Wealthy people haven't made it this far to watch their investments blow off course. Boost tax rates and cramp their inheritances, and they'll be sitting in the Cayman Islands swiping Swiss debit cards. Tweak their Bentleys too much, and heaven forbid, they may slide into a Mercedes 600 or Porsche Turbo. So like any classic luxury good, the 2012 Bentley Continental GT is very much as it arrived in 2003: a beautiful two-plus-two coupe with the most brutal, beat-it-up-in-your-face motor money can buy.
In eight years, Bentley has added two racier trims, the Speed and Supersports, yet only now has it paid the GT a proper mid-cycle refresh. When larger automakers take this long to update a best-selling model, sales drop and CEOs get fired. But since Bentley started with a coupe that's cushier than a five-star hotel, quicker than most pedigree sports cars, and more crash-worthy than a full-size SUV, what's there to add besides bigger headlamps?
It's not like Bentley has time or interest to keep up with the industry. Each car takes weeks to build, and that's not counting the custom embroidery, cross-stitching, and $30,000 paint jobs available in the company's encyclopedia of options. GT buyers don't buy a Bentley for the latest in-car entertainment and active safety systems the Germans offer. They're ordering an obsessively detailed, handmade bauble that'll break 198 mph while storing cigar ashes in a stainless steel crucible. (Really, it's stamped with a "B" right under the armrests, behind the new veneered and leather-lined sunglasses case.)
Some change, however, was crucial. The crude and impossible infotainment system has been ripped out, replaced by a high-res touch-screen with intuitive controls (thank Bentley's owner, Volkswagen). The seats are slimmer this year, allowing more leg room for riders tending the tiny, immaculate garden of a back seat. Adjustable bolstering like on the half-price Jaguar XKR would be very welcome while driving hard, but the fat Monte Carlo bankers won't have it. Skinny millionaires may be forced into the Supersports and its firmer, hardcore carbon buckets.
On the outside, one-piece aluminum fenders remove the body panel seam that used to cut through the headlamps, creating a cleaner presentation (Bentley says it uses a combination of 900-degree heat and high air pressure to form them). Hood and trunk lines are more crisply defined, and the car's shoulders and overall stance — thanks to new 21-inch footwear — seem broader and more squat.
A Bentley spec sheet reads like a Suburban's, and despite removing the weight of a Great Dane, the Continental is still, well, a continent: 5,115 pounds, 24 gallons of fuel, and a Peterbuilt's worth of torque at 1,700 rpm. Horsepower is boosted to 567, the six-speed automatic's shift times are cut in half, and 60 percent of the W-12's power is now routed to the rear at all times. For customers suffering in the recession, Bentley will soon introduce a smaller, less powerful V-8 with 40 percent less emissions.
Upon closing the heaviest car doors in all mankind, you'd never expect the GT to knock off 111 mph in a quarter mile. Or that it could grip an offramp with such alarming friction and minimal body lean. It does all of this, with an occasional snort from the booming exhaust, as it cossets your body and disrupts your inner ear with a deep, 12-cylinder bass. Ferraris and Porsches do this sort of thing, too, in the way caged squirrels hyperventilate before a heart attack. In the Continental, speed and agility are a quiet, finger-lifting affair.
More surprises await the longer you drive. Nearly every surface — the well holding the chrome window switches, in the map pockets, along the entire roof — is wrapped in leather so soft it could be cured off a newborn. Air vents are a chilly stainless steel, and the bird's eye maple in our car might have been drizzling warm honey. Each time you climb into the Continental, it's open season to grab, rub, and inhale this interior.
Now comes the bad: noisy low-profile tires and seat massagers, no leather on the steering column, plasticky paddle shifters, and the $84 spent on premium gas after just 250 miles. But not even the price, starting at a cool $189,900, is that arguable for a custom-made fortress. There's more detail in Bentley's $550 sunglasses case than the entire 2012 Toyota Camry.
For comparison's sake, I discovered some drawings of the 2020 Continental GT stashed in the felt-lined glovebox. I can't say much, but rest assured, 2012 Bentley buyers, you won't miss out.
2012 Bentley Continental GT
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $189,900 / $205,565
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 12 city / 19 highway
Fuel economy, Globe observed: Not great.
Drivetrain: 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W-12, 6-speed automatic, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive
Body: Two-door, four-passenger coupe.
Horsepower: 567 @ 6,000 rpm.
Torque: 516 lb.-ft. @ 1,700 rpm.
Overall length: 189.2 in.
Wheelbase: 108.1 in.
Height: 55.3 in.
Width: 87.7 in. (with mirrors)
Curb weight: 5,115 lbs.
THE GOOD: An Adonis on wheels, luscious interior, lithe performance for two-and-a-half tons, the most secure-feeling doors on earth
THE BAD: The fuel gauge ticks like a backwards clock.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Subtle changes keep this Bentley in shape for the next decade.
ALSO CONSIDER: Aston Martin DB9, Mercedes-Benz CL600, Porsche 911 Turbo
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee