2005 Bentley Continental GT
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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
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
However, no sunroof is offered in sunroof-crazy America because it would adversely affect rigidity and steal needed headroom.
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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.