Bentley Revisited

Everybody loved the Continental GT at first sight. The design by Dirk van Braekel really does capture what they intended it to. A luxurious and sporty honest 2+2 GT that decidedly sets the standard in the class and firmly puts the freshened Bentley identity on course. And, just as hoped, both the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and Aston Martin DB9 have used the CGT as poster child in their efforts to balance luxury, handsomeness and performance. They'll just never match its $150,000 price tag--ha-ha-hee-hee!I love the whole packaging, too. Literally staring at the entire beast from any angle, I can find nothing about which to lament. Nice, long wheelbase of 9 ft, good wide tracks (63.9 in. and 63.3 in. f/r) and brief overhangs announce a great driving experience is about to take place.

Then I started the motor without inserting anything anywhere apart from my butt in the driver's seat. Between this twin-KKK Warner turbocharged 552-bhp 6.0-liter W12 and the 6.0-liter V12 self-breather in the Vanquish and DB9, we may have the two finest exhaust tunes at idle on the market. Under acceleration, the CGT is an absolute torque beast (479 lb-ft between 1600 and 6000 rpm) that you must grip firmly especially in dodgy passing situations on two-lanes. The surge from the turbos has a geometric effect in at-speed acceleration and slower cars ahead approach faster than you'd think. A weight-to-power ratio of 9.53 lb per horse and a 4.7-sec. 0-to-60-mph time from a super GT with a full-time Torsen all-wheel-drive differential and 198-mph top speed tell no lies. This is serious brilliance and direct-injection engines are on the way for all Bentleys shortly to make the mileage just as brilliant.

The nicest part about the Continental GT formula is that I cruised just as placidly at speed limits in it as I did with such ecstasy in the Phantom VI. Sure, it wants to get up and go like a purebred horse, but the stance lends itself to sightseeing mode very nicely. And at such dawdling speeds through walled villages the engine sound gurgles so devilishly and attracts all the children--those real and the ones tucked inside every adult. Admirers of the sound and shape of the CGT formed a long line early on Day One. Motorcyclists especially took advantage of their situation to get really close and ogle. The Phantom is imposing to behold, but everyone wants to look at the interior more than anything else, and rightly so.

At this price in this rarefied class of GT, the Continental has a very accommodating interior. The two sport bucket seats cup you just right. I was expecting a little more from the steering wheel design, something not quite so chunky, but it's a good gripper. Wind noise off the rear pillars is about at the same level as on the much higher-priced competitors and this is a constant area of GT design study in wind tunnels. This seems to improve when a four-door model happens and I can't wait to drive that near-future Bentley.

Is the Continental GT a true 2+2 for four adults? Ish, I'd say. As in both the 612 Scaglietti and DB9, those of us at around 6-ft high need to straddle the seat back. But what has decidedly improved on all these cars is the seating itself. With rear seats this comfortable, I don't mind the knee splay. I can't speak for ladies in evening wear, but I for one could stay cross-dressed back there all day without blushing.

About that geometric speed increase while ticking off slower drivers on two-lanes: the Bentley has the largest ventilated front discs on the market. 15.9 in. across while the rear goes with 13.2 in. If that's not sending a message, my lips are as those found on chickens. Slowing and stopping in this muzzer is equivalent to ceramics on a Porsche only without the grinding and just a little bit offade over time. Hold on to your teeth.

Multi-link suspension on all four corners is so lovely when it can be afforded and is properly done. Such is the case here, and the 19-in. 275/40ZR19 Pirellis all around only exacerbate the wonder of it all. Though the turning circle is a fairly usual 37.4 ft, visibility is somewhat limited and thus you need time before really knowing where your corners are in tight spots. As on the Phantom, trust in your beeps for they are your friends.

But this is a decidedly new Bentley, whereas Rolls-Royce just needs to stay the course and accentuate it. Van Braekel and his squad are working on the four-door prototypes of the CGT, a convertible version of the two-door, something possibly above the Arnage and then something even smaller than the CGT. The emphasis is sportiness, hell, downright rakishness in the gentleman racer tradition. After all, all that "Bentley Boys" hype around the Audi-fed Le Mans victory in 2003 had better not just be a flash in the pan; it must influence everything the company shows us from now on.

Pried From Bleeding Fingers

And thus our five day euphoria tour came to an end. The Phantom VI was dropped off unceremoniously at Heathrow Airport and the Continental GT in downtown London.Was this work? Sure worked for us.

Both Rolls-Royce and Bentley are on respective wiser paths for the 21st century. It was nice to see this for ourselves in the perfect place in perfect weather and perfect landscapes. We had to admit, too, that both are worth the prices asked.Send money.

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