November 7, 2006

Photo Gallery: 2006 Bentley Continental GT

Specifications: 2006 Bentley Continental GT

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Bentley says that the new Continental GT is the fastest four-seater on the planet. With enough road, enough courage and enough points left on your license, the company claims that you can hit over 320 km/h. Although feats of speed are always more impressive, and provide ammunition for late night bench-racing at the local watering hole, a Bentley is a lot more than just performance.

At $227,465 (you just have to get the $12,000 Mulliner Driving Specification package, but more on that later), the GT isn’t an inexpensive proposition but it does represent a value of sorts. You see, despite what you might have read about the GT being based on Volkswagen’s poor-selling, ill-fated and now, ultimately defunct Phaeton luxury car, the GT is every bit a Bentley.

For one thing it has impressive siblings. The next Bentley in the range is the Continental Flying Spur – essentially a four-door version of the GT. You can move up a bit to the GTC – the convertible GT – and then there’s the Arnage (she’ll run ya about $306,000+) and lets not forget the Azure. That one’s a half-mill or so.

Let’s get back to the GT. Though the fundamental architecture is rooted in the engineering of the Phaeton, Bentley takes the basics and completely remakes them as only they can. The engine is a twin-turbocharged W12 (like a V12 but with staggered cylinder bores that allow it to fit in the space of a V8) that makes an awesome 553 horsepower. The transmission is a paddle-shiftable six-speed automatic and trust us, you don’t need a manual transmission to get the most out of this engine. Simply floor the accelerator into the plush carpeting and hold on!

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The turbo twelve’s deluge of torque seems to wrench the car into motion. Courtesy of full-time four-wheel drive, the four massive tires claw at the asphalt and you clear 100 km/h in well under four seconds. The shift paddles are sturdy medal bits and it’s a good thing as you will be prone to frantically yanking the right one as you upshift towards 320 kph.

The W12 has a deep warbly sound that rumbles up buildings and walls letting everyone know that there is something under the long hood. The engine is amazingly smooth and tractable but there is a decidedly turbo character about it. It goes without saying that the fuel consumption is atrocious. In a week of driving, the best we could manage was about 15 L/100 km (19 mpg Imp.) but that was really trying. The usual was over 18 L/100 km but that was the result of driving way too fast most of the time.

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The GT is also, however, a comfortable daily driver – maybe the MOST comfortable daily driver. You sit high on firmly padded, and in the case of the Mulliner car, quilted leather thrones…not mere seats. The back seats aren’t huge but there is reasonable head and legroom. In 99% of situations the ride quality is perfectly plush but there is the occasional bump that sends a quiver through the suspension. Interestingly this trait has been removed in the GTC (the convertible) through various suspension changes some of which might find their way to future coupe’s and, therefore, render it beyond reproach.

The GT is so refined and cossetin, in fact, that its easy to cruise around at double the national speed limit without any hint of strain. In fact you start to wonder what exactly is wrong with everyone else on the road as you blast past them thereby reinforcing their worst prejudices of the upper crust. It became evident in fact that the GT was in fact more comfortable winding through a mountain pass at 150 km/h than it was plodding along at 50 km/h with the proles in their pedestrian little metal boxes.

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Now Bentleys aren’t autocross type cars but they do handle with remarkable aplomb. Brake hard entering a corner, let the suspension settle, steer and pour in the W12’s considerable power and virtually nothing will be able to keep up with you in medium and high-speed twisty bits.

The interior is the most convincingly “Bentley” part of the equation because it is, to use Bentley’s favourite aphorism, bespoke. There isn’t a single piece inside the GT that can be traced back to any other car other than a Bentley. The milled from billet AC vents use ‘organ stops’ to control air flow (you push them to close the vents, pull to open), the dash top is stitched leather, the wood gleams but its not perfect…which is a good thing because it proves that its not plastic. Everything you touch is leather, wood, metal or the highest quality plastics. If this doesn’t seem like an important point consider that its one the main reason the car costs what it does. In today’s mass production economy it costs a phenomenal amount to craft unique parts for a few thousand cars, which is why a Maybach has bits and pieces that can be found in a C-Class Mercedes.

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Small touches abound both inside and outside the car. Pop the hood and you don’t need to worry about getting your hands dirty rooting for the hood safety catch. The Bentley “b” portion of the hood insignia pops up to form a pull to open the hood. Other niceties are the heavy polished metal key fob with a switchblade key portion and the knarled finish around the release of the optional shifter. Or the tiny ‘Bentley’ script embossed in the heads of the 10 screws holding the aluminum intake together and the open-air feeling of lowering all the side windows in the pillarless coupe.

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The standard SatNav system is easy to use as it employs a version of Audi’s MMI user interface. You can completely disable the stability control system which provides for plenty of amusement on lose surfaces but who is really going to try to hang the tail out on their GT on dry pavement? Funny you should ask. If you do feel ‘the need for speed’ you will be happy to learn that if you buy one of these, Bentley throws in a high-performance driving school in Las Vegas. You get to wring out a GT on a high-speed oval and learn to drive it to its, and your, max in the twisties as well.

We can scarcely remember driving such a devastatingly fast and capable four-seater. A Merc CL is similar but it lacks the Bentley’s inimitable character – a character that can only come from hand-crafted interiors, traditionally elegant styling and a company driven by people who love cars and driving.


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