Bentley Continental GT (2003 to date) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

It was as if a light had suddenly pinged on in the Bentley product design department. "Get stylist Dirk van Braekel on the phone. Tell him that Bentleys don't have to be square." The Continental GT coupe was a very bold move, marking the first Bentley to be delivered under the stewardship of the Volkswagen Group. Of course, the simple and safe thing for the company to have done would have been to ape the styling of previous Bentleys in a pastiche of Britishness as they eased their Rohans under the table. Fortunately it didn't work out like that and instead, we were treated to one of the most technologically advanced cars ever seen. Here's how to track down a decent used example.

Models

Models Covered: (2dr Coupe, 2dr Convertible [GT, GTC, Diamond Series, Speed] )

History

This bold take on what a modern Bentley coupe should represent was first unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in September 2002. Drawing almost universal acclaim, few were prepared for quite what a technological tour-de-force this model represented. Advance orders poured in and when the cars first appeared in dealerships in March 2003 business was, to say the least, brisk. Beloved by Premiership footballers and raffish city boys alike, the Conti GT spawned a special edition 'Diamond Series' and, in summer 2006, a convertible GTC model. The 600bhp Speed model arrived in mid 2007 billed as the first 200mph Bentley. At the same time the standard GT models received a number of revisions many lifted from the Speed model itself. Weight saving measures knocked 35kg from the car's kerb weight while low friction dampers boosted ride comfort and the steering was tweaked to give greater feel. A new exhaust system helped deliver a 3.5% reduction in emissions and economy.

What You Get

Here is a Bentley that weighs in at Porsche money, that stakes a claim as the most technologically advanced car on sale, and which at the time of launch, was billed as the world's fastest four-door coupe. Powered by a 6.0-litre twin turbocharged W12 engine good for 555bhp, with four wheel drive and a paddle operated gearbox, the Continental GT was born in a virtual world. Every nut, bolt and washer was designed in concert with the Data Control Model - the computer simulation that would then design the tooling to physically build the car. Certain Bentley trademarks endure - the bullseye chromed ventilation outlets and the organ stop controls, but don't get the impression that this interior is a quaint retro pastiche. A touch screen LCD display on the centre console controls the air conditioning, satellite navigation, computer information and entertainment systems, whilst many of the minor controls can be operated without removing hands from the steering wheel. It's this blend of old and new that's particularly fascinating. Craftsmanship techniques have been similarly updated. For instance, wood paneling can be dramatically curved in a way that was once impossible. By the same token, while the leather is still applied to the car with the same hand crafted care, it's cut from hides using a digitized process that reduces waste and optimizes efficiency. 400 Continental GT Diamond Series cars were produced featuring exclusive 20" 12-spoke forged alloy wheels. The Continental GT was already fitted with the largest brakes on any production car but the ones on the Diamond Series are bigger. The black 8-piston callipers that peep purposefully from between the wheel spokes clamp down on 420mm carbon-silicon carbide cross-drilled discs at the front and 356mm versions of the same at the rear. Inside, the Continental GT Diamond Series is based on the Mulliner Driving Specification package that was developed by Bentley's bespoke coachbuilding division to give an added sporting dimension to the standard car. Quilted leather seats and door casings feature along with drilled alloy pedals and a sports gear lever in chrome and leather. The ubiquitous Bentley wood finishes are either dark stained walnut or piano black wood for a more contemporary feel.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

The Continental GT is an extremely reliable car. Many of the oily bits have racked up millions of miles underneath the skin of Volkswagen's Phaeton with very little complaint and the additional tender loving care that Bentley owners lavish on their cars means that the Continental GT is a solid used buy. Strangely, one of the few 'faults' that has been mentioned is the fact that darker coloured paint finishes can go rather 'swirly' through overpolishing!

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2005 Continental GT excluding VAT) Parts for the Continental GT vary in price wildly. Those which are common to Volkswagen group products like the Phaeton aren't horrifically expensive with a starter motor retailing at £159. The Bentley specific bits are eye wateringly dear though. A replacement windscreen with rain sensor is £1,285 while a headlamp unit is £925.

On the Road

Power is transmitted to the road via a rear-biased four-wheel drive set up which gives the Continental GT a handy advantage when the going gets slippery. The link between the driven wheels and the engine comes courtesy of a six-speed automatic transmission built for Bentley by ZF. This can be marshalled via paddles behind the steering wheel should you wish, or else it can be driven like a conventional automatic. This was a surprisingly controversial feature, with some engineers arguing that a car with this much torque didn't need a six-speed gearbox. Yes, you could lock the Continental GT into third gear and surf languidly along for much of the time, but the enthusiast owner profile eventually dictated the six ratios. Another first for Bentley was the attention to aerodynamics. A car that can accelerate to 60mph in less than five seconds and on to the far side of 190mph requires sufficient aerodynamics that its owner can be assured of it remaining dirty side down. The Continental GT benefits from the expertise of the best aerodynamicists the Volkswagen Group had. The venturi tunnel under the rear of the car and the cooling ducts in the engine bay all attest to their labours.

Overall

Although some have criticised the Continental GT for lacking the unbridled sense of occasion possessed by Bentleys of yore, it's tough to quibble with the product itself. Awesomely powerful, beautifully screwed together and dynamically excellent, the continental GT will be remembered as a landmark car. Now could well be a good time to buy used as early cars that are still feeling fresh are priced attractively low.