Bentley is now owned by Volkswagen and is no longer affiliated with Rolls-Royce, its luxury-car partner for 71 years. The Continental GT (grand touring) coupe was first unveiled at the 2002 Paris Motor Show and made its U.S. debut at the 2003 North American International Auto Show. At that time, the car was referred to as a GT Design Concept and was not yet ready for production.
The Continental GT coupe is striking in design. It is a full four-seat coupe that has four-wheel drive. Its 552-horsepower, 6.0-liter W-12 engine breathes with the assistance of twin turbochargers; it drives a paddle-operated six-speed sequential automatic gearbox that promises supercar performance. The “W” configuration makes this engine unusually compact. Bentley claims the Continental GT coupe’s top speed is over 190 mph and it can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds.
Bentley emphasizes the GT’s racing skills, performance potential and posh attributes. Over the past year or more, Bentley has demonstrated a considerably revived interest in motorsports by focusing on the burning urge to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Two Speed 8 models also entered the Sebring, Fla., 12-hour race in March 2003 — they were the first Bentleys to do so in 80 years.
According to Bentley, the Continental GT was “conceived to be a sporting coupe without rival.” Adrian Hallmer, a board member for Bentley sales and marketing, calls it the “fastest genuine four-seater coupe in the world,” adding that Bentley customers wanted true performance, contemporary design and Bentley’s standard of luxury in a new model. In the words of Franz-Josef Paefgen, chairman and chief executive officer of the Bentley organization in Britain, the GT “combines 56 years of Crewe [England] craftsmanship with the precision of modern technology.”
Following the debut of a production version at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, sales began in Europe later that year. The U.S. version is expected to reach dealerships in May 2004. With more than 2,000 orders received before the first cars arrived in the United States, the Continental GT coupe is already sold out through much of 2004; it costs just under $150,000. Production of the final Continental R Mulliner and Azure Mulliner models has ended.
Appearance is far removed from the subtly sporty designs of Bentley’s recent seasons, which remained comparatively sedate. Because the Continental GT is the first all-new unique Bentley model to be launched in 70 years, designers sought to blend traditional Bentley hallmarks and hand craftsmanship with a contemporary profile and advanced technology. Featuring pillarless hardtop styling, the Continental GT coupe features a minimal front overhang and pronounced haunches over the wheels.
Flanking large inner headlights, the simple yet assertive mesh-type grille resembles that of no other modern Bentley. The Continental GT’s flush-mounted rear spoiler rises automatically when the car reaches high speeds. It measures 189.3 inches long overall and rides a 108-inch wheelbase. Air springs are used instead of conventional coils, and each contains an electronic damper. The wheels measure 19 inches in diameter.
Four people can enjoy riding in the Continental GT coupe. According to Bentley, 6-footers fit easily in the front and rear seats. In fact, interior designers worked with New York basketball players to ensure that people of all sizes and shapes could be accommodated. Leather upholstery will come in a choice of eight colors. Wood interior trim will be available in Burr Oak, Burr Walnut, Dark Stained Walnut, Madrona and Plano Black.
In the cockpit, a symmetrical fascia mates with a center control that rises up and curves to the sides in a shape reflecting the design of the Bentley wing insignia. Most routine controls may be operated from the steering wheel. The car is the first Bentley automobile to be fitted with a Breitling timepiece; it features a classic black dial with white lettering and “blood orange” hands. The Continental GT coupe’s trunk capacity is 13.1 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
The Bentley-designed four-overhead-cam W-12 engine displaces 6.0 liters and operates with twin turbochargers. It generates 552 hp at 6,100 rpm and 479 pounds-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm. The sole transmission is a six-speed ZF sequential automatic that operates by paddles. Four-wheel drive is standard.
Ventilated disc brakes have a Bosch antilock feature with Brake Assist and Emergency Brake Force Distribution. Four side-impact airbags and two side curtain-type airbags are installed. All four seats have seat belt pretensioners.