/ 24 September 2023

Bentley still the best grand tourer

Simply grand: In recognition of the Bentley Continental GT, the favourite model in the range , the Speed, was taken on a spin around the Western Cape, and it performed just as expected, snaking around passes and powering forward under acceleration.

An end of an era can be met with fanfare or disappointment, depending on which side of the coin you might be viewing this from. So when news broke earlier this year that Bentley was discontinuing the inimitable 6.0-litre W12 engine, there were a few gasps and concerns, not the least from our team. 

As the company readies to stop production of this stupendous engine in April 2024, the Batur will see the most powerful version of the engine shoehorned into its engine bay, which will produce 551kW and 1 000Nm. 

The Crewe, England-based firm’s Beyond 100 strategy will see all its models electrified by 2033 as part of a sustainable future on a quest to achieve a 0g/km carbon emissions fleet average.

“Our progressive journey towards sustainable luxury mobility means making changes to every area of Bentley Motors,” says Adrian Hallmark, chairperson and chief executive of Bentley Motors.

“When we first launched the W12 back in 2003, we knew we had a mighty engine that would propel both our cars and the brand forward at speed. Twenty years and more than 100 000 W12 units later, the time has come to retire this now-iconic powertrain as we take strides towards electrification — but not without giving it the best send-off possible, with the most powerful version of the engine ever created.” 

“The 551kW titan that Mulliner has created for the Batur marks the end of a development journey of which our engineering and manufacturing colleagues should be extremely proud, and when production finishes in April next year, we aim to retrain and redeploy all of the skilled craftspeople who still build each engine by hand.”

For us on the southern tip of Africa, we sought to devise a plan to celebrate 20 years of the quintessential grand tourer, the GT, and also bid a fond farewell to the W12, introduced in the GT back in 2003. The latter has, to date, sold more than 80 000 units, a testament to its desirability, but it also marks the turning point for the Bentley brand under the Volkswagen Group’s stewardship.

The engineering team at Crewe has continuously improved the engine’s performance and efficiency. For instance, power has increased by 37% and torque by 54%. 

Emissions, meanwhile, have been reduced by 25%. This was initially achieved by improvements in the cooling design, turbocharging and better injection and combustion processes. With the introduction of the Bentayga SUV in 2015, the engine was revamped from the sump up, and it is this engine that remains in production.

As part of Bentley’s progressive plans to become a leader in sustainable luxury mobility, 30 of the W12 engineers at its factory will be retrained and sent to other areas of the business, while the W12 production line will be commissioned to ramp up production for both the V6 hybrid and V8 power plants.

As a send-off to this iconic engine, we revisited a favourite model in the Conti GT range, the Speed. The setting was the elevating and snaking Franschhoek Pass, where the dynamism of the GT Speed truly came into its own. It is a rewarding steer when pushed to the limit, giving surprisingly good feedback, all the while shrinking around the driver as it threads corners with gay abandon. Grip levels are so prodigious that the front end does a commendable job of quelling terminal understeer, whereas previous models came undone when more enthusiastic driver inputs were administered. 

The future: Bentley will, from April next year, stop the production of the W12 engine. The company will also, from 2033, have all its models electrified to achieve zero carbon emissions in a shift to sustainability.

Then there’s the sheer acceleration of the thing. With 485kW and a mountainous 900Nm, it pulls like the proverbial steam train, only that thrust hardly ever feels like it’s abating as the turbos whistle under full-bore acceleration, and the PDK does a sterling rendition of no interruption in power delivery, efficiently shifting through cogs in a manner befitting a vehicle at the sharp end of craftsmanship and engineering prowess. 

Then, once the adrenaline rush is done, you can simply slot the vehicle back into Bentley mode and take in the painstaking craftsmanship and top-shelf technology, peppered with one of the most silent cabins in the business. 

As Bentley moves into an electrified future, the W12 will go down in history as one of the greatest and most intelligently packaged 12-cylinder engines in the world. 

While the Conti GT will probably morph into a full electric vehicle model, it’s good to know that the refinement of electric propulsion will add another layer of luxury to an already polished model. 

But the V8 and V6 Hybrid models will continue for much longer, meaning all is not lost for lovers of internal combustion engines who still want their Bentley powered by fossil fuels and make glorious engine noise. That said, here’s to another 20 years of unbridled Bentley Continental GT refinement and craftsmanship.