The general reaction to the stunning $155,990 Bentley Continental GT coupe is, "What is that!?''
Other drivers tailgate it, and pull closely alongside to get a better look.
Bentley probably could add $100,000 to the price of this voluptuous, hand-built car and have no trouble finding buyers for the 1,800 Continental GTs it plans to send annually to America. It costs about half as much as its aged Continental R coupe predecessor and is a vastly improved car.
Other 2005 Bentleys cost from $211,990 for the Arnage R sedan to $242,990 for the Arnage RL sedan.
Holding down the cost of the Continental GT is the sharing of some parts derived from those of expensive low-volume cars from giant Volkswagen, which bought Bentley in 1998, and has invested nearly $1 billion to bring the British automaker back to its former glory.
As with the rest of the car, the engine is built by Bentley at Crewe, England, and the Continental GT feels like a pure Bentley. It has perfect fit and finish and very rigid construction. No sunroof is offered, because it would adversely affect rigidity -- and steal needed headroom.
Volkswagen gave Bentley lots of money to build better autos and to win the world's premier endurance race at Le Mans, France, in 2003 (as Bentleys often did in the 1920s). It also wants to make Bentley visible to a wider audience.
The two-door, four-seat Continental GT is beautiful, inside and out. The aerodynamic body helps this car hit nearly 200 mph -- or a dizzying 198 mph, to be exact. It does 0-60 mph in just 4.7 seconds and reaches 100 mph in 11.25 seconds, with virtually no turbo lag. A discreet rear spoiler automatically raises above 55 mph to enhance high-speed stability. But Bentley wants to provide seemingly endless, effortless power here, not the fastest 0-60 mph time.
The Continental GT follows the tradition of the sleek 1952-55 Bentley R-type Continental, which was the world's fastest two-door four-seater and now is valued at $195,000.
The engine emits a soft rumble at idle through large twin exhaust outlets, and works with a smooth, responsive six-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual shift feature that can be controlled by race-car-style paddles on the steering column or by the console-mounted transmission shift lever.
The Continental GT has an electronic stability control system, and is the first all-wheel-drive Bentley. It's quite heavy for a 108-inch-wheelbase coupe at 5,258 pounds and feels massive. However, the car's handling is so good that it drives like a smaller, lighter car. The nicely weighted speed-sensitive steering is quick, and the air-spring suspension provides a ride that's rather firm, but comfortable. Huge disc brakes that fit into big 19-inch wheels provide short stops and have a nice pedal feel.
Bentleys always have been large, heavy cars. Bentley victories at the 24-hour Le Mans race were won by big, robust models with large engines favored by legendary Bentley founder W.O. Bentley. Bentleys won that race in 1924 and 1927 -- and for the next three years.
Bentley had a sporty, fun-loving reputation before Rolls bought it in 1931. That was because it won races and was the favorite of England's fast, wealthy set. It included flamboyant, champagne-drinking entrepreneurs who loved life, and made up the racing team, which became known as "The Bentley Boys.''
The Bentley used a Rolls-Royce chassis, but the Bentley emphasis was on power, performance and handling. It often was said, "One is driven in a Rolls-Royce, but one drives a Bentley.''
With 552 horsepower and enormous torque from its twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine, the Continental GT's weight is no problem. The car accelerates like a high-powered sports car and is so refined that it's a problem holding down speed. I felt as if I was driving the car at 65 mph on an interstate highway when a glance at the speedometer showed 80 mph.
Most Continental GT buyers probably aren't very concerned about fuel economy, but it delivers only an estimated 11 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway -- about the same as the big, luxurious Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicle. At least the Continental GT has a 23.8-gallon fuel tank for a decent highway cruising range.
The interior is a dream. Occupants are surrounded by double-stitched leather, aluminum and book-matched burled-wood trim on nearly every surface. It takes about 20 hours to produce the wood for a Continental GT interior. With 11 cowhides per car, the interior has no man-made synthetic materials. The elegant Breitling dashboard clock even is an expensive item.
There's good room for two tall adults up front in the quiet interior, and nicely shaped individual rear seats provide space for one 6-footer behind the passenger and a short adult or child behind the driver. Safety features include front side-impact air bags and head-protecting, front and rear side curtain air bags.
It calls for extra effort to get in and out of the rear. Long doors help, but their length and weight are awkward in tight spots despite big, easily grasped outside handles.
Front seats are set high, but it occasionally can be difficult for a driver to see out because of the wide windshield posts and swept-back rear roof sections. Most of the deeply recessed gauges are easy to read, but fuel level and temperature gauges are small, as are sound system controls.
The trunk is somewhat shallow but extremely long. You open it by a remote control or by pressing on the trunk lid's small Bentley emblem. Opening the hood involves pulling an interior lever and slightly raising the Bentley hood emblem with a few fingers.
The Continental GT is filled with such nifty little features, which include a small, chromed parking brake control on the console.
The Continental GT should draw new customers and more attention to Bentley because of its styling, performance and low (for a Bentley) price. It certainly shows the value of a giant corporate parent's deep pockets.
2005 BENTLEY CONTINENTAL
Stunning. Goes nearly 200 mph. Perfect fit and finish. First all-wheel-drive Bentley.
Long, heavy doors. Tight room behind driver. Low fuel economy.