Bentley showed us what was in store for its 2016 U.S. Continental lineup earlier this year in Geneva. Last week, we finally got a chance to put these revamped grand touring machines through their paces during a drive event in Norway. Piloting any Bentley is always a rewarding experience. But the combination of spectacular vistas and superb roads afforded by the Land of the Midnight Sun made time spent behind the wheel of the 2016 Continental GT V8 S, GT W12 and 12-cylinder GT Speed models truly memorable and genuinely enlightening.

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As Paul Jones, Director of Product Management and Product Line Director for the Continental and Flying Spur, pointed out, the Continental GT continues to be the automaker's most important offering. It now accounts for over half of Bentley's annual sales with the U.S. serving as the Continental's single largest market. To help it better withstand challenges from formidable rivals like the BMW M6, Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe and Rolls-Royce Wraith, the 2016 Continental clan received numerous upgrades that begin with cosmetic enhancements. 

More refined visual character 

The strikingly handsome exterior of Bentley 2+2 Coupe and Convertible models have more curbside appeal thanks to a smaller grille and tidier intake treatment framed by more dramatically contoured front fenders. New vents with a bold chrome "B" accent and redrawn 20-inch and 21-inch alloy wheels - including the first unidirectional rim offered by Bentley -- help pop the profile. Tail tweaks on the Continental include an aero-optimized decklid with integrated spoiler, a recast bumper replete with a full-width brightwork to reinforce the car's low-slung character and new diffuser designs for the V8 S and W12 GT that set them apart from baseline GT models. Several vibrant new hues also join the Continental's expansive 117-color basic palette.

Inside, the handcrafted cabins of all 2016 Continentals enjoy a similar subtle redo. Revised gauge graphics and driver controls join larger shift paddles, LED ambient lighting and revised upholstery designs while the V8 S/W12 GT/GT Speed Coupes will offer color-matched Alcantara headliners and all 12-cylinder models can be had with super-soft semi-aniline leather interior trim. Other new options include a sport steering wheel, onboard Wi-Fi and USB ports. And for those demanding more, Bentley's Mulliner group will provide pretty much any sort of bespoke personalization a buyer can imagine. 

Striving for driving perfection

While Bentley should be commended for making an already gorgeous car look even better, it's the inner beauty of these well-mannered beasts that ultimately sets them apart in the world of ultra-luxury GTs. To better assess their dynamics, Bentley created a 320-mile dream route in Norway's fjord country on twisting rural two-lanes and then moved onto the Trolligsten Mountain Road and its challenging switchbacks reminiscent of the legendary Stelvio Pass that snakes through the Italian Alps. After pausing in a coastal village on the banks of another idyllic fjord for lunch and some entertaining closed-course driving, we finished the day with a run down Norway's fabled Atlantic Road. Considered to be one of the world's greatest motoring experiences, this undulating, serpentine ribbon of pavement is interspersed with a series of bridges that link the country's northernmost islands and offer dramatic ocean views. 

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Although there were few opportunities to stretch any of these 2016 Continental GTs to their formidable limits, the performance of each confirmed Bentley's prowess in keeping them stunningly capable, comfortable and well controlled in ways that belie curb weights ranging from 5,060 to 5,445 pounds. Chalk that success up to the well-sorted 4-position air suspension and sophisticated all-wheel drive system that's common to all. The differences among the models are more evident in the steering feel and overall agility of the lighter, V8-powered Continental models that excel at exploring more challenging twisty bits. Conversely, the 12-cylinder variants remain superior when it comes to refined but rapid acceleration that shaves the 0-60 mph sprint in the hottest GT Speed Coupe to just 4.2 seconds versus the still-quick 4.5 ticks required by a GT V8 S. 

More muscle, improved economy for GT W12 models 

As for motivation, output of the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 continues at 521 horsepower in the 2016 Continental GT V8 S (and 500 hp in non-S variants) while the Speed-spec version of the silky smooth 6.0-liter W12 continues to make 626 ponies and 605 lb-ft of torque. However, the baseline GT W12 now develops 582 horses and 631 lb-ft of torque -- gains of 15 units on each count. For 2016, it also borrows an efficiency trick from the V8: cylinder deactivation. Allowing seamless switching to inline-6 operation under light-load cruising, this variable displacement technology also contributes to a 5-percent increase in overall fuel economy which raises its EPA combined figure to 15 mpg. All Continentals continue to employ a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission that features rev-matching circuitry. However, we really wish Bentley had positioned the prominent shifter paddles on the steering wheel itself rather than on the column. 

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The 2016 Bentley Continental family goes on sale next month with first deliveries slated for August. Pricing starts at $201,225 for the Continental GT V8 Coupe, while its GT V8 S counterpart opens at $213,425. The GT W12 Coupe commences at $217,325 and the GT Speed commands $242,125 plus a still TBD gas-guzzler tax. Opting for Convertible versions will add $19,900, $22,100, $21,500 and $24,000 to those respective bottom lines, figures that reflect roughly a 7-percent increase over their 2015 stickers.

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