Bentley's Stefan Sielaff: driving force

The director of design for Bentley on the little bit of magic at the heart of the new Bentley Continental GT

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For me, this car is all about beauty, which, of course, is something very subjective. But it also comes down to our instincts – as a designer, and as a driver, you feel immediately whether something is right or wrong. What I tried to achieve with the new Continental is that instinctive feeling that it looks ‘right’. If you consider the proportions, you can see that we designers did a few things with the help of our engineering colleagues: the base became 120mm longer, but we decreased the front overhang so it doesn’t look longer – overall the proportions of the car really improved in every direction. The wheels became an inch bigger – now they are 22- inches, and they have come out by seven millimetres too. But the car didn't become higher; it has a much more prominent, dominant stance, and altogether better proportions.

There are strong character lines here and a powerful three-dimensionality. We wanted to work with how light would react to the surface – this is part of the genetic code of the Continental, and goes right back to the first Bentley Continental, which inspired the new 21st-century version: the 1952 R-Type. But the new car is made out of aluminium, and to do very sharp lines as we did with the power lines and the line in the wheel arch, is very, very difficult and requires a lot of technical knowledge.

When it comes to the details, there are two I particularly like, and which contribute to the overall elegance of the car. One is the headlights: we were determined to do round, or elliptical headlights – we didn’t want to do an ‘insect shape’; we wanted to continue the tradition of Bentley Continentals from the past, and we also wanted to give the lights a romantic flair. I looked to whisky glasses and how they are cut into facets and took my inspiration from that. The insides of the headlights have a crystal cut-glass theme – they are like beautiful chandeliers, and if you look at them at night they have this almost old-fashioned beauty.

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Of course, the interior has Bentley’s famous use of wood veneer, metal knurling and fabric quilting, all of which show that this is a machine made by skilled craftsmen and women. In fact, although we obviously use data in our design, I still see the Continental GT as essentially an analogue product, produced by humans who appreciate sculpture and the physicality of materials.

This leads me to my favourite feature of the whole car – the rotating display on the dashboard. We were having a lot of discussions in the design studio about what the elements of true luxury today are, and one of the things we decided is that people actually like to be able to disconnect from digital overload. So, while the Continental GT has all the latest technology you would associate with a luxury car, and much of this is accessed through a 12.3-inch screen display on the dashboard, there are times when you may not want this facing you. Perhaps you have done a 14-hour day and you are driving home along a route you know well and you just want to turn the music on and relax? Perhaps you are on a grand tour and you want to enjoy the road and its surprises? In this case, at the press of a button the screen rotates and is replaced by a wooden dashboard with three simple clocks. It’s like a digital detox, as all you are left with is a very clean surface. We have tried to capture material richness, even in the digital world.

To sum up – the new car is truly elegant. It has crisp lines in aluminium and the fantastic three-dimensional language of its surface. And then inside, this rotating dashboard that reminds me in a funny way of a cuckoo clock. I love driving the car with the display hidden. It seems to me that technology should make our lives more simple; I’m German so I come from the design school of the Bauhaus. For me technology is an opportunity for less is more. For example, a car is becoming almost like a virtual butler. A good butler in the old days knew what you wanted before you knew you wanted it yourself; this is perfect service. So, the next step in luxury and perfect service and technique in a high-end luxury car is that the car knows better than you when to turn on the lights, for example, when there is a tunnel up ahead. Why should I have to fiddle around? There are sensors and cameras on board, so why should I have to switch on the light? I don't even need the light switch anymore. Technology means I can get rid of it, it's only a disturbance. So, technology and engineering does not always lead to overkill.

Of course, if you want all the information the car can give you, it is available in less than a second when you push the button to return the screen. But what I realised, when we showed our customers the new model, is that this option to remove the screen was interpreted as a little bit of magic. It gives you almost a mystical moment.

The new Bentley Continental GT is the third incarnation of this car, which was originally launched in 2003. A revised version appeared in 2010, but it is the 2018 upgrade that sees a total re-engineering of the model; bentleymotors.com

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