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2012 Bentley Continental GT (Bentley)
2012 Bentley Continental GT (Bentley)

2012 Bentley Continental GT

Opulence in Oman: Taking luxury to new heights Add to ...

You never forget your first. At least that's the case with my first drive in a Bentley and my first trip to the Middle East.

We're in Muscat - the capital of Oman, the oldest independent state in the Arab world. It's bordered by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In this area, a woman driver is rare - and brings double takes from men, especially when it's a woman driving a new 2012 Bentley Continental GT coupe.

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The Continental is one of Bentley's most revered names. The original Conti GT was revealed in 2002 at the Paris auto show; it hit the streets in 2003. Now the second-generation Continental GT two-door four-passenger coupe raises the bar even higher - with a more aggressive design, a more lavish interior and extra power to boot.

"The effort of the second generation was twofold - to keep the character of the first generation of the GT because it was a huge success. … And at the same time create a new second-generation car which has all the improvements and all the goodies customers would expect," says Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, the recently retired chairman and CEO of Bentley Motors Ltd.

Subtle changes update the look, yet don't alter the iconic, classic design. A wider track - 44 mm wider at the front and 48 mm wider at the rear - creates a more aggressive, sporty stance. A new headlamp design with Bentley's traditional four-lamp format, LED daylight running lamps, a mesh radiator grille, and flared oval exhaust tips grace the exterior. Twenty-inch alloy wheels are now standard, but if you want to blow them away go for the optional 21-inch designs - they make a statement.

2012 Bentley Continental GT

The interior is breathtaking - it's even more luxurious than the previous version. Plush beige leather and bird's eye maple complement my tester's Aegean blue exterior beautifully. The front seats are super-luxurious and comfortable with heating, cooling and massage functions at your fingertips.

The back of the front seats are recessed, creating extra knee room for the two rear-seat passengers. It's appreciated because riding in the rear is a little cramped. Getting in and out of the rear is also tricky and requires some flexibility.

The dashboard is high-tech and filled with numerous buttons and dials - too many for my taste. It can take a little time to find some functions. A new eight-inch, touch-screen 30 GB infotainment system includes satellite navigation with route guidance, but it's not the best on the market. It's difficult to program and not intuitive. I wish Bentley had borrowed the Audi A8's new Multimedia Interface system, instead -it's much easier to use.

Under the hood is a more powerful 6-litre, twin-turbo, W12 engine, which produces 567 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque - that's 15 hp and 37 lb-ft more than its predecessor. A new high-efficiency four-litre V-8 engine will join the family in late 2011. Bentley officials boast it will deliver a 40 per cent reduction in emissions compared with the W12 engine. Both engines are coupled to an allwheel- drive system with a sporty 40:60 rear-torque bias compared with the 50:50 bias of the original GT.

Mated to the engine is a sixspeed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which are very responsive to the touch.

The Conti GT, which is 65 kg lighter than its predecessor, is an elegant ride. It's not stiff or harsh; it's supple, gliding gracefully over the sweeping perfect roads along the desert landscape. The cabin is ultra quiet. Even the engine noise is subdued, unlike a Ferrari or Lamborghini. I actually prefer the quiet engine over a loud, grumbling one - it's a refreshing change.

The steering is tight and accurate; it requires little input from the driver. Overtaking other vehicles is a cinch and I often saw men do double takes as I passed them on stretches of the highway. I did try to blend in - I wore a pashmina scarf as a makeshift burqa. But choosing a pink scarf meant I still stood out like a sore thumb.

However, the Bentley Continental GT coupe is right at home in Oman - a country filled with abundance, luxury and excess. Granted, opulence comes at a steep price; in this case, $208,900. Add some options like carbon ceramic brakes with black brake calipers ($14,670) and polished wheels ($10,495) and the price jumps to $246,840.

Tech Specs

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2012 Bentley Continental GT

Type: Two-door, four-passenger luxury coupe

Base Price: $208,900; as tested, $246,840

Engine: 6.0-litre, twin-turbocharged, DOHC, W12

Horsepower/torque: 567 hp/516 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 25.4 city/11.4 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin DB9 coupe, Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG

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