels but even here there's also rather more to get excited about than in the previous car. Most of the time it's rear wheel drive, and even in the softest of its drive modes (of which, inevitably, there are a few), no more than 38 per cent will ever go to the front. Stick it in 'Sport' and a maximum of 17 per cent will ever reach the front. Oh goody.
The rest of the architecture is a bit lighter than the Continental GT of yore, but at 2,244kg this still isn't exactly a lightweight GT car. As well as the mechanicals - the W12 is so complicated that it even has both port injection and direct injection, one being good at idle whilst the other is good at high revs - there's also rather a lot of luxury hardware.
The GT's nearest rival is, perhaps, the
, but it only takes one look inside to see their differences, and how the DB11 has a kerb weight undercutting two tonnes by about as much as the Bentley overshoots it. There're acres of leather in here, and mirror-matched wood, and shining aluminium, and although Bentley says the finish is one of the things that's not yet, er, finished, even now you have to look hard to spot any area where it isn't exquisite.
Our drive took in the roads from Crewe, around north Wales, and up to Anglesey for a quick squirt around the circuit. This isn't a track car, says Bentley - again, duly noted - but they reckon it's better than ever before in a hard corner.
You don't need to be on a circuit to know that. Out of Crewe, the Bentley reminds you that it's a pretty all consuming GT car. The ride is good, in the middle setting of three. There are adaptive dampers (natch), but the bigger deal is that there are three-chamber air springs. In 'Comfort' mode all three springs are active, in 'Bentley' (read: normal) mode, only two are active, and in 'Sport', just the one works, giving the GT double the spring rate in Sport as in Comfort. There's a 48v electrical system, too, to support active anti-roll bars, which can go from full loose, as it would be while mooching down an A-road, to full lock, as it would be mid-corner, in 0.3sec.
The upshot, then, is that the GT does have quite the duality of character. It contains its body movements well, and has a ride quality suitable for a Bentley. It has a steering set up that's good for one, too: the right speed, a middling weight, and, pleasingly, it doesn't change when you flick through the drive modes, unless you specifically want it to.
Melding all of these elements together, though - the clever chassis, the hugely complicated engine, the transmission - is what Bentley is still tweaking.
To be fair, the chassis is there, and it's good. It still doesn't have the adjustability or agility of, say, a DB11, on a circuit, but it takes about one yank of the wheel at speed, on road or track, to realise that this is a much more neutrally balanced, far more agile, and way more capable GT car than before. It hangs on gamely, steers convincingly and, if pushed, will even indulge in slides the old car could only have dreamed of.
The donkey and transmission, then, are where it still needs a bit of work. Most of the time, both are good already. But quick throttle inputs, if you lift off then come back on again, give the engine a hesitation. Otherwise it's a paragon of effortless oomph, albeit delivered less soulfully than a V12. And the gearshift still needs tuning for better comfort and refinement at low speeds, where there's the occasional audible, and sometimes decelerative, clonk. But at higher speeds, it's already fine. I do wonder if they'd rather have fitted a conventional auto, which intrinsically feels more refined, to me, but that's a limitation of the platform.
Small price to pay, though, for an architecture which is lighter, more keenly balanced and far more capable than before. It's already extremely competent, then, this car. A few more details and it'll be an excellent mildly sporting GT.
SPECIFICATION - BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT
Engine: 5,950cc, twin-turbocharged W12
Transmission: 8-speed ZF automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 635@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 664@1,350-4,500rpm
Top speed: 207mph
Weight: 2,244kg (kerb weight)