By Tony Whitney

Bentley Continental GT
Photos: Bentley. Click image to enlarge

Recent years have seen a flurry of new models at the very pinnacle of the automobile market – a segment populated by legendary nameplates with price-tags large enough to take care of a pretty decent single family home in more expensive parts of Canada.

Sad to say, not all these automakers have met with success, despite the desirability of their supercars. Some have been downright failures, but at least one manufacturer has found love and fulfillment in the almost mystical world of the super-rich – Bentley. The Continental GT has been selling so strongly, some production of larger Bentley models has been switched (heaven forbid!) to Volkswagen’s “glass factory” Phaeton plant in Dresden.

As most auto enthusiasts know, there’s a long and confusing story behind Bentley’s acquisition by the VW/Audi Group. With the UK auto industry facing extinction and several manufacturers only surviving thanks to takeovers by major international auto corporations during the 1990s, even fabled upscale makers like Rolls-Royce and Bentley looked like they might disappear forever. Initially, there was a tussle for ownership of the hallowed brands by German manufacturers BMW and Volkswagen/Audi, after several other industry luminaries pondered the idea for a while.

What developed during this period confused even the most savvy automotive journalists and industry observers, but the final result cleared up the mess and placed Rolls-Royce in the hands of BMW while Bentley became part of the vast VW/Audi group.

Bentley Continental GT
Click image to enlarge

The company was founded by enigmatic Walter Owen “W.O.” Bentley, who was something of an engineering genius and no slouch as a race-car driver in his day. He was involved with locomotives and aircraft before he took to automobiles and one of his developments was an aluminum piston for the WW1 Sopwith Camel fighter, judged by some to be the best aircraft of the conflict. The 1919 Bentley EXP1 was a landmark automobile and many more outstanding designs followed – along with a string of victories at the demanding Le Mans 24-hour race in France. Bentleys were always sporty cars, even the large sedan and touring models.

Like so many companies that grew fast and allowed engineering to take precedence over finances, Bentley hit fiscal trouble in the late 1920s and in 1931, the company almost sank without a trace, only to be rescued by rival Rolls-Royce. The takeover of Bentley by Rolls-Royce was described as “the best thing that ever happened to the company” and if that was so, then the more recent acquisition by VW/Audi was even more fortuitous. It did no harm at all that then-VW/Audi boss Dr. Ferdinand Piech was a Bentley enthusiast and owned several vintage models.

Bentley Continental GT
Click image to enlarge

With Rolls-Royce and Bentley separate companies once again, the time was ripe for the latter to regain its former status as a key manufacturer of luxurious, refined, high-performance automobiles. With the research and development resources of VW/Audi to call on, not to mention excellent existing platform and powertrain technology, Bentley is set to become a major player once again. A racing program was initiated with the aim of again winning the prestigious Le Mans 24-hour race, just like the big Bentley roadsters (described as “racing lorries” by rival Bugatti) did back in the 1920s and 1930s. It didn’t take long for these lofty ambitions to be realized and after a couple of exploratory seasons, Bentley won at Le Mans.

Very much representative of the direction in which Bentley is headed, the Continental GT is a superbly styled two-door coupe which seems to have become a car of choice for those lucky enough to be able to afford the best. As an auto scribe, I often get asked which car I would choose if money was no object and this Bentley is usually the first one to spring to mind. It really is a superb looking automobile by any standards. It attracts admiring glances from just about everyone and when I took one of my test GTs to an Italian car get-together, it was upstaging the Lamborghinis and Ferraris. It’s that much of a good-looker. Out on the road, many a smile and thumbs-up sign emerged from the cab of a clunky old pickup – from people who could be forgivably bitter about a “toff” cruising about in a car costing only a shade less than a quarter of a million bucks.

Bentley Continental GT
Click image to enlarge

The dramatically beautiful car (what a contrast to the latest Phantom from Rolls!) is being touted as the fastest 4-seater coupe in the world with its 6-litre, 552 horsepower, W-12 twin-turbo engine, 6-speed transmission and four-wheel drive. OK, it has some Audi innards, but who’s going to complain about that? Very few automobiles will get you to 100 km/h in under 5-seconds with as little fuss as the Continental GT. Also, the all wheel drive ensures that all that power is safely transmitted to the road. Even in the rain, the car can be given its head with no danger of traction loss and consequent instability. I’ve always believed that all ultra high-performance cars should have all-wheel drive and Bentley clearly agrees.

Bentley Continental GT
Click image to enlarge

Incidentally, Bentley claims a top speed of over 300 km/h for the GT and my feeling is that the figure would certainly be in reach under the right conditions.

The cockpit is so elegantly trimmed with fine woods and leather it was great to just sit there and enjoy the visual feast. One demonstrator I drove was ordered by a customer who chose two shades of blue for the leather trim – and then failed to take delivery. Most people I showed the car to seemed to like the blue-on-blue treatment, but I’d go for the tan leather and lighter-coloured wood – it looks opulent beyond words.

Bentley Continental GT
Photo: Tony Whitney. Click image to enlarge

Available options include chrome 19-inch alloy wheels, 19-inch split-rim performance wheels, wood inserts to front door panels and rear quarter panels, choice of premium veneers, garage door opener, and park heater (engine block and interior HVAC).

Although the car has, as one would expect, an efficient climate control system, the pillarless design of the bodywork almost encourages the driver to cruise around with all the windows down. Interestingly, in this guise there’s surprisingly little wind buffeting, even at fairly high speeds.

The suspension offers a good combination of suppleness and comfort, although one potential buyer I spoke to said he thought the ride was harsh on a car he tested. I couldn’t agree with that and assumed that his motoring experiences had centred around large luxury models. Let’s face it, the Continental GT may be an opulent, expensive, automobile, but it’s a sports coupe in reality and handling must get the edge over comfort in any design equation.

Bentley Continental GT
Click image to enlarge

Complaints? Not too many, really. This is more of a 2+2 than a full four-seater and not too many passengers would enjoy “grand touring” in the rear seats. Even so, the trunk is surprisingly large and front passengers bask in considerable comfort. There’s also a decent amount of stowage space around the cockpit. All the controls and switches worked very well and some are so ergonomically well done it’s almost tempting to operate them for no particular reason. Of course, the car has all the currently favoured electronic aids to safer motoring and a very good navigation system.

Technical Data: 2005 Bentley Continental GT

Base price $235,456
Type 2-door, 4 passenger luxury coupe
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel drive
Engine 6.0-litre twin-turbo W-12
Horsepower 552 @ 6100 rpm
Torque 479 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic with semi-manual option
Curb weight 2300 kg (5071 lb.)
Wheelbase 2745 mm (108.1 in.)
Length 4807 mm (189.3 in.)
Width 1918 mm (75.5 in.)
Height 390 mm (54.7 in.)
Cargo capacity 370-litres (13.1 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 20.8-litres/100 km (14 mpg) Imperial
  Hwy: 12.2-litres/100 km (23 mpg) Imperial
Warranty 3-years unlimited

Connect with