Two weeks ago I wrote about Lotus, based on my friend Erik’s experience (if you missed it, you can read it here). Today we’ll look closer at a car that weighs more than any two Lotuses in combination and is thus very from the lightweight motto, but on the other hand offers one of the best combinations of power and comfort that can be had in the world, and where very nice pre-owned cars can today be had for less than a family hatchback: the Bentley Continental GT.
Before going into the history and details, let that sink in a bit. We’re talking about a Bentley, one of those brands with a special magic to the name. Not as exclusive, but also not as old-fashion as a Rolls. Not as extravagant (by a few miles) as a Lambo or a Ferrari. A Bentley is, and has always been, the gentleman’s sports car, and a car where a combination of power and comfort has always taken centre stage. Given the bargain prices the first generation of Continental GT’s are today trading at, let’s look a bit closer at whether that makes it something for which you should find space in your garage sooner rather than later.
The Continental GT saw the light of day in 2004 and was the first car to be developed under VW’s ownership of Bentley. Evil tongues would claim it’s an Audi or even a VW Phaeton on steroids, given these are cars with which the Crewe-built GT shared essential parts like the chassis, the 6-speed gearbox, the air suspension and the engine, although in the Continental, two turbos bring the power to 560 hp in the base version. To me that would be missing the point though. In our modern era, brands such as Bentley can’t survive without some reliance on larger brands, and these to my mind do not take anything away from the attractiveness of the package – if anything they add to it, given higher reliability than older Bentleys used to offer. Another feature the Continental GT shares with its VW siblings is the standard four-wheel drive that on one hand helps get the power onto the tarmac, but also make the car more than just a summer GT – should you want it to.
The double-turbo W12 was the only engine option for the first generation of the Continental GT, built until 2011, that we’ll focus on here. In 2007 a 35 kg lighter Speed version was however added and a couple of years later Bentley brought a Supersports version with 630 hp and as much as 120 kgs less weight, achieved notably by removing the back seats. And of course, from 2006 on there was a convertible version alongside the GT. The second generation, built from 2011, saw a decent face-lift and added the “budget” 4-litre V8 version to the line-up. Finally the heavily reworked third generation came out last year, but that’s another story.
The first generation Continental GT is an impressive car, and one that has aged very gracefully. As so often, the lines of the coupé are more harmonious than those of the convertible, and you needn’t do more than open the door to realize that this is something truly special. The interior oozes of a British gentleman’s club, you’ll look in vain for plastic parts (except, admittedly, for some rather cheap looking buttons on the centre console around the antiquated satnav, and on the steering wheel), every piece that looks like metal is just that, and the number of cows that had to leave the green pastures to be reborn as a Continental GT interior would make even meat-lovers blush. Bentley has always offered a multitude of interior colour combinations, and these are finished to the last detail. If the interior is, say tan, then every little piece of it will be finished in tan – including the seat belts and their holders.
The engine comes to life in a very different way than other cars of comparable power output, that is to say very discreetly. The steering is very light, and although improving a bit at speed, this is not a car where you really feel the road, which is also to say that the air suspension is sublime, as is the general noise level. If not earlier, it’s clear by now why this is a car weighing in at around 2400 kgs. Having said that, the GT handles better than could be expected and lets you forget some of that weight. Power is plentiful in any gear, the engine has a very pleasant bass tone when it’s pushed, something the car doesn’t mind, although not inviting it either. The 90-litre tank will mean you’ll have to stretch your legs and refill every 500 kms, something safety experts will tell you you should do anyway – arguably though, those experts have never travelled in a Continental GT.
It’s easy to see why the Continental GT looks like an interesting option. Next to the comfort and surprisingly good driving experience, the massive depreciation to something like 1/5 of the price as new, combined with the fact that the first owner quite often was an older gentleman not really into track days, clearly speak for the GT. The fact that the car is built around a VW and Audi engine and chassis is also rather positive, although it doesn’t mean that you can take it to your local VW repair shop – they wouldn’t know what to do with it. That brings us to the only real downside with the car, being the massive servicing costs. I won’t go into any detail but assuming they’re on Ferrari level is a good start.
When I was a little boy back in… well, a while ago, I remember my father telling me there was no official power output number for Rolls-Royces more than to say it was sufficient. Another similar tall tale is around the cost and maintenance of RR’s and Bentleys, saying that if you need to ask, you can’t afford it. If you can afford it though, a nice pre-owned Continental GT should make you a very happy person. Maintenance history (and budget!) is key, elderly pre-owners are to be preferred, and the somewhat more powerful and more focused GT Speed is slightly better than the ordinary GT. You’ll be able to find both from 2008-2009 for around EUR 40.000-50.000, adding EUR 5.000-10.000 should you prefer a convertible. The fact that early ’04 and ’05 cars don’t trade much lower indicates prices are bottoming out. Given more than 66.000 GT’s have been built so far (more than any Bentley in history), this is not to say prices will start to rise tomorrow, but I also remember learning something else in my youth, and that was not to wait until tomorrow to enjoy something that can be enjoyed today. In the context of the Continental GT, that feels like very good advice!
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