Bentley Continental GT
The Bentley Continental GT may not be able to live with the ultra-focused supercar set but that's not the idea. If you're after brutal performance, high-tech engineering and elegant design, then this improved, more stylish and more efficient baby Bentley has got the lot.
The W12 engine is adapted from a Volkswagen design and is astonishingly compact, yet can pump out 567bhp, due in no small part to the two KKK turbochargers. Or 626bhp if you go for the GT Speed variant which is flat out at 206mph - the fastest Bentley ever. Forced induction has become something of a cause celebre at Bentley, stretching back over 20 years in the modern era and being traceable right back to the supercharged 'Blower Bentleys' of the 1920s. Buyers who don't need quite that much power can talk to their dealer about the still very rapid V8 version, offered in standard form with 500bhp or in V8S guise with 521bhp. The V8S also gets a sharper suspension set-up which makes it far more of a driver's car.
Power is still transmitted to the road via a rear-biased four-wheel drive set up which gives the Continental GT a handy advantage when the going gets slippery. Advanced ESP stability control technology helps here too with its 'Sport Traction' mode allowing extra scope for the driver to enjoy the car's handling with the safety net still in place. The link between the driven wheels and the engine comes courtesy of a six-speed automatic transmission built for Bentley by ZF. This can be marshalled via paddles behind the steering wheel should you wish, or else it can be driven like a conventional automatic. This was a surprisingly controversial feature, with some engineers arguing that a car with this much torque didn't need a six-speed gearbox. Yes, you could lock the Continental GT into third gear and surf languidly along for much of the time, but the enthusiast owner profile eventually dictated the six ratios.
Another first for Bentley was the attention to aerodynamics. A car that can accelerate to 60mph in less than five seconds and on to the far side of 190mph requires sufficient aerodynamics that its owner can be assured of it remaining dirty side down. The Continental GT benefits from the expertise of the best aerodynamicists the Volkswagen Group had and the venturi tunnel under the rear of the car and the cooling ducts in the engine bay all attest to their labours.
One thing's for sure. Once potential buyers have had the opportunity to take a good look round the car they'll be looking for a dotted line to sign. It's a shape that works a good deal better in the metal than on the printed page, where it can sometimes look a little lugubrious. Watch one on the move and you'll witness a lightness of touch, a simple design elegance and a car that hints at the potency that lies under that long bonnet.
The classic Bentley matrix radiator grille is more upright these days, while the smart headlamp design, in traditional four-lamp format, has exquisite jewel-like detailing including eye-catching, LED daylight-running lamps. At the rear, Bentley signature 'floating' LED lamps extend around the corners of the wings, emphasising the car's width and purposeful stance. The track is wider by41mm at the front and 48mm at the rear than the previous model.
The hand-crafted interior remains demonstrably Bentley with acres of leather and wood veneers. The fascia, with new touch-screen technology, has been designed with a notion of symmetry, the centre console rising up to divide two swathes of veneer that were designed to resemble the Bentley winged logo. It's said that Bentley's designers even took a tape measure to a team of New York basketball players to ensure that headroom is acceptable even to those at the extremes of the morphological scale. The Continental GT is a proper four-seater, although a broad transmission tunnel runs down the centre of the cabin.
In bringing Bentley into a new era, the Continental GT has proved to be a hugely significant car and this improved version is more desirable still. Purists may grumble at the Teutonic influence, but one can't help feeling that if WO Bentley is watching, he'd be mighty proud of the coupe that bears his name.
This model seamlessly blends Bentley's glittering heritage with the latest technology to create a highly desirable package. If you have the means, sports coupes don't come more classy and capable than this. Its substantial mass ensures it's no hardcore track weapon but if you've got a continent or two to cross in double quick time, there can be few better options.Click here to find out more about our Bentley Continental GT range
Stylish, luxurious but still a potent performance weapon, the Maserati GranTurismo is on paper, part luxury Grand Tourer, part serious performance sportscar. On the road, it feels more Maranello than Mercedes, thank goodness. A Maserati should be nothing less.
Power for both GranTurismo models, the 'Sport' and the 'MC', comes from the same Ferrari-sourced 4.7-litre V8 engine that's found in the most powerful version of their Quattroporte saloon, the powerplant's sonorous soundtrack emphasised by a switchable sports exhaust. Alfa Romeo once used this unit for their 8C Competizione supercar. This V8 manages 0-62mph in 4.7s on the way to a top speed of 187mph. It's not quite in the ultimate supercar bracket but all of that should be plenty for the playboy on his day off.
The GranTurismo has obviously been designed to entertain as well as cosset its driver. The front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout helps it achieve a well-balanced 49/51 weight distribution, one of the reasons why we found ourselves able to throw this Maserati around rather more than we expected given its hefty 1880kgs kerb weight. As a result, unlike, say a Mercedes SL, this is a car that is nearly as at home on a twisting 'B' Road as it is on a motorway. Only the steering lets things down a bit, rather too vague at speed but slightly heavier than you'd like when parking.
The 6-speed automatic gearbox with its wheel-mounted paddle shifters is cleverly able to adapt to your driving style as well as to the prevailing road conditions. The extra outlay required by the MC model gets you a stiffer, more focused suspension set-up. We'd stick with the 'Sport' variant, not only because the suspension is more compliant but also because 'Sport'-spec is the only one that gets you Maserati's 'Skyhook' adaptive suspension system. In its 'Sport' setting, the car feels pretty much like a standard GranTurismo on fixed rate dampers, but Skyhook does give you the additional option of switching to a more comfort-orientated mode for motorway work.
The exterior lines still have real drama about them, the three holes behind the front wheel arch referencing the Quattroporte saloon. The gaping Maserati grille with its silver trident dominates the front end below the long bonnet that plunges at the nose. There's a feeling of power in the muscular hindquarters, with the curves at the rear bulging around to form the integrated boot spoiler. The MC version also gets a carbon fibre bonnet and a more aggressive diffuser.
Inside, the big news with this revised model is the addition of a much more up to date touchscreen infotainment system. Otherwise, the beautifully finished cabin is much as before, split in two by the wide transmission tunnel while the V design at the top of the dash is said to increase the sporty feel by making occupants feel like they're sitting lower in the car. The seats all feature Maserati's trident logo on their headrests and there are subtle chrome inlays for the controls.
The GT is a sizable 4,881mm in length, but the wheelbase is 126mm shorter than the Quattroporte saloon from which it borrows its basic underpinnings. Crucially to the more practical and luxurious direction that Maserati is being led in, the GranTurismo is a 2+2 and although claims by the manufacturer that it can sit "two adults comfortably even on longer journeys" do stretch the limits a little, there's definitely room for a pair of kids in those sculpted rear seats. The 260-litre boot though, is smaller than that offered by most rivals.
This car is refreshing in that it's a GT that for once, lives up to its name. Fast, stylish and capable of covering transcontinental distances while keeping occupants and their designer luggage in the rarefied atmosphere to which they are accustomed. That's what GT motoring should be about and it sums up the Maserati GranTurismo.
With gorgeous looks for once accompanied by an appropriate emphasis on quality, this model has been a useful step forward for the brand. And amid all the talk of luxury seating, chrome inlays and Poltrona Frau leather, it's important to remember that there's a 190mph performance sportscar lurking here. And a worthy bearer of a classic badge.Click here to find out more about our Maserati GT range
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe
Mercedes' new generation E-Class coupe has even sleeker looks and offers a whole series of dynamic driving aids but in reality, is at its best when delivering a luxurious grand touring experience. There's a sense of class, quality and style here that makes this car unique at its price point and would normally be the preserve of a larger and much more expensive sports coupe.
As you'd expect, this E-Class Coupe shares its engine ware with the E-Class saloon, which means that the headline news is the installation of that model's completely new 194bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine in the entry-level E220d variant. There are two other mainstream engine options - both petrol-powered; the 245bhp four-cylinder E300 and the 333bhp six-cylinder E400 4MATIC. All are equipped as standard with 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission and the DYNAMIC SELECT system that allows you to tweak steering feel, throttle response, gearshift timings and stability control thresholds to suit the way you want to drive. If you opt to replace the standard DIRECT CONTROL suspension (lowered by 15mm over the saloon model) with optional adaptive damping or DYNAMIC BODY CONTROL air suspension, the DYNAMIC SELECT system's modes will alter ride quality too. There are: "Comfort", "ECO", "Sport", "Sport +" and "Individual" settings to choose from.
Mercedes claims that handling response has improved this time round, thanks to this generation model's lighter weight and wider track. This isn't the kind of Executive segment coupe designed for a driving enthusiast though. Instead, the emphasis is on comfort and high-tech, with innovations including high-resolution MULTIBEAM LED headlamps and a DRIVE PILOT system that can virtually supply autonomous driving - depending on how you use it.
First to the feature I like most about this car. The absence of a central B-pillar together with a frameless window design means that you've only to open everything up to get a wonderful sense of airy freedom that's further enhanced if you've also selected the optional sunroof. None of that's changed in a new generation model that retains its classic coupe proportions with a long bonnet, an elongated side line, a flat roof profile and a powerful tail end now sporting smarter LED lamps and a 'wide effect' rear bumper. What is different is that with a length of 4,826mm, a width of 1,860mm and a height of 1,430mm, this new generation E-Class Coupe is clearly larger than its predecessor.
Slip behind the wheel and if you're familiar with the previous generation version of this car, the main change you'll notice - at least on a top model - lies with the two optionally available high-resolution 12.3-inch displays which are merged under a single lens to produce a floating Widescreen Cockpit effect. This emphasises the width, alongside the fascia-spanning trim, which is finished with a dynamic sweep in the door panel. Positioned in the driver's direct field of vision, the instrument cluster shows virtual instruments, which can be selected by the driver in three different styles, "Classic", "Sport" and "Progressive", depending on which information and views the driver chooses.
The improvements made to this E-Class Coupe - the more efficient engines, the smarter looks, the extra equipment - have certainly been welcome but the essence of its appeal has changed very little. As you'd expect, it delivers the powerful, luxurious, Grand Touring sports coupe brand values you'd expect from a £40,000-£50,000 luxury Mercedes coupe.
In driving it, in owning it, you feel another more elegant level away from owners of the brand's less aspirational C-Class Coupe. And a cut above the sporting two-door models that car competes with, coupes like BMW's 4 Series and Audi's A5. There's a maturity and a class here that these sportier rivals lack. They could never be considered as a wise and cost-efficient alternative to spending £30,000-£40,000 more on a Maserati GranTurismo or BMW 6 Series. This Mercedes could be. And that about sums it up.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe range