2009 Bentley Continental GT
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    2009 Bentley Continental GT Expert Review:Autoblog


    Bentley Continental GT Speed – Click above for high-res image gallery

    When we reviewed the Bentley Continental Flying Spur a couple of years ago, we showed you just how many other forms of transportation could be bought with the car's $183,825 out-the-door asking price. For this review of Bentley's new super coupe, the Continental GT Speed, we thought we'd list just a few of the cars that produce the same or less horsepower than the fastest Flying B ever made. The complete list is rather long considering that the GT Speed is powered by a twin-turbo, twelve-cylinder engine producing 600 horsepower, but here are just a few.

    Dodge Viper – 600 horsepower
    Lamborghini Murcielago – 571 horsepower
    Ford GT – 550 horsepower
    Porsche 911 GT2 – 530 horsepower
    Corvette Z06 – 505 horsepower
    Ferrari F430 Scuderia – 503 horsepower
    1999 Oldsmobile Alero Coupe – 150 horsepower

    While it's true that cars with 600+ horsepower are becoming common in the supercar segment, the GT Speed's 48-horsepower bump over the standard Continental GT drives it into some truly rarified air. Read on to find out how it fared in the Autoblog Garage.



    Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.



    There aren't many things in this world more expensive than a Bentley, and our GT Speed tester tops the automaker's Continental range with base price of $199,990 and an as-tested MSRP of $240,045. That's why we thought what better place to do a photoshoot than the back lot of my father's business, Neff Bros. RV Rentals. It's chock full of dozens of parked motorhomes, most of which cost six figures like the GT Speed. Unlike the GT Speed, they tend to rattle a bit over bumps and could be outdriven by my 150-hp Alero despite sporting engines like Ford's big 6.8L V10. But they do well as symbols of conspicuous consumption, just like the GT Speed.



    Based on Bentley's standard Continental GT, the GT Speed gets a number of tweaks to its exterior, interior and, most importantly, engine to make it the ultimate car ever created by the men and women from Crewe. Though subtle, the exterior changes include a new front fascia with a wider lower air intake and a more upright grille, all of which serve to force more air into the twin-turbo W12 behind the grille.



    While 19-inch alloy wheels are standard on the GT Speed, our tester was equipped with optional 20-inch multispoke wheels sporting a dark tint. These are a bargain at $1,320 and are easily the best wheels ever to grace a Bentley. The carbon ceramic disc brakes they frame, however, might require a little more consideration at $16,500 for the set. Regardless, they all let the uneducated bystander know that the 'B' on your hood doesn't stand for Buick.



    Aside from the new lower air intake, grille and wheels, the exterior of the GT Speed is exactly the same as the base model except for the gunmetal gray color from the Arnage range called Anthracite that is a $4,090 option not available on other Continental models. While some would argue that's not enough differentiation, we appreciate the lack of wings, vents and skirts that keeps these classic lines intact. There is a concealed rear aerofoil that deploys automatically at the base of the rear window, but even that's discreet. Because of this restraint on the part of Bentley's designers, the GT Speed wouldn't be expected to reach a top speed of 202 at first glance. But it does. That should qualify it as a sleeper of sorts.



    Indeed, those who weren't blown away by the GT Speed's styling instantly understood this car's class when the doors were opened. Most Bentleys use a herd's worth of cream-colored leather and a felled forest of wood veneer to impress the client, but the GT Speed ditches the bark entirely for dark-tinted, textured aluminum panels and two colors of leather. The top of the dash, center console and upper portions of each door are upholstered in dark gray leather with contrasting red stitching. The rest of the doors, the seats and part of the steering wheel, however, are wrapped in hide the color of cow's blood. It's a deep red that's rich, elemental and more than a bit eye catching.



    Our tester's two-tone, three-spoke steering wheel was a $530 option worth every penny. Aside from just looking sportier to match this car's mission, the new wheel is also one of the most ergonomic we've ever used. It's adorned with redundant controls for the stereo and buttons for the cruise control and Bluetooth cell phone operation, but it impressed with a simple design feature we've never noticed on other cars. All the steering wheel controls are located on the main spokes within two patches of aluminum that are angled in two separate directions. The top section of each aluminum panel is angled upwards so you push down to press a button, while the bottom section is angled forward so you push up to hit the buttons. Most steering wheels have buttons that face out at the same angle as the wheel itself, which we didn't realize was more difficult for our digits to operate until we encountered a wheel designed the right way.



    No Bentley has left the Autoblog Garage without drawing ire for its electronics, specifically for their nav systems, HVAC controls and infotainment systems. The GT Speed is no exception using the same components found in every other Continental model. First off, the screen dominating the center console is not touch sensitive, and at this price it should be. Rather, it's controlled via a dial placed in the middle of a long strip of buttons and two columns of dials on either side of the screen. It's a pain in the ass to use and we've found more user-friendly systems on vehicles that cost less than this car's $40,000 worth of options.



    Once we found Howard 100 on Sirius, we got past the electronics and explored how the GT Speed works as a daily driver compared with the other Conti models. Not surprisingly, the GT Speed can play the part of boulevard cruiser as well as any other Continental. Its air suspension is well suited to soak up bumps that immediately bypass the low profile Pirelli P-Zeros, and sound suppression is on par with a panic room. The GT Speed is not as comfortable as a regular Continental GT thanks to its lowered ride height, uprated springs and dampers, and solid mounted front subframe, but Bentley says that it's at least on par with the ride of a 2007 Continental GT.

    The GT Speed's front seats are also not excessively bolstered and can be adjusted every which way. In fact, there are so many adjustment options it was difficult to find just the right ratio of back angle, seat cushion extension and lumbar support to get comfortable. The rear seats, however, are largely uninhabitable with mere centimeters of leg room. If you want to carry four people in a Bentley and go fast, buy a Flying Spur, which also gains a Speed model for 2009.



    When you want to transform the GT Speed from cruiser to bruiser, there are a few steps to follow. First, flick the shifter into S. Then locate the control panel immediately behind the shifter housing the Start/Stop button, warning lights and seat heater control wheels. Amidst those controls are buttons to manually raise the airofoil, adjust the damping rate of the air suspension between three settings of firmness and adjust the ride height. With the suspension firm, ride height low and shifter set to S, the GT Speed is ready to drop all pretense of luxury and open a can of whoop ass unlike any Bentley has ever done before.



    As mentioned earlier, the GT Speed produces 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque from its 6.0L twin-turbo W12 engine. It may be a product of parent group VW/Audi's stewardship and lack the lineage of the 6.75L V8 in the Arnage, but the W12 makes up for these shortcomings by being more powerful and fuel-efficient. Of course, fuel efficiency is relative in this field considering the GT Speed could barely muster 17 mpg over 300 miles of highway driving (the EPA rates it at 10 city / 17 highway). The rest of the GT Speed's spec sheet includes a ZF 6HP26 six-speed automatic that can be shifted manually in a separate gate or via long paddles on the steering column and a continuous all-wheel drive system with a torsen limited slip center differential that defaults to a 50:50 torque split between the front and rear axles.



    We ran into a dilemma when it came time to put these components through their paces. How do we test the limits of the Bentley Continental GT Speed in the middle of suburbia? This isn't a problem when reviewing a Ford Flex, but a 600-hp car demands a long strip of Smokey-free runway and corners that don't exit into a school zone. We had neither to offer the GT Speed, so it never melted off our faces on its way up to 202 mph, rearranged our internal organs in a decreasing radius turn nor bruised our brains with those carbon ceramic brakes. We pushed it wherever we felt we could, but the limits of this car are so astronomically high that finding the edge of the envelope would've risked our very freedom for ten to life.

    There was this one time, though. We were taking pictures of the car until well past dusk one night and the industrial park was deserted when we left. After staring at this performance machine for four hours, our curiosity could be kept in check no longer. With the shifter set to S, suspension firm, ride low, aerofoil up and heart pounding, this blogger abandoned all common sense and mashed the pedal to the floor. What happened next was somehow familiar though unexpected.



    I had read about it in reviews of other supercars like the Bugatti Veyron. That car has a lot more power than the GT Speed, but journos report of surprisingly fuss-free launches with no fish tailing or wheel spin. One second you're not moving and the next you're flying past 60 mph on your way to warp speed. Just like that the GT Speed took me to 60 mph faster than I've ever been on public roads (Bentley officially claims the time to be 4.3 seconds). All four tires hooked up like they were cogs meshed with gears below the street. It went straighter than a train on a track and never required a correction. And while I could hear the twelve cylinders and two turbos doing their work, they were well isolated from the cabin. This was first class on a cruise ship with warp drive.



    I then began to brake, having reached my own limit before even coming close to exploring what this car can really do. In a game of chicken with the GT Speed, I lost miserably. But that is all right with us because we don't imagine many GT Speed owners will be flogging their car like this anyway. We've come to realize that one shouldn't buy the GT Speed for its performance alone, as there are plenty of supercars that can match it. Rather, you buy the GT Speed because it can run with the big dogs when requested and pamper like a proper Bentley the rest of the time. Put another way, the Bentley Continental GT Speed is the gentleman's supercar.



    Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

    The following review is for a 2008 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    Modern technology with old-world charm and grace.

    Introduction

    The Bentley Continental lineup grows to four models for 2008 with the addition of the Continental GT Speed coupe, a luxurious 600-hp brute named after the classic Speed series that debuted 85 years ago. With a maximum velocity of 202 mph, it is the fastest production Bentley ever constructed. 

    The remainder of the armada includes the Bentley Continental GTC convertible and GT coupe, both two-door versions, and the Bentley Continental Flying Spur four-door sedan. Each offers unique styling. All are effortlessly propelled by a twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine. All have all-wheel drive and air suspension. All 2008 models feature minor enhancements and detailing to further refine the experience. 

    Despite tabs hovering around $200,000, price is a factor in Continental purchases. While a Continental is perhaps twice the tariff of a flagship from Audi, BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes-Benz, similarly executed prestige brands such as Maybach and Rolls-Royce are a six-digit increase above the Bentleys. Exclusivity and cost tend to go hand in hand. 

    Arguably three factors separate the Bentley Continentals from Rolls and Maybach: First, its styling is more more distinctive than that of those other more imposing, less elegant carriages that probe the limits of how large a car should be. Second and no less important, the Continental is much more a driver's car, as rewarding piloting as being chauffeured, a dynamic the others can't match. The final feather in Bentley's motoring cap is the breadth of range, with two-doors and convertibles the others may not offer. Perhaps it's no surprise that the Bentley Continentals outsell Rolls-Royce by roughly 10-to-one and Maybach by 20-to-one. 

    The 2008 Bentley Continental models have a more upright grille and front end with added chrome around the headlamps; they look a hint more aristocratic without being snooty; the only reason to bow to a Bentley is to say a prayer of thanks to the gods of speed. And they have blessed us with a new, 2008 Bentley Continental GT Speed coupe, its W12 engine sporting lighter internal parts and more manifold pressure to deliver fully 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, along with naught to 60 mph in just more than four seconds, countered by firmer, lower suspension, and 20-inch wheels housing massive carbon-ceramic brakes. 

    Other noteworthy changes to the line include additional paint and leather selections, Sirius satellite radio, and a restyled Breitling timepiece. Newly available are a rearview camera for the navigation display, voice-dialing through updated Bluetooth, three-spoke sports steering wheel, more advanced stability and traction controls, and carbon-ceramic brakes on GT coupes with 20-inch wheels. 

    While the majority of mechanical parts and the body shell are assembled in Germany, final finishing is done in Crewe, England, as it has been for decades. 

    Lineup

    The 2008 Bentley Continental line includes the GT and GT Speed two-door coupes, the GTC two-door convertible, and the Flying Spur four-door sedan. The two-door models are strictly four seats, while the Flying Spur offers the choice of four or five seats. 

    All are powered by a 6.0-liter W12 engine, console or paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive, and all use fully independent automatic air suspension with four driver-selected modes. 

    As the ultra-performance flag-bearer, the GT Speed is slightly lower and adds 20-inch wheels, wider rifled tailpipes, dark-tinted chrome matrix grilles, and the Mulliner specification (drilled alloy pedals, knurled chrome and leather shifter, and Diamond-quilt patterned seat facings, door panels, and rear seat side panels). It shares the concealed, pop-up spoiler behind the rear window with the GT coupe. 

    Luxury and labor-saving devices are abundant, with trunk, folding roof and door-sealing all performed at the touch of a button. Standards include heated and cooled 16-way front seats, driver memory, keyless operation, navigation, mirror-finished unbleached wood (generally walnut unless otherwise specified) that includes roll-top console lids on some models, and leather for the seats, door panels, coupe and sedan headliners, assist handles and steering wheel. 

    The Flying Spur has a rear bench seat that accommodates three and includes a pull-down center armrest concealing a lockable pass-through access to the trunk. The four-passenger version features two, electrically adjustable, bucket-style seats separated by a walnut and leather-trimmed console. Audio, climate and telephone controls are on the consoles, and the sedan includes overhead vanity mirrors and head, face, and foot-level ventilation outlets. 

    As prices rise, so too do expectations in customization. Conventional options include pneumatic lumbar massage ($540), wheel choices, moonroof ($995), refrigerated cooler ($2,140), thick floor mats with leather serge ($440), and a valet key ($290). Then you move in to less-common offerings such as wood veneered picnic tables (Flying Spur) and door panel inserts, two-tone leather steering wheel, contrast stitching and Bentley emboss to highlight the upholstery, alloy fuel cap, and a rear-armrest telephone (Flying Spur) for those private calls. The final steps are custom-house Mulliner touches that could be anything from the shift lever to sewn patterns on interior surfaces, woodwork choices, and paint or leather color matched to your sample. 

    Virtually every safety system is standard, with two-stage frontal airbags, side airbags for all doors, side curtain airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, tire air pressure monitors, and on the GTC Convertible, reinforced windshield frame and pop-up rear seat rollover bars. Active safety software includes eight-generation electronic stability control, all-wheel drive, rain-sensing wipers, HID headlamps with washers, fog lamps front and rear, and antilock brakes with brake assist. 

    Walkaround

    From the days of the Speed Six and 4.5-liter blower Bentleys a long hood and mesh grille have been hallmarks, and the Continentals carry them to this day. The slightly reclined grille and smoothly faired expanse of hood marry graceful substantial proportions with aerodynamic function and slickness required for stability at the three-mile-a-minute speeds every Continental easily exceeds. 

    A shapely character line sweeps up, over and rearward from the front wheels, fading into the door panels, and another similar sweep picks up ahead of the rear wheels and leads to a tapered rear-end evoking the boat-tail silhouette of years gone by. Mercurial exterior chrome is limited to trim items and sleek lips at each corner, yet one easily senses the hands of practiced polishing. 

    The Flying Spur is formal and most upright, the large rear doors suggesting a cramped driver's compartment of a limousine and spacious accommodation for the master; fortunately the latter is true while the former condition is not. Tapered body or otherwise, the trunk is capacious and ordering the refrigerator compromises volume only slightly. 

    The GT coupes are the most sporting of the Bentley Continentals, and are among the best Grand Touring cars available today. The long, low, sleek proportions provide visual stimulation without the low seating position that makes traffic terrifying; every detail is subtle, best illustrated by the spoiler that appears merely as an added seam in bodywork between trunk and rear glass. 

    While it looks good with the top up (and matches the coupe's aerodynamic drag), the GTC convertible takes on an elegance all its own with the top down, the classic profile as elegantly flowing and simple as a Herreshoff sailing yacht. A mechanical symphony stows the top neatly under a leather-trimmed tonneau, faired in to the rear seats, leaving a single strip of chrome surrounding the opening from windshield to trunk. 

    Attention to detail is reflected in the four round light housings that incorporate headlights, sidelights, and turn signals, LED rear lamps, chrome strips in the door handle recesses so the paintwork won't be scratched by fingernails or rings, the center brake light seamlessly integrated within the chrome roof strip on the GTC, and painted mirror housings surrounding chrome-ringed mirror glass. 

    The Continentals are big cars, larger than the average luxury ride but not so much so they require a garage extension or special parking space, though some say they deserve it. They also gravitate to the heavy end of the scale, this year's reengineering of some suspension parts taking only a small fraction off the 2.5-ton-plus weight. 

    Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, which also owns Audi. Consequently, much of the Bentley's structure and design can be traced to Audi's A8 flagship, a much lighter car because it is constructed primarily of aluminum alloys. Despite any negative feelings you have about badge engineering they should not be applied here, as there are no negatives to this fusion of German precision and British stateliness. 

    Interior

    Bentley's cabins exude warmth and comfort like a signature castle or upscale pub, the only influences from Teutonic owners being better organization, more sophisticated systems, and ergonomics that don't cry out 'Darwin was right.' The substantial luxury encourages everyone to ride along, while the human-machine interface encourages the driver to press onward. 

    One doesn't speak of materials in a Continental as plastic is employed rarely, and only at a touch point for some switches where it is the best substance for the job. The predominant elements are leather and wood, with complementary pieces of alloys and chrome; one need only look upward to the headliner to find stitched hides like a fine briefcase, or in the convertible, a fully insulated and lined fabric top that even has an interior light in the middle of it. Bentley has always mandated that convertibles give up nothing to their coupe cousins, and the GTC meets that standard. 

    Yet even the leather can be upgraded, our GTC featuring a two-tone leather steering wheel (blue and dark red) to match the interior, and contrast stitching that uses counterpoint thread colors to great effect. The hides generally come from Northern Europe because electric fencing doesn't scar like a barbed wire fence might and it minimizes insect bite imperfections. 

    Wood work is superb, and flows along consoles and through roll-top drawer openings as well as it circles over the top of the doors right to the window line on Flying Spurs; wood inserts may be fitted to interior door and side panels for further gloss. Even simple touches like the aluminum guards on the seat tracks, the leather pull-tab on the trunk carpet and spring-loaded covers around the trunk latch exude luxury. 

    The helm-size steering wheel tilts and telescopes for comfort and good view of the instrument panel; the shift paddles behind the wheel are sized more like oars relatively speaking, and mounted to the steering column so they do not move with the wheel, reducing miscues when turning the wheel. Deeply recessed analog instruments with non-glare covers and a new TFT information panel transfer the variety of data and directions available via the steering wheel and infotainment controls. Four large round vents punctuate the dash, with vintage organ stop pull levers to close airflow, but the slat adjustment is a bit awkward. Above it all, the Breitling clock each occupant can admire. 

    Between the hooded dash ahead of driver and passenger is a conventional layout of ancillary controls, dominated by the navigation/audio screen at the top. The Bentley system uses a series of fixed label hard keys and primary knob laid out like the Bentley wings, and keys next to screen displays for input, a design neither as difficult as some German operations nor as intuitive as leader Lexus; some familiarization is in order, and more voice-activated functions have been added for 2008. 

    Sunlight tends to wash out the screen image, an unfortunate situation in a convertible, and if you use polarized glasses it's advisable to carry a map or qualified navigator. 

    Below the screen are climate controls for all four seating positions, fully automatic or fully manual by your request, switching for vehicle systems such as air suspension, and seat temperature. The shifter is surrounded with the mirror adjuster (left/right synchronized if you wish), start button, and parking brake switch. 

    Even with the top down the sound system is stout and clear enough to hear the pedal tones and real organ stops on pipe organ recordings; the extensive systems require the 6CD changer be mounted in the glovebox where it's not the easiest to load but is quite safe. All Continentals use laminated side glass, which combines with the good aerodynamics to quell any wind noise. 

    The two-door models sport very comfortable bucket seats that you'd label a tailored fit in apparel, with integral headrests, and available massage; hefty re. 

    Driving Impression

    Engaging the starter button in a Bentley Continental brings a turbine-like whirring sound as the W12 engine brings itself to life and settles into a deep, sonorous tailpipe idle the envy of sports and GT cars alike. Since the 12 cylinders are laid out rather like two V6s superimposed on each other, it's a very compact 6-liter and generates a distinct melody. You'll seldom hear the twin turbochargers but will note almost a split personality in tone from up front; under strong acceleration it takes on an edge just shy of a growl, like it's exercising its authority, while under more relaxed conditions it resembles a distant locomotive. 

    Even with 5500 pounds to haul around and all-wheel drive, the Continental's thrust is capable of chirping tires as it hurtles you effortlessly to the horizon or merge lane. Always smooth, it builds power progressively and without harshness, characteristics displayed also by the transmission as the car lunges forward to a terminal velocity of more than 190 mph. This will be useful if your Bentley accompanies you on European relocation, and is comforting to know such reserves are available at the first dotted line. With the exception of the like-priced, 600-plus hp Mercedes S65 and the more expensive Maybach, the Bentley is the only turbocharged prestige car, meaning it retains superior power at Park City and Aspen altitudes. 

    Launching this mass to 60 mph in less than five seconds requires plenty of fuel too, seen in sub-teen EPA ratings and the gas-guzzler tax. Discussions on CO2 emissions should be avoided, even if they are slightly improved for 2008. 

    With transmission software this well sorted, shifting for yourself is amusement rather than necessity. In the unlikely event you find the silky operation sluggish, simply select Sport mode and all will be ideal; since the gearbox and calibration are from Germany, maximum effort comes easily. 

    Slowing from high speeds requires strong brakes, and the Continental delivers as smoothly and progressively as it builds momentum. Simply press on the pedal, and the harder you press the sooner you'll stop. Carbon-ceramic brakes come standard on GT Speeds and are available on GT coupes with 20-inch wheels in the event the standard 16-inch front discs aren't enough. 

    Heft, wheelbase, and air suspension all contribute to a smooth ride. Even sharp little impacts are not felt like they usually are on 19-inch low-profile rubber. The suspension calibration may be manually set to four modes between Comfort and Sport, ideal for lower-speed rough roads and very high speed smooth roads respectively, reserving the middle two modes for matching your attitude if you get one. Left alone, the system does an admirable job considering a host of input data and delivering the ideal blend of comfort, poise, and grip. 

    Although it's missing a fixed roof, the GTC convertible shows only minimal cowl shake on poor surfaces. The image in the rear-view mirror always stays clear and vibration free, courtesy the added structure that makes it heavier than the sedan. The coupe is the tightest and lightest, and the most at home devouring a winding road, while the sedan's added wheelbase makes it the easiest to drive over the long high-speed haul. Naturally, we're splitting hairs here since all Continentals drive lighter than they are, effortlessly answering almost any command. And don't fear tight urban environs or country lanes either, as even the long sedan has good steering lock and maneuverability. 

    Summary

    The Bentley Continentals combine the best attributes of European engineering and performance, global contemporary style, and British charm, craftsmanship and sublime road manners in the world's fastest sedan and elegant two-door coupe and convertible models. And they do so at a price point nicely slotted between very expensive and more mundane. To paraphrase one who owns all of them, the Continental is here because there are places you simply do not arrive in a Mercedes, Porsche, or Lexus. 

    NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report from Los Angeles. 

    Model Lineup

    Bentley Continental Flying Spur ($170,990); GT ($175,990); GTC ($193,990); GT Speed ($199,990). 

    Assembled In

    Crewe, England. 

    Options As Tested

    Arnage-range paint ($4090); 19-inch sports wheels ($1540); contrast stitching ($990); front lumbar massage ($540); two-tone leather steering wheel ($490); leather-trimmed carpet mats ($440); Mulliner alloy fuel cap ($290); valet key ($290); gas-guzzler ($3700). 

    Model Tested

    Bentley Continental GTC ($193,990). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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