Bentley Continental GT Review
You have every right to
expect a lot of car for $150,000.
Your expectations will be met - and exceeded - with the
new Bentley Continental GT.
The Bentley Continental GT
represents the relaunch of the Bentley marque under its new
ownership. Volkswagen have sympathetically avoided
interfering with the highest quality traditions of this classic
British car manufacturer, while providing generous funding to
enable the development of this new dream machine.
Astonishingly, by utilizing
available technology from other Volkswagen brands, and by
planning for a high level of sales, Bentley's new offering not
only is truly state of the art in terms of elegance and
capabilities, but is also at a price point way below other
It is difficult to say 'good
value' in the same sentence as '$150,000 motor car' but the
Bentley Continental GT makes it as easy as it is ever likely to
First Impression - the
Bentley's Traction Control
John Crawford, Director of
Public Relations for Bentley in the US, smoothly stopped the
shiny red Bentley Continental GT, pulling over into the gravel
on the side of the road. We got out and swapped sides, and with a frisson of excitement, I sat behind the
impressive steering wheel. John noticed me admiring it and proudly told me 'A master
craftsman spends 13 hours to hand stitch the leather on the steering
wheel alone - about as many man hours as it takes to make an
entire Ford Taurus'.
I wondered who was more nervous at me being cut
loose behind the wheel of the 552 horsepower twin turbo-charged
W-12 (two V-6's mounted side by side on the same crankshaft)
super sports car. I adjusted the mirrors, and thought
about what every person must surely dream of - a full throttle
start in gravel.
I dialed a firm sports
setting into the computerized suspension management system -
just in case....
'This thing really does have
'Yes, it is an all wheel
drive vehicle with full traction control on all wheels' John
'Okay, so hang on!'
I gripped the steering wheel
tightly, ready to react to the car fishtailing wildly out of
control, then firmly pushed the accelerator all the way, hard to the
So what did the six litres,
twelve cylinders, 552 horsepower and 479 ft lbs of torque do?
They behaved perfectly. With only the slightest bit of
wheel chatter, the car smoothly accelerated, almost without
disturbing the gravel. Amazing.
I steered the car onto the
road, and with the better traction, the car took full advantage
of its incredible power. I blinked and almost missed the rev
counter whip around to touch the red line at 6600 rpm in first
gear, then in a silky smooth change under full power, it really
started to work in second gear and quickly climbed up to red
line again before shifting into third.
By this time, something more
than the 4.7 seconds it takes the Continental GT to rocket up to
60 mph had passed, and I'll plead the Fifth Amendment rather
than disclose the number indicated on the speedometer when I
eased off the gas pedal several seconds later. The car has
a rated top speed of 198 mph, and several people claim to have
exceeded 200 mph.
I had a quick look in the
rear vision mirror - as if any other car would be anywhere in
sight behind us after that take-off! I noticed something
new reflected back at me. The Bentley has an automatic
aerofoil that deploys above a certain speed, and we were
definitely now traveling above that 'certain speed', although I
had to rely on the speedometer to be sure of this. It felt
continued along the road at a speed State Troopers rarely see on
their radar guns, the interior was quiet and the ride perfectly
smooth and self-assured. Classical music from a local
radio station bathed us in beautiful sound. Monster sports
car it may be, but not in a sense of unrefined brute strength -
the Bentley is utterly luxurious to look at and to drive in.
Wow. First impression
- overwhelmingly positive.
Second impression - The
Continental GT's transmission
Now for the fun part of the
drive (and you thought a full throttle start from gravel was
fun!). We were approaching a windy section of road, going
uphill and with a lovely hairpin halfway up. I'd been
driving slowly for a while so as to ensure we'd then have an
open road ahead with no cars to interfere with the high speed hill
The lovely ZF automatic
transmission has six forward gears, and shifts between them
almost imperceptibly. But for what I had in mind, I wanted
to be in control of the gears myself. The Bentley
Continental GT has two ways to over-ride the auto transmission,
and I moved the shift lever from its 'Auto - Drive' position
across to the manual shifting 'Tiptronic' setting, where you
control the gears and the shifts manually.
John noticed and made a
suggestion. 'Why don't you use the paddles, instead?
You have much more control and don't need to take your hands off
the wheel at all.'
Similar to two more turn
indicator stalks, there were levers on either side of the
steering wheel; what Bentley call 'paddles'. You press the
left one down to shift down a gear, and the right one to shift
up a gear. If 18 seconds pass with no more gear change
requests from you via the paddles, the car settles back into
full auto mode.
On one of the two
multi-function computer displays, it shows the gear that is
being used. Currently it was showing 5, and I
experimentally flipped the left hand paddle. The rev
counter climbed, the indicator shifted to 4, and presumably we
had changed down a gear. It was hard to tell, because the
shift was so smooth. I flipped the left paddle again, and
this time noticed a change in engine noise along with the
further increase in revs, and the indicator now read 3.
Okay, so with that as a mini
training course in operating the paddles, I concentrated on
enjoying the curves ahead. John had been steadily talking
away - there's so much to say when the topic is the new
Continental GT, after all - but his voice trailed off as we
headed into and around the first corner. Brave man that he
is, he never once demurred as we whipped around the corners, and
I found myself absolutely loving the paddles, as well as
every other part of the car, flipping the gears up and down as
we snaked around the hill. Neither the car nor the
passenger complained, and the car was stunningly sure-footed,
giving no hint of the 5200 lbs of body weight that it carries.
Wow again. Second
impression - I want one!
Third Impression - Demure and
Disaster struck! Well,
don't get the wrong idea, please. In this context,
disaster was defined as coming up behind another car and being
forced down to its speed.
Allow me to speak
hypothetically for a moment... If one was driving a Bentley
Continental GT and found oneself stuck behind a slow vehicle
(and, let's face it, compared to the 198 mph maximum speed of
the Continental GT, all other cars are slow!), then the amazing
power and low down torque could get you past the car in front,
even if only a very small amount of clear road ahead existed,
and even if there was a double yellow line, which surely only
applies to normal cars and drivers, not to Bentley Continental
GTs and those privileged to drive them!
Anyway, back to the
narrative, and with the other car now behind us and receding into the
We were approaching a built
up area, so we slowed down to a safe slow speed. I
wondered how the car would react when being asked to behave
'normally' at low speeds in urban areas.
It was perfectly docile.
It was as controllable as a regular car, and was easy to
smoothly slow and stop, and then to gently start up from the
lights again just like the other cars around.
Wow again - but, uh oh, this
is a car the wife will want to drive just as much as the male
driver in a household. Maybe we'll have to buy two!
Fourth Impression - A crowd
We parked and left the
Bentley for a bite to eat. When we returned, three ladies
were crowded around and admiring the car. Plainly, they
had no idea what exactly a Bentley Continental GT was, but they
knew a good looking super-car when they saw one.
How proud I was to walk up
to it and step inside, looking for all the world as if I owned
it. Which, alas, I do not.
Still more wow.
A quick history of Bentley
Like most people, I was
vaguely aware that Bentley was formerly part of Rolls-Royce, and
both Rolls-Royce and Bentley had now been sold to German
companies. Now I know more, and you can, too.
The company was founded in
London by Walter Owen Bentley immediately after the
First World War, in January 1919. WO Bentley had designed
two very successful airplane engines for the war effort and was
given an £8000 gratuity for doing so - a huge amount of money in
those days, and enough to fund the establishment of Bentley
The first car went into full
production in 1922, and in 1924 Bentley scored the first of a
series of five wins at the 24 hr Le Mans Endurance Race, with
its record for the most wins standing until being bested by
Jaguar in the 1950s. The new Bentley organization returned
to Le Mans and won a sixth time
Bentley built up a deserved
reputation based around what we'd call in these times a 'mission
statement' but what was simply a statement of WO's - he said his
goal was to build 'a fast car, a good car, the best in its
The depression affected
Bentley's sales and the company was bought by Rolls-Royce in
1931. This acquisition was primarily a defensive move by
Rolls-Royce, preventing Bentley from becoming a revived
competitor as would have been the case if the other bidder for
the company (Napier) had succeeded in its tender.
For much of its Rolls-Royce
ownership, the Bentley marque languished, with Rolls-Royce often
simply rebadging its own cars as Bentleys. Although
Bentley sales originally represented as much as 60% of combined
sales, this number steadily diminished and at the low point in
the late 1970s represented a mere 5% of total factory
Then Roll-Royce rediscovered
Bentley's roots - high quality high performance sports touring -
and brought out, in 1980, the Bentley Mulsanne. The public
received this car, and its future derivatives, with enthusiasm,
and Bentley's share of total Roll-Royce production steadily
climbed. By 1989 it represented half of all cars made.
Bentley's success continued,
and in 2002 - the final year for Rolls Royce production at the
Crewe, England factory, Bentleys outnumbered Rolls Royce cars by
ten to one.
In 1998 it was the turn of
Rolls-Royce to be sold, and the company ended up having its
Rolls-Royce brand sold to BMW and the Bentley brand plus its
Crewe factory sold to Volkswagen.
sympathetic to Bentley and in large part limited its role to
providing funding and encouragement, with an investment of £500
million ($900 million) being made into updating the factory,
re-engineering the cars and developing an all-new car model.
This new car model became the Continental GT. It was designed in record time,
and first appeared at the Paris Motor Show in September 2002.
Deliveries started in the UK in late 2003, by which time there
had already been more than 1000 orders placed in the US.
95% of these buyers ordered and paid a deposit on the
car without ever seeing or driving one - a great leap of
faith when you consider that 85% of buyers have never owned a
More about the new Continental
I'm not going to recite all
the countless features of the car, nor point out its very
occasional shortcoming. Plenty of traditional reviews will
do both these things for you.
Instead, I want you to
understand the distinctive feel of driving a Bentley. If -
like in my own wilder moments - you love to drive a powerful car
hard and fast, you'll delight in this car.
It has an extraordinary torque curve - more like a flat line,
with maximum torque being reached at only 1600 rpm and staying
constant all the way to redline at 6600 rpm.
There is almost no lag and
no fuss when the twin intercooled turbochargers respond to your
request for power, and no complaint if you step hard on the
massive brakes that quickly arrest the vehicle's forward motion. It handles
obediently and obligingly, and its electronic traction and
stability controls together with all wheel drive act to get you
out of problems in an almost miraculous way.
If your preference is to
enjoy a luxurious and ultra-reliable every day driving experience
(at last, this need not be an oxymoron!), then
the Bentley is also the car for you. The car I drove
already had 4500 miles on the clock, but looked and felt brand
new with no sign of any wear and tear.
The car is perfectly willing to quietly amble along
traffic, with only the occasional throaty burble (which you can
hear if standing by the side of the road, but not when inside
the car) giving hint to the untapped reserves of power under the hood. It is
easy to park and maneuver, and I'm told the car is proving very reliable as a daily driver. For this reason,
many purchasers are using their car for exactly this purpose -
as a regular driving car, rather than a special occasions car.
Ground clearance - a problem
with some super sports cars - is normal, and can be raised if
necessary, and automatically lowers at speed. It has front
air-bags, and both mid and top level side airbags.
everything is double stitched leather, solid wood, or metal. There is no plastic or vinyl.
Even the headliner is leather, and in total, 11 hides go into
finishing every car.
The two rear seats are
nicely contoured for comfort, and while leg room is not
generous, it is adequate if the front seat is not all the way
back. A surprisingly roomy trunk has room for
luggage of two or more people, plus golf clubs or skis as
Plenty of electronics are
available to play with if you wish, but you don't need to read
the user manual before stepping in and driving off.
However, if you do want to read the user guide, it is available
online in the car's computer system as well as in traditional
printed manual form. The electronics assist rather than
interfere with the driving experience.
The car is best considered
as the latest example of a 'Grand Touring' car - a vehicle
designed for the best compromise between maximum comfort and
performance. This is a car to enjoy on long road journeys.
It feels reliable and unbreakable, while still having the
panache and performance to make it a worthy vehicle to star in
the next James Bond movie.
The Bentley Continental GT
was named '2004 Car of the Year' by The Robb Report, who said,
in bestowing the honor 'no other high-performance vehicle [that]
delivers this amount of security at speed and this level of
distinction, elegance, and comfort.' I agree with their
choice and comments.
The Continental GT - available
for sale, but not delivery
So now you probably want to
rush out and buy one?
US deliveries commenced in
late May 2004, and some 800 have been delivered by early October
04. There remains a six month waiting list on getting a
car, although I've seen people offering to sell their waiting
list places on
eBay for $25,000 or more, and a local luxury
car company is selling a 'second hand' (but never driven) car
for $50,000 more than the new car dealer list price.
The car lists at the 37
Bentley dealers in the US for about $150,000.
Update, April 2006 : The
car is now listed for $165,000. And the waiting list is
now nine months long, and a staggering 18 months if you want one
of the new convertible GTC cars, just released this month.
$150,000 - A good value?
Readers will know I'm
usually fairly cynical about highly priced products. But
in the case of the Bentley Continental GT, I find myself
enthusiastically accepting its $150,000 sticker price as a great
My current car is a Jaguar
XJS and a new replacement Jaguar would cost $74,330. So the
Bentley is almost exactly twice the price.
Is it twice the car?
Well, it goes 33% faster, has nearly twice as many horsepower
and 50% more torque, and weighs almost 50% more.
But these numbers don't
describe the driving experience. I love my Jaguar very
much indeed and have proudly owned it for ten years, and just a
couple of days earlier had taken it for a lovely 550 mile drive
to Spokane and back on Wednesday, glorying in its comfort and
Alas, my wonderful Jag
pales beside the new Continental GT. Yes, the C-GT is
indeed twice the car (or more).
Sure, the Bentley
costs more than a medium sized condo or good sized boat, but if
you're considering such a car, you probably already have all the real
estate and boats you want or need. The $150,000 sticker price
is also very much less than the other current Bentley - the Arnage,
which costs between $200,000 - $250,000, and by Bentley
standards, the Continental GT is the lowest priced and best value Bentley ever
produced. It is also the first all Bentley car released
in 73 years, and the only Bentley ever to have all-wheel drive.
By borrowing technology from
family members such as all-wheel drive from the Audi A8 and the
basic chassis from the VW Phaeton, the Bentley design team have
been able to develop the car far more quickly and for much less
cost than would otherwise have been the case. And by
commendably choosing to sell at a lower price point and in
larger numbers, Bentley have ended up being able to sell a car
at $150,000 that could credibly be priced at $200,000 or more.
You will probably buy the
car without any options, but if you so desire, several options
are available, including massaging front seats and a jeweled gas
tank filler cap!
A curious and disappointing
contradiction on the value and qualify issues was the
pathetically short warranty offered. It offers a 3
year/unlimited mile warranty - the unlimited miles sounds
generous, but few people are likely to put a huge number of
miles on their car during the three years of coverage.
Why only three years?
Why not four or five, same as for many other upmarket cars?
Indeed, why not make a statement and make is six or more years!
The Continental GT and the
Continental Flying Spur
The Continental GT has few
competitors. Perhaps one of its strongest competitors is
its stable-mate, the
Spur. Read our review of the Flying Spur to understand
the similarities and differences between these two wonder-cars.
The Bentley Continental GT
is as different to a regular mass produced generic car
as an executive Learjet is different to a four-seater Cessna.
Perhaps its closest competitor is Ford's new Aston Martin DB9 or
Vanquish, both of which are considerably more expensive.
One enjoys a justified
feeling of comfort, control, and confidence behind the wheel of
the Bentley. This car gives you a rare combination of super sports car
performance combined with ultra luxury car comfort.
are looking for a high end car with uncompromising quality and
performance, this is almost certainly the car for you.
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17 Oct 2004, last update
20 Jul 2020
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