In my estimation, the revised all-wheel drive is the most significant contributor to the 2012 model's lighter feel. As is the case with recent versions of Quattro from Audi — Bentley's corporate sibling under the Volkswagen Group — the all-wheel drive now sends 60 percent of torque to the rear wheels as a default, rather than the 50/50 split in earlier versions. As a result, the car handles more like a rear-wheel-drive car and doesn't understeer as much when powering through turns. Steering feedback remains minimal, and it's still a heavy car overall, weighing anywhere from hundreds to more than a thousand pounds more than comparable cars from Aston Martin and Ferrari, but the experience is transformed versus the previous generation.
Our test car's grippy Pirelli PZero summer performance tires on optional 21-inch wheels also play a part. According to tirerack.com, the replacement cost for these tires is $489 apiece — actually better than I'd expected. The standard 20-inch size costs $343 a pop. As of the car's release, there are no all-season or winter tires available for either diameter, but Bentley says we'll see winter tires before the first winter. Granted, this car would be no one's first choice for winter use, but the all-wheel drive and height-adjustable air suspension are certainly tempting for buyers who experience at least occasional winter conditions, for which summer tires are simply unfit.
Ride & Controls
Despite the striking 21-inch wheels, the GT's ride quality was quite good, thanks in part to the adaptive suspension, though its adjustment is frustrated by its reliance on the touch-screen display. The physical center-console button with a shock-absorber icon merely calls up an onscreen menu with a four-position slider bar on it — too many steps for this feature.
Ride adjustments ought to have an easily reached physical control, especially when the touch-screen is as unresponsive as the Continental's. Here's a classic example of two steps forward and one back: The new screen replaces an old-style display that was flanked by physical "soft keys." This part is good. The delay in response after you push on the new screen is quite bad. First you push, then you wait a half-second before hearing a confirmation beep, and then you wait another beat before the action goes through. This behavior plagues most aspects of the new navigation and control system, which is further frustrated by a pair of small, slippery knobs that aren't knurled enough to grab if you have callused fingertips (weekend mechanics and guitar players, take note).
If you think I'm nitpicking too much by focusing on this stuff in a $190,000 car ($216,560 as tested), you've never met someone who has spent $190,000 on a car. The same goes for the cupholders, which are minimally improved over the old ones; somewhere in the world there's a decanter small enough for these things, but it's not in the USA. If issues like these annoy in an economy car, they madden in an ultra-luxury model.