Bentley gives the classic Contintental GT a modern-day makeover

Best seller is a relative term when you're talking about a brand like  Bentley.

The Volkswagen-owned British brand sells maybe a couple of hundred cars each year in Australia – so exclusivity is very much part of the appeal.

But the arrival of the all-new Continental GT – the first major update to a car that went on sale in 2004 – has local executives talking of smashing sales records.

Combined with the still-fresh Bentayga SUV, Bentley is on the path to newfound popularity.

Same, but different

The formula for the Continental GT hasn't changed.

Despite a $422,600 price tag, it's not directly competing with similarly priced supercars.

Instead, the Continental GT is targeting the grand tourer market it helped popularise, one that places an emphasis on everyday comfort and effortlessness teamed with plenty of pace.

Interior focus

Inside it's next-level attention to detail. Wood, metal and leather surfaces are beautifully matched together, in some cases with tolerances of just 0.1mm.

Bentley spent six months programming a computer to create a new diamond pattern for the quilted leather. Each diamond has 712 stitches, each subtly tilted to face the centre. Quilted cars have 2.8km of thread and 310,675 stitches.

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Bentley also developed a new knurling pattern for the indicator stalk and other dials, one designed to mimic the finish of cut diamonds.

High tech (sometimes)

Underlying the focus on traditional materials, Bentley has injected plenty of technology into the Continental GT. The instrument cluster is digital and can be customised according to the drive mode.

A 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen dominates the dash. If you splash out another $12,319 it can be swivelled and replaced by three traditional gauges for an old school look. When parked, the entire display and gauges is replaced by a wooden panel.

Audiophiles can choose between an optional 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system or the flagship 18-speaker Naim system that incorporates two "active bass transducers" (like a subwoofer but more about the pulses than the noise).

It's a big step up from previous Naim systems in Bentleys, with powerful bass and crisp, clear sound.

Step it up

Some active safety gear has been left to the options list.

Blind spot monitoring is standard, as is a reversing camera.

But the standard Bentley Safeguard system only warns of a potential crash, without taking evasive action.

Auto emergency braking – now commonplace on mainstream cars, including base model Volkswagens – is optional, part of the $16,245 Touring Pack.

Foot down

A V8 and more powerful W12 will emerge in future, but for now the Continental has a 6.0-litre W12 engine (effectively two V6s sharing a common crankshaft) boosted by twin turbochargers.

It's a heavy evolution of the engine of the same configuration Bentley has employed since 2003.

But now it makes more power, a peak of 467kW helping launch it to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds.

There's also a beefy 900Nm of torque, making for effortless acceleration and a sense that not much will slow the Continental – even once it surpasses Australia's low speed limits.

Sports intention

Bentley has made a big change to how the power is sent to the wheels.

Four-wheel drive remains, but it's an active system that places the emphasis on the rear wheels, for more playful dynamics and a rear-drive feel.

Instead of a traditional automatic transmission Bentley has employed an eight-speed twin-clutch transmission, the same unit used in some Porsches.

And take off

Even with that extra effort during slow speed manoeuvring it occasionally shunts or stutters.

No qualms once underway, upshifts smooth and precise.

The twin-clutch allows for race car-like launches for the first time in a Bentley; dial up Sport mode and floor the throttle. The car holds revs then aggressively takes off once you take your foot off the brake.

Grand stuff

The Continental GT lacks the outright ferocity of a Ferrari or Porsche of similar money. But it's far from embarrassed, the effortless mid-rev ensuring you're rarely left wanting for more grunt.

But the way it deals with corners and bumps is very different to purebred sports cars, in part because it's a sizeable, heavy machine; even with a two-door aluminium body it weighs more than 2.2 tonnes, about the same as an eight-seat Toyota Prado 4WD.

In its softest setting the adjustable air suspension is surprisingly supple, flustered only by sharp-edge bumps.

Tyring stuff

Choose your tyres carefully, though.

The optional 22-inch units look the business but they're noisy on Australian roads, roaring and occasionally humming at speed.

The 21s are still shod in grippy Pirelli rubber but use some unique materials as part of the noise cancellation technology. They're far from whisper quiet but are noticeably less intrusive that the 22s.

Adding up

Besides, the fewer option boxes you tick the more money you'll keep in your pocket.

It's frighteningly easy to add $50,000 or $100,000 to the price once you start choosing materials, sound systems, wheels and tech extras.

Which should help reinforce that all-important exclusivity.

While the all-new GT is set to smash Bentley sales records, it'll never be a huge seller.