2019 Bentley Continental GT: High fashion at its best

The new 2019 Bentley Continental GT has been revealed, and it is a stunner. It shows a healthy influence from the brand's recent show cars, especially the EXP 10 Speed 6. This is a very positive thing. Whereas the exterior of the second-generation car looked exactly like that of the first, the new car sports fresh surfacing that is at once more elegant and more athletic, while also delighting in technical detailing that deepens upon second and third glance.

The styling of a six-figure, ultra-luxury Grand Tourer must evolve slowly for a number of reasons. Their wealthy buyers – looking for a prime valet spot at the country club more than at the night club – tend to be a bit more conservative in their tastes than those in the market for a knife-edged exotic. They also prefer their recently purchased six-figure, ultra-luxury Grand Tourer not to be rendered irrelevant in the status game by the introduction of a radically differentiated new model.

This is especially true for Bentley and its Continental GT. This model, launched back in 2004, though tracing its roots back much further, brought the company's design out of the anachronistically (if delightfully) baroque and into the aerodynamically imposing modern era. It was the first true 21st century Bentley, decades ahead of the neoclassic design it replaced while faithfully harkening back to cues from the marque's venerable history, especially its long flanking body line, and conspicuous rear haunches. It immediately became Bentley's best seller, a position it has maintained until this year, when it's been outsold slightly by the gauche and indistinct Bentayga SUV.

We believe this error will correct once the new GT is available. Much of the success of the design comes from its transference to a platform shared with the new Porsche Panamera. The previous-generation Continentals were built on underpinnings originally created for the VW Phaeton, a configuration that was, at heart, front-drive with all-wheel-drive capabilities, packaging that required engine placement ahead of the front axle. This new stablemate has a rear-wheel-drive bias, allowing for more traditional and gracious grand touring proportions on the surface. It reflects the movement of the engine farther back on the chassis, with a long hood and more hunkered-down and planted rear. We detect luscious shades of 1960s Ferrari Superfast cues in this tapering front-to-rear, side-to-side and along the flanks.

Of course, as with much contemporary luxury vehicle design, it is on the interior that the new Conti really flashes its delight. Bentleys have always been about tactile pleasures, but this one truly moves the virtual needle with a new LCD gauge cluster, three-sided rotating infotainment cluster (blank veneer, screen row of analog gauges), knurling and quilting everywhere, even on the vent rings and bezels and haptic touch-screens, as well as new trim materials. Our favorite is in the novel use of metals, part of the super-analog trend we've been tracking for years. Micro-thin machined aluminum panels, expressive textured chrome piping, and especially metal-on-metal broguing, which introduces bronze between the surfaces on the primary controls. Peek-a-boo!

It is precisely these kinds of details that make a car feel less like a machine and more like an objet, a piece of couture, something that is increasingly necessary in our technologically focused era. Machines don't harbor emotions. Objet do. And this is why we bond with and love them. It's fitting that the last time we drove a Bentley, it was on a runway. This new car is high fashion at its best.

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Many of the powertrain components, like the 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger and the DC-DC inverter, are all mounted on a big bracket that is sub-assembled and then lifted into place when building the van. The new Pacifica Hybrid will be made on the same.

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