The villages give way as the route takes us to the legendary Glossgockner Pass, at 8,215 feet the highest paved mountain pass in Austria. It just opened about a week ago, and plows had to carve out portions of the road from snow as high as 10 feet or more.
At the top of the pass, we take the time to shoot photos of the car against the snowy Alpine vista. The new Continental GT stands out as unmistakably beautiful even in this breathtaking scene.
The 2019 Continental GT sports a lusty shape that pays homage to the past while pushing the company’s design aesthetic into the future. Put the car next to its predecessors, and the overall body line, rounded headlights, and in-your-face rear haunches are clear elements shared by all three generations.
Zero in on the details, though, and the 2019 sets itself apart. The body panels take on crisper shapes, as shown by those haunches, as well the surfacing on the front fenders and hood. This interplay of sharp edges with smooth, curvaceous surfaces was inspired by aircraft fuselages. The headlights have a cut crystal appearance, while the taillights are simple parabolas on a wide rear end.
New chrome hockey stick trim strips along the lower portion of the body replace straight trim and feature “12” symbols in relief at their front edges. The placement of the front axle also stands out; it sits 5.3 inches farther forward, which places an emphasis on the length of the nose and creates a longer “prestige mass” between the center of the front wheel arch and the front of the door line—a clear indication of the rear-drive nature of the platform.
Appreciating the scenery, both automotive and natural, is great, but the downslope of the twisty mountain road beckons. Bentley claims it has created the best grand tourer in the world by making the car sportier while maintaining ultra-luxury levels of refinement. Time to test that claim.
Flip the Drive Dynamics Control—engineers call it Charisma Control—to Sport mode, and the Continental GT comes alive, despite carrying 4,947 pounds. The variable-ratio electric-assist power steering traces the lines of these twisty Austrian roads like a skilled cartographer, adding weight and quickness in Sport mode.
The car responds to steering inputs like an athlete. Enabled by a new 48-volt system, active roll bars do their bloody well best to keep this beautiful beast flat through corners. A three-chamber air suspension at each corner with adjustable dampers ties the car down to the road in Sport mode and creates a smooth, refined ride in Comfort mode, despite low-profile 21-inch wheels. Bentley mode is a good compromise between the two, and the car is both sporty and refined in all modes. A programmable Custom mode lets drivers pick the settings for the engine and transmission, springs and damping, roll bars, steering, and torque distribution.
The car's architecture can take some of the credit for its athleticism. It’s the MSB platform that the Conti GT shares with the Porsche Panamera. In its last two generations, the Continental used a steel platform adapted from the VW Phaeton. This time, however, Bentley engineers were embedded with Porsche’s people during development. That allowed them to get the hard points, length, width, and track they wanted.
2019 Bentley Continental GT, Austria 2018Enlarge Photo
The aluminum-intensive structure and aluminum body panels save 190 pounds, while the car is 167 pounds lighter overall. Balance improves from 58 percent front, 42 percent rear to 55/45 thanks in part to the forward axle position. In fact, the engine has moved so far back that the front driveshaft now runs through the W-12 instead of behind it. It also helps that the W-12 is 28 percent shorter than a typical V-12, which allows it to sit farther back in the chassis than the alternative.
These mountain switchbacks challenge the Conti GT due to its weight, though. Enter too hot and it will push forward as the physics of changing directions with two-and-a half-tons can be problematic, active roll bars and better balance or no.