Contemporary review originally published in CarBuzzard published March 9, 2006
One might think W.O. Bentley would be proud of the 2006 Bentley Continental GT. It has, to use the original company’s founder and namesake’s words, “long legs.” Seven league boots, perhaps, a great thumping way to put miles in the rearview mirror. That’s the Bentley Continental GT.
In that way it’s like the original Bentley, the 3-litre. W.O., namesake and founder of the original company, wanted a car that could drive long distances at high speeds, to tackle the long, straight roads of France in the 1920s, where “the surface was often appalling and at the same time there was a great temptation to drive fast.” But there was, wrote Bentley, to be no “sacrificing…of the merits of the good British touring car of the day.”
How better to describe the Bentley Continental GT of today. What a temptation to drive fast. With an ability to be three miles away in sixty second and a top speed of 198 miles per hour, it’s only prudence that allows the hammer to be dropped for more than moments. The Bentley Continental GT weighs more than 5000 pounds, but with 550 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque from a 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W-12 engine, the four-place coupe can catapult itself from 70 mph to 100 in a blink. Zero to sixty takes, says Bentley, only 4.7 seconds.
Fate twisting as it does, the engine of that original Bentley borrowed heavily from a pre-war Mercedes design, which is what Mercedes gets for letting one lie about England as the Great War began. The newer Bentley’s engine doubles the displacement of the earlier, and triples its cylinder count, but the Germanic origins of the engine are just as real, based on the Volkswagen Group’s W-engine technology, where two narrow angle vee banks are joined at a wider angle at the crankshaft, making something like a W.
The Continental GT’s W-12 can be thought of as a pair of narrow angle V-6’s. As such, it’s very compact, not much longer than a four and shorter than a V-8. It allows what is a very short hood for a twelve-cylinder engine, something that’s accentuated in the Continental GT’s blunt, bluff, broad shouldered styling.
The Bentley’s bird-strainer grille is flanked by two bi-Xenon headlights on either side, distinctive in an era of compound lenses and appropriate for the car. The car’s overall profile owes much to another Bentley model, the Continental of the early Fifties, particularly the Type-R, it too a “good British touring car of the day,” though long after Rolls-Royce had taken over Bentley.
Like the earlier Continental, named for its ability to take on the long distance roads of the Continent, the new Bentley has prominent haunches and a quasi-fastback styling. A most impressive view of the Continental GT is from behind, emphasizing the solid beef of the Bentley’s profile. The rear contour is not friendly to high-speed control, so at 70 mph a spoiler rises from below the rear window.
Only the sales staff at a Coach outlet spends more time in closer proximity to more leather than the Bentley Continental GT driver. And what isn’t covered in leather—Bentley calls it “hide”—is adorned with Burr Walnut veneer (other woods are available) with aluminum trim. Pull knobs to open the dash vents and a Breitling clock are traditional styling touches.
Not surprisingly, considering Bentley’s membership in the VW-Audi group, the interior controls are reminiscent of Audi’s, with a thumbwheel on the steering wheel spoke to change data displayed on the information screen between the speedometer and tachometer. The pedals are cast aluminum, as if the few ounces saved makes a difference in overall weight.
The front seats are nicely pocketed. A stitched diamond pattern is part of sending this Bentley to the company’s Mulliner finishing school. In addition to the $8,470 fee for Mulliner’s attention, the modifications cost, in order:
$940 Contrast stitching
$490 Lumbar massage front seats
$390 “Bentley” embossed front seat
$340 Remote garage door opener
$290 Mulliner alloy fuel filler cap
$240 Space saver spare
$240 Valet key
$140 Nokia mobile phone
The four-zone HVAC is standard, though weather permitting we’d lower all four windows. There’s no B-pillar and the car simply looks great as what used to be known here as a “hardtop.” Cool. Adults can fit in the back seat but probably wouldn’t want to stay there, even though it is a Bentley.
At idle the Bentley Continental’s W-12 has a distinctive beat, a smooth basso rolling pulse, the sound of a ship’s engine throbbing below decks. Isaac Newton said that objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside source. He didn’t know about the Bentley Continental GT. He didn’t consider the Bentley’s inside source.
Hit the throttle and there’s a roar and a bellow inside and out as the great beast rouses. The combination of great power, great mass and great traction make for a straight and true launch. It’s stable at speed and 75 mph is an embarrassing walk. It’s as stable as the plinth of the Nelson memorial in Trafalgar Square. Like the Bentley 3-litre, the Continental GT is happier on the highway than on twisting backroads. The giant strides of the great boots are its venue.
On great sweepers and winding curves the Bentley Continental GT has more grip than Teddy Kennedy on a shot glass. It’s almost ponderous on gollywiggling roads, however, throwing its weight around to change trajectory. The massive poke of the W-12, traction of all-wheel drive and the easy gear selection by the paddle-shifted transmission help launch the Continental GT from every corner. There’s more braking force on one wheel than most cars have with four. The Bentley will hustle down a narrow, twisting road but only by dint of great effort.
The Bentley Continental GT will always be rare, and with speed limits offering no real highway advantage from its 550 horsepower, drivers of ordinary cars tend to attach themselves to the car’s rear quarter like an infatuated seventh grader following the high school homecoming queen. Kicking the throttle both impresses the masses and shakes the Bentley free, but of course requires the ultimate of discretion. Again, triple digit velocity arrives in a trice.
The Bentley Continental GT bears little if any resemblance to the original Bentley 3-litre and pays only passing tribute to the Bentley Continental R-Type of the early Fifties. But the 2006 Bentley Continental GT is true to the spirit of its forebears, and that, we think, would make W.O Bentley very pleased indeed.
Philbert J Thrombockle* comments: Before we wax too purple about the 2006 Bentley Continental GT, let’s consider:
Living with the Bentley Continental GT has its own idiosyncrasies. The door frame, curving down to meet the A-pillar, is a head thunker, and our editorial noggin actually bumped the small console above the windshield. Neither is a problem when driver and passenger are strapped in.
Real world fuel mileage proves the gas guzzler penalty is honestly earned. At a cruise controlled 75 mph cruise, the Bentley Continental GT managed 21 mpg. Punch the throttle once or twice to watch the numbers plummet. Overall we observed about 15 mpg.
The price of admission, though inexpensive compared to such peers as it has, is boggling to most folks. The base msrp is $164,990. The St. James red exterior and Beluga interior are no charge, the Mulliner extras already mentioned, plus the $3,700 Gas Guzzler Tax and $2,595 destination charge—you’ll see few Continental GT in rail cars—bring the bottom line to $183,095. Well, as the saying goes, you can live in your car but you can’t drive your house.
The Bentley Continental GT has an elaborate suspension that includes not only sport-to-comfort settings but also ride height changes. We typically preferred “sport” though were not averse to switching to “comfort” to abate tar strip thump. We doubt many Bentley Continental GTs will see offroad or even dirt road duty, though we suspect the raised position of the ride height dial will see little use other than to clear the more aggressive speed bumps. The suspension lowers at speed for more stability.
Despite its profile, this is not a sports car but a true British tourer for the Continent, truly exercised only on the autobahn when traffic will allow. More’s the pity it can’t be used to full effect Stateside. Just think how more fuel efficient it would be than a private jet.
Philbert J Thrombockle is the author’s alter ego used to p.s. information that didn’t fit into the main text.