Is there anything better than a British beast of a grand touring car? Specifically, one that’s stuffed with a 12-cylinder powerplant, covered in fist-bitingly gorgeous sheetmetal, and lined with fine, sweet-smelling leather? Why, yes. Two of them.
Aston Martin comes to the table swinging the car I enjoy calling Big Sexy, the DBS Superleggera. Packing a 5.2-liter twin-turbo V-12 that rocks 715 hp and 664 lb-ft, this GT is the best design of the last 50 years and a veritable rocket ship.
Of course, the Bentley Continental GT ain’t no shrinking violet. New from the ground up, the muscular Conti comes complete with a 626-hp, 664-lb-ft twin-turbo W-12. The Bentley is down on power compared with the Aston, but the former’s all-wheel drive more than makes up for the deficit. I also happen to think the Bentley looks quite fabulous.
What a matchup, eh? Opportunities like this are why I got into this business. I haven’t even mentioned driving around Spa, the Nürburgring, or attempting to hit 200 miles per hour on the autobahn. Yet.
These two cars are fantasy objects for the obnoxiously well-heeled. The starting price of the Bentley is right around $220,000, whereas the Aston Martin is dearer at $308,081. Note these prices contain the caveat, “starting.” It’s hard to nail down the exact as-tested price for the Bentley (and the plummeting English pound exchange rate could affect them both—perhaps the only side benefit of Brexit). But it’s safe to assume that as shown here, it’s dripping some $50K worth of extra bling, likely much more.
Therefore, the focus of this article is much less “here’s what you should buy” and more “here are but two of the options available to you, sir,” with a dash or two of “… damn rich people” tossed in just so we don’t forget our stations in life.
Our plan: Drive from England to France to attend the Great Race, the daddy and granddaddy of them all, the 24 Heures du Mans. That’s Le Mans to you and me, bub. Bentley was kind enough to drop the silver Conti at Head 2 Head co-host Jethro Bovingdon’s house in Northamptonshire the night before we left. I had to go fetch the DBS from the Aston Martin Works facility in nearby Newport Pagnell.
By “had to,” I mean I got to once more visit Newport Pagnell, an amazing living museum across the street from the original location of Aston Martin’s factory. Inside I saw everything from two of the 77 One-77s ever made to two of the 99 Zagato Shooting Brakes. I saw one of the original James Bond DB5s from Goldfinger and the English wheels upon which the metal for almost every Aston Martin was hand-formed until the brand was bought by Ford Motor Co. Perhaps more impressive was one of the 40 twin-supercharged 1999 Vantage V600 Le Mans that Aston Martin built to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its 1959 overall win at Le Mans.
Quite the place. There, parked just in front of that 600-hp brute, sat a Hyper Red, 715-hp DBS Superleggera. Ours for the week.
Merely driving across France in these two luxury bruisers would constitute a bucket list item for most folks. However, Jethro and I are in the bucket list item creation department, so we decided to leave a bit early, miss all the Chunnel and A28 traffic, and see what Belgium had to offer. Aside from a 400-mile start to our trip and the glassiest-smooth roads you ever drove on, not much. The doldrums before the storm did provide us a chance to evaluate the Continental and the DBS as grand touring machines. Easy winner here: Bentley.
The Aston Martin is perfectly adequate as a long-distance cruiser. Comfortable enough seats, sufficiently fine ergonomics, a decent ride, and good-enough infotainment (Mercedes-sourced, though previous-gen, electronics). The cabin is OK, and most humans wouldn’t even think to pick nits, though there is a homebrewed quality to it (and all other Astons) that is simply not found in the Bentley.
Two characteristics really worked against the Aston in terms of the total GT experience. The first is an unsteady throttle. Jethro and I both found it difficult to maintain a constant cruising speed. We just couldn’t keep the throttle steady. The car would eagerly blast up to 80 mph. Take a breath and a sip of coffee, look down, and you’re going 70. The Aston has cruise control, but because we were passing people all across France and Belgium, we tended to drive au naturel.
The Bentley, by way of contrast, was a cinch to keep rock-steady. Same situation with the steering. The Aston has been tuned to be sporty, perhaps even darty. Great on a back road, not so great on a long—even grand—tour. The Bentley was Charlie Watts smooth.
Oh, that Bentley. Sitting atop the latest and greatest from Porsche (Volkswagen Group’s Porsche-engineered MSB platform) and swathed in leather, metal, and wood—is there a finer place than the Continental’s cabin to spend the day? Sure, but that finer place probably has “Mulsanne” somewhere on the body. Or “Phantom.” The third-gen CGT is a luxury cocoon par excellence.
The Bentley’s seats are a dissertation on comfort, the materials a master class in craftsmanship, its road manners so refined that I have a hard time even coming up with a peer. Bentley nailed the big stuff, and as such, there’s just not much small stuff.
Coincidently, the two cars have identical torque numbers: 664 lb-ft. But only the big Bentley doles it out in a reasonable, relaxed manner; the Aston blasts out twist like a fire hose. There’s really no argument: If you’re road tripping and want to feel as relaxed as possible at journey’s end, the Continental is the GT.
However, should you have other, more sporting interests, the DBS is the GT for you. True, if you were to look at the numbers, the Bentley is initially quicker—3.3 seconds to 60 mph versus 3.7 for the Superleggera—but by the end of the quarter mile, the two are nearly tied up, with the DBS just squeaking by the CGT, 11.5 seconds to 11.6. However, let’s note the difference in trap speeds, 120.8 mph for the Bentley versus 129.8 for the Aston. A 9.0-mph gap is due not only to the DBS’ greater power but also to its relative svelteness. The Aston weighs in at a husky 4,186 pounds compared with the Continental GT’s positively lardy 5,019 pounds of bulk. Curiously, the extra 800-plus pounds don’t really handicap the Bentley all that much in our other performance metrics. The Aston stops from 60 mph in 103 feet; the Bentley needs just 2 more. Around our figure eight, the Bentley turns in a quick 23.8-second lap; the Aston is 0.2 quicker.
However, once you turn off the tape and start experiencing both cars on winding back roads, the Aston is the better driver. The Bentley’s weight makes it feel less agile, less special, less fun. Would this stay true on a racetrack?
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, colloquially known as Spa, is a legendary track in the Wallonia region of Belgium, nestled into a crook of the Belgium–Germany border. After the first time I drove Spa, I remember thinking, “Why’s everyone always going on about the Nürburgring? This place is incredible!”
That thought returned this trip when the fine folks at RSR Spa hooked us up with a track day—with as many laps as we and the cars could handle. The message: Go have fun! During the driver’s briefing, our host, Costas, said something to the effect of, “We should go over the part about what to do if it rains, but since there’s no chance of that …” In literary terms, that’s called foreshadowing.
The Bentley’s mixture of all-wheel drive, all-wheel steering, and torrential torque proved to be joyful. I followed a well-driven Volkswagen R32 around for a lap to get my sea legs. Then … presto blammo, the 5,019-pound English gentleman began passing cars. Many cars. I still feel bad for that Cayman. I even managed to pace a Renault Megane RS driven by an actual race car driver.
I won’t lie to you and say the new Continental GT is a great track car. But that afternoon around Spa, despite roasting its poor steel brakes, the Bentley was a bloody good time. Even with the squishy stoppers, I kept the throttle pinned and used the eight-speed dual-clutch (BDK, snicker, snicker) to whoa down the big fella. And not surprisingly given its Porsche roots, our car carried a good amount of speed around corners.
Then it started raining. A few drops at first, right as Jethro was telling me how monstrously quick the DBS was on the track. A few more laps for the camera, and then we’d switch. Then more rain came. Much more of it. Friends, I’ve seen downpours before. Three in my life matched the instantaneous fury of this sudden storm: two on the German autobahn, where traffic came to a standstill, and one in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, many, many moons ago, where I got trapped in a doorway with a girl I liked. [Ed. Note: Family show, Jonny.]
Ahem, back to Spa. I couldn’t see out of the windshield. There was no forward visibility. I could see out of the side windows, and what I saw was the craziest damn thing. There was a stream running parallel to the track. I saw rapids forming and flowing over the Pouhon corner’s curb. A river on a racetrack! At Turn 13 Spa curves right, and I had to cross that very stream. Hydroplane city. By now, the track had been red-flagged, and Jethro and I had to sit and marvel at the misfortune that can at times befall even the most privileged among us. I never got to try the Aston on Spa. There’s a moral in there, somewhere.
Good news for us: The Nürburgring is only 70 miles from Spa, and miracle of miracles, the next day at the ’Ring just happened to be a public-access one. It’s almost as if we’d planned it. Based on our post-Spa debrief, we decided the Bentley didn’t stand much of a chance as far as a lap time goes against the mega-mighty DBS Superleggera. Instead, our little competition would be to see who could pass the most cars. We’d get 10 points per car, 25 points per Porsche, and 50 points per Porsche GT3. Something like that.
We set out, and within five corners a few things became crystal clear. First, any and all thoughts about Spa being the better racetrack flowed from temporary insanity. The Nürburgring, the Nordschleife, is the greatest track that ever was or ever will be. Full stop. Second, although the Bentley managed to get around Spa pretty much OK, it was simply not built for the ’Ring.
Unlike most tracks, the 12.9-mile German miracle circuit is mostly long sweepers and longer straights. Dare I say it, the hefty Conti felt underpowered. Launch control is uber-quick from a dead stop, but the Bentley’s heft, gearing, and (fine, I’ll say it) seemingly constant understeer all conspired against a fast lap on the big track. One last thing: The ’Ring is (or at least feels) much narrower than Spa. A narrow racing surface totally works against the Bentley.
Annoyingly, there were few cars in front of me. Yeah, my lap stunk in terms of pure mechanics, but 626 horsepower is 626 horsepower. I know I passed a Corvette and about eight other cars. But those were the only vehicles I saw. Normally, a wide-open Nordschleife requires a genuflection to the automotive gods—public days can get horribly packed. But that day? I didn’t even see a Porsche, let alone pass one.
Predictably, Jethro passed at least 50 cars: 715 horsepower is 715 horsepower. Especially when all that fury is inside a machine that weighs about 800 pounds less than the Bentley. After the ’Ring got shut down by a crash, once again I was cut out from driving the DBS on track. Still, Jethro was impressed, mostly about how dang quick the lovely Aston is.
Speaking of quick, next up was a high-speed autobahn run. There’s a piece of unrestricted autobahn that starts fairly close to the Nürburgring. If you enter heading north, there’s no one behind you and very few ahead of you, especially if you start after 9 p.m. Although it stays light late in the summer, much of Germany rolls up the welcome mats early. We learned that the Le Mans–winning Toyota TS050 Hybrid hit 208 mph on its qualifying lap at the leggy French circuit. Our goal? To beat that number on a public highway. This would prove tough in the Bentley; its top speed is just 207 mph.
Jethro went first in the Aston and came back what seemed like 5 minutes later, grinning ear to ear. “210 mph, baby!” he crowed. Impressive, and here’s how it went. As he gunned it onto the on-ramp, he noticed there were no cars in front of him. So he held his foot to the floor and quickly hit an indicated 210 mph, lifting just as he saw some taillights off in the distance. I had my work cut out for me.
The Bentley proved far trickier. At about 185 mph I saw two sets of taillights in the distance. Were they side by side? Same lane? Right lane? Left lane? I just couldn’t tell. I whoaed it down to a reasonable 140 mph, passed the cars, and started climbing again. Similar to what I went through on the Nordschleife, I found myself begging for more power. The Continental GT gets up to 170 mph quick enough, but then it runs out of legs. The ultimate first-world problem, oh yes.
A pattern developed. I’d get up to about 185 mph, and then I’d see taillights. Slow down, pass, try again, see cars ahead. It kept happening. It just didn’t feel safe. I gave up. I exited the autobahn, made two lefts, and pointed south. Jethro had mentioned how the return was sketchier, to make sure to hit Vmax heading north.
As I rolled along at 140 mph, the Bentley’s happy cruising speed, I noticed there really wasn’t much traffic. You know what? Never mind the bollocks. I buried my right foot, straddled two lanes, and flipped on the high-beams. 185 mph. Moving now. 190 mph. This train is bound for glory. 195 mph. I can taste it, I can smell it. And then, just like that, 200 mph. And just as quickly, I was off throttle and back down to a safer 140.
I had been gripping the steering wheel so hard I bent it. GoPro footage revealed I hit an indicated 201 mph. Sure, Jethro went faster, but that’s just his extra 89 hp showing off. We were both so elated that both cars kissed the double-ton that we just giggled and smiled and went to bed. What beasts both cars are. What beautiful, British beasts.
So which beautiful brute won? Proper luxury is indeed fantastic and desirable, and for those who seek it, the Bentley is superior. But in our case, the ferocious agility and unhinged ferocity of the Aston Martin is more appealing.
|2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera||2019 Bentley Continental (GT) 12|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-12, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 60-deg W-12, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||317.5 cu in/5,203 cc||363.2 cu in/5,952cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||715 hp @ 6,500 rpm||626 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||664 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm||664 lb-ft @ 1,350 rpm|
|REDLINE||7,000 rpm||6,250 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||5.9 lb/hp||8.0 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||8-speed twin-clutch auto|
|AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO||2.93:1/1.88:1||3.13:1; 3.15:1 (front; rear)/1.67:1; 1.68:1 (front; rear)|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Control arms, air springs, adj shocks, active anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, active anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||16.1-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic 2-pc disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS||16.5-in vented 2-pc disc; 15.0-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||9.5 x 21-in; 11.5 x 21-in, forged aluminum||9.5 x 22-in; 11.0 x 22-in, (cast/forged?) aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||265/35R21 101Y; 305/30R21 104Y Pirelli P Zero A7A||275/35R22 104Y; 315/30R22 107Y Pirelli P Zero B|
|WHEELBASE||110.4 in||112.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||65.6/64.8 in||66.5/66.8 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||185.5 x 77.5 x 50.4 in||202.4 x 76.9 x 67.8 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.7 ft||37.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,186 lb||5,019 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||51/49%||55/45%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.6/25.0 in||37.5/36.7 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||45.1/NA in||41.9/32.1 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||54.3/48.6 in||59.4/50.2 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||9.9 cu ft||12.6 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.8 sec||1.3 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.4||1.6|
|QUARTER MILE||11.5 sec @ 129.8 mph||11.6 sec @ 120.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||103 ft||105 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.02 g (avg)||0.99 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.6 sec @ 0.89 g (avg)||23.8 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,300 rpm||1,500 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$335,586||$276,730|
|AIRBAGS||7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, passenger knee||Dual front, front side, f/r side, front head, f/r head, front curtain, f/r curtain, front side/head; f/r side/head, front knee, driver knee, passenger knee, pedestrian|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/Unlimited miles||3 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||3 yrs/Unlimited miles||3 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/Unlimited miles||3 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||21.1 gal||22.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||14/22/17 mpg||Not yet tested|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||241/153 kW-hrs/100 miles||TBD|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.16 lb/mile||TBD|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
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