2003 Bentley Continental GT


2005 Bentley Continental GT

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2010.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 9

Bottom Line:

Beautifully built coupe looks and runs likes a dream.
  • Stunning, inside and out
  • Goes nearly 200 mph
  • Nothing like it
  • Long, heavy doors
  • Low fuel economy
  • Tight behind the driver

Bentley probably could add at least $50,000 to the price of the $155,990 Bentley Continental GT coupe and easily get it.

Where else can you find a posh, docile, stunning 552-horsepower twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder 4-seat coupe with a legendary nameplate that has all-wheel drive and can hit nearly 200 mph?

The 2005 largely hand-built Continental GT arrived as a late 2004 model and costs about half as much as its aged Continental R coupe predecessor. I found the Continental GT to be a much better car than the Continental R, which was a low volume auto. In contrast, Bentley plans to annually sell considerably more Continental GTs in America.

Decent Volume Expected
The Continental GT will finally give Bentley decent volume in America, at least for a small, exclusive European outfit. Bentley says the coupe will account for about 1,800 of the 2,000 cars it is annually scheduling for sale here. Other 2005 Bentleys cost from $211,990 for the Arnage R sedan to $242,990 for the Arnage RL long-wheelbase sedan.

Holding down the price of the Continental GT is the sharing of some parts derived from those of costly low-volume cars from the giant Volkswagen operation, including the Volkswagen Phaeton and Audi A8 L. Volkswagen bought Bentley in 1998—long after the Continental R arrived—and has invested nearly $1 billion to bring the British automaker back to its former glory.

No Seam Out of Place
The W12 (not a V12) engine is built by Bentley in Crewe, England, like the rest of the car. It has very rigid construction and perfect fit and finish. I couldn't find a seam out of place in my test Continental GT, which felt like a pure Bentley despite the Bentley-modified Volkswagen and Audi parts.

However, no sunroof is offered in sunroof-crazy America because it would adversely affect rigidity and steal needed headroom.

Racing Champ
Volkswagen invested a lot in Bentley to build better cars and to win the world's premier endurance race at Le Mans, France, in 2003; Bentleys won Le Mans in 1924 and 1927—and for the next three years.

Volkswagen also wants to make Bentley more visible and appealing to a wider audience. Bentleys had a sporty, fun-loving reputation before Rolls bought it in 1931. The car was the favorite of England's fast, wealthy set. It included flamboyant, champagne-drinking entrepreneurs who loved life and made up the Bentley race team—known as "The Bentley Boys." They included diamond heir Woolf Barnato and ex-fighter pilot Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin.

Bentleys used Rolls-Royce parts after Rolls bought it. Most were essentially sportier Rolls models with a Bentley grille. (BMW now owns Rolls.)

Bentley founder W.O. Bentley stayed to advise Rolls after the company was bought and to infuse new management with his sporting credentials. Cars such as turbocharged Bentley sedans have kept the Bentley sporting image alive in recent years.

A Driver's Car
While the Bentley used a Rolls chassis, the Bentley emphasis was on power, performance and handling. It often was said: "One is driven in a Rolls-Royce, but one drives a Bentley."

The Continental GT certainly is meant to be driven. The aerodynamic 2-door body helps this car hit nearly 200 mph—or a dizzying 198 mph, to be exact, without a tailwind. It hits 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and reaches 100 in 11 seconds, with virtually no turbocharger lag. A rear spoiler discreetly raises automatically at highway speeds to enhance high-speed stability and can be seen in the rearview mirror.

Endless Power
The Continental GT provides seemingly endless power and effortless performance. It follows the tradition of the beautiful 1952-55 Bentley R-type Continental, which was the world's fastest 4-seater and now is valued at $195,000.

The Continental GT engine emits a soft rumble at idle through large twin exhaust outlets and works with a smooth, responsive 6-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual shift feature that can be controlled by race-car-style paddles on the steering column or by the console-mounted transmission lever.

First All-Wheel-Drive Bentley
The Continental GT is the first all-wheel-drive Bentley and has an electronic stability control system. It's quite heavy for a 108-inch-wheelbase coupe at 5,258 pounds and feels massive. But the handling is so good that it drives like a smaller, lighter car.

The nicely weighted, speed-sensitive steering is quick, and the air-spring suspension provides a ride that is on the firm side, but comfortable. Huge disc brakes that fit into big 19-inch wheels provide impressive stopping power—especially for such a heavy car. They had virtually no fade and a nice pedal feel.

Low Fuel Economy
The weight doesn't help fuel economy—only an estimated 11 mpg in the city and 18 on highways, or about the same as the big, luxurious Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicle. However, the Continental GT has a 23.8-gallon fuel tank for a decent highway cruising range.

Nearly all Bentleys have been large, heavy cars. Even the 1920s' Le Mans winners were big, robust models with large engines favored by W.O. Bentley.

Other than fuel economy, weight is no problem with the Continental GT. It accelerates like a high-powered sports car and is so refined that it's a problem keeping the car within speed limits. At 85 mph on an interstate highway, I felt as if the car was doing 70 mph, until I glanced at the speedometer.

It will be a problem finding roads in many areas that let you safely use a decent part of the Continental's GT performance. And locating parking spots without risking damage from careless, door-banging drivers also can be a hassle, although valets at expensive restaurants tend to park it right up front to show it off.

Dreamy Interior
The interior is a dream. Occupants are surrounded by double-stitched leather, aluminum and book-matched burled-wood trim on nearly every surface. It takes about 20 hours to produce the wood for a Continental GT interior. It also takes 11 cowhides per car, and the interior has no man-made synthetic. Even the elegant, expensive Breitling dashboard clock adds to the ambiance of the cockpit.

Two adults have plenty of room in very comfortable seats up front in the quiet interior. And nicely shaped individual rear seats provide space for a 6-footer behind the passenger and a shorter adult or child behind the driver.

Safety Items
Safety features include front side-impact airbags and head-protecting front and rear side- curtain airbags.

The long, heavy doors are awkward in tight spots despite big, easily grasped outside handles, and it calls for extra effort to get in and out of the rear.

It also sometimes can be difficult for a driver to see out because of the wide windshield posts and swept-back rear roof sections. Most of the deeply recessed gauges are easy to read, but fuel level and temperature gauges are too small, as are sound system controls.

The trunk is rather shallow, but extremely long. It's opened by a remote control or by pressing on the trunk lid's small Bentley emblem.

Opening the hood involves pulling an interior lever and slightly raising the Bentley hood emblem with several fingers.

A small, chromed parking brake control can be activated almost effortlessly. But that brake doesn't automatically disengage when the transmission is slipped not "drive" mode—as is the case with many cars. Rather, a driver must manually disengage the parking brake with the same small lever.

The styling, performance and low (for a Bentley) price should attract more people to this venerable automaker—and shows the value of a giant corporate parent's financial help.


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BB04 - 9/21/2014 5:09:11 AM