Bentley invited UNO publisher Mat to the Gold Coast to show off the brand new Continental GT.
WORDS MATHEW TOMLINSON / PHOTOS MARK BEAN
So there I was, pulling up to the Gold Coast’s Palazzo Versace hotel in the new Bentley Continental GT. Actually, that’s it, that’s all I want to say. Life simply won’t get any better.
I’m hanging up my loafers.
Let’s go back a bit. Derek Bennett of Bentley Auckland called me at the tail end of winter, wondering if I’d like to go to sunny Australia to meet the Bentley team, who were flying in from their UK headquarters, and drive the new Continental GT. I dream of being asked questions like that.
As the spring issue of UNO flew through the printing plates, I jumped on a plane. Casey, one of Palazzo Versace’s dapper concierges, met me at Arrivals, tossed me the keys to a Bentley Bentayga W12, and asked if I’d like to drive. Don’t mind if I do. What a refined, powerful, head-turner of a rocket ship. The 40 minutes to the hotel slid by. Everything felt smooth, expensive and in exactly the right place. I started to feel the same way.
Up to the room to freshen up. I poured myself a gin and tonic in my opulent suite overlooking the magnificent pool, then ran through my itinerary and all the Bentley merchandise so thoughtfully laid out before me. In an hour, we were to be whisked off to the new Bentley dealership for a presentation, then onto a Riviera superyacht for a cruise at sundown. Tomorrow I’d spend the day behind the wheel of the new Bentley Continental GT.
The Bentley team spoke with the passion of people who’ve found their true calling. Take, for example, head of product design Chris Cooke, who has been employed by just one careful owner. He has a Master of Automotive Design from Coventry University (the world’s leading course of its kind) and was hand-picked by Bentley to join their design team. He’s worked on colour and trim, products, interiors, all the way up to the top. The specialist skills he brings to his role are, I imagine, unsurpassed.
Chris’s story is similar to others at Bentley. They have such passion for the brand, the cars, the history, the experience. If you cut these men and women, they’d bleed green. I could tell it would physically hurt them to do anything less than their best work.
After a night in a gold-plated bed dreaming that this life was my life, I was up early and into a hearty breakfast. The plan was to drive in pairs, swapping halfway to Byron Bay, where we’d be hosted at an al fresco lunch at a house in the hills.
Outside in the hotel’s grand, sweeping driveway were six gleaming, spotless GTs waiting for our group. It was quite a sight. My driving pal was Australian journalist Guy Dundas, who knew the roads well from his younger days as a cyclist. We were given a Black Crystal Continental GT W12.
Simple actions like opening the door and getting in became significant. The rich clicks and thunks of dials and switches and the smoothness of the curves pulled me into the seat and added to the whole experience.
Now, I’m a big guy, and most cars quickly start to feel too small, but I could have happily kept driving all day. The seats held me reassuringly in place and can be adjusted in every way imaginable. As well as heating, there are cooling options for the seats, which was ideal in the Gold Coast sunshine, and would be great for our New Zealand summers too.
Guy and I talked about how quickly we became used to the idea that we deserved and needed one of these vehicles. I could easily see it as my everyday drive at home in Mt Maunganui, and I’d probably start to see more of the rest of the country, too, simply because of the pleasure of driving the GT. The longer and curvier the roads, the better. I’m thinking road trips up the winding coast of the Coromandel or following the lakes past the Southern Alps and down to Queenstown.
There were four settings on the beautiful handcrafted dial: Sport, Bentley, Comfort, Custom. Switching into Sport mode, I pressed my foot onto the pedal and heard the car transform with power that felt like it’d never end. You couldn’t be anything less than turned on by that sound.
The finishes and textures of this car are phenomenal. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel. I’ll turn to Bentley to describe the centre console.
“The console is inspired by the milled internal casings of fine wristwatches. A hand-finished first for the automotive world, its textured bands shimmer in the light. Clock bezels and bullseye air vents can be commissioned with intricate diamond knurling – a jewellery-inspired texture composed of myriad diamond-shaped flat surfaces, reflecting the light like a cut precious stone while improving the ergonomic performance of important controls.
“Sitting in the centre of the fascia, the optional Bentley Rotating Display allows you to tailor the car’s instrumentation according to your mood. When the engine roars into life, a flat, veneered section of the fascia rotates to reveal a high-resolution touchscreen. If you prefer a more classic instrument style, a further rotation reveals another veneered panel, this one with three analogue dials: a compass, a temperature gauge and a chronograph timer. A final reverse rotation takes place when the engine is turned off, restoring the display to its original veneer-only position, for an uninterrupted flow of wood right across the fascia.”
We drove inland along the kind of country roads designed to show the GT’s moves and lines to best effect. Guy and I channelled a bit of our inner boy racers, too, cranking the 18-speaker (including two in the seats) Naim for Bentley audio system.
When we stopped to swap drivers and stretch our legs at a scenic lookout, tourists were treated to the sight of six stunning Bentleys all in a row with Australian bush as the backdrop. Our machines played models while people took photos and asked questions before standing back appreciatively as the Bentleys roared into life in choral unison.
Lunch was a similarly spectacular affair, with views over the hills behind Byron Bay to the ocean. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jacquie Hayes of madamwheels.com, and we had a very enjoyable conversation about how suitable the GT is for every facet of normal life. Jacquie writes reviews of luxury cars that speak directly to women.
Bentley’s head of product marketing, David Parker, also entertained me with stories at lunch, like the one about the customer who handed Bentley a single sequin from a much-loved dress and asked them to replicate the hue. Sequin Blue is now an official Bentley colour.
Then there was the story about the daughter of a life-long customer who won a prestigious junior tennis tournament. The design team took some of the leather they’d reserved after making her father’s car (every Bentley has its own leftover leather stored away, in case repairs are required) and used it to hand-make a racquet bag with a note of congratulations to the star player stitched inside.
Pulling back into the entrance of the hotel, I saw UNO’s editor, my wife Jenny Rudd, who’d just arrived from the airport. Encouraged by the gleam in her eye when she saw the car, I made my pitch: “Darling, let’s sell the children and keep the car. We’ve had 15 good years with them, but Mummy and Daddy have a new family now.”