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We drive Bentley's Continental GT

2003-11-18 11:38

John Oxley

Bentley Continental GT now in SA - Photo: William McIntosh, Wheels24

"Now there's a thinking car", I mused.

Not that I was too interested in the blonde. There are lots of those in Cape Town.

But I was driving the ONLY Bentley Continental GT this side of Crewe, the traditional home of Bentley in the north of England, and from whence it had glided out of the factory as part of a pre-production batch of 16, destined to be driven by potential owners and motoring journalists, among others - but not for sale.

What's more I only had an hour or so with the car, far too short a time to be wasting my attention on long-legged long-haired blondes.

The Bentley Continental GT is the first fruit of the loins of the union between the famous Bentley marque, long known as a symbol of British workmanship, wealth and luxury, and Volkswagen, the German brand originally born to produce a "people's car".

A strange union, but, in truth, one where the injection of good solid working genes into an aristocratic but perhaps tired product has resulted in a true beauty, in every sense of the word.

The Bentley Continental GT is a car that lacks nothing, that is powerful, gorgeous, and has the stamina to go on, and on, and on...

I first saw the car in the metal at the Frankfurt Motor Show in October this year. But there it was surrounded by other equally imposing cars - in fact perhaps more imposing - the giant Bentley Arnage range, majestic and towering over the compact Continental.

One didn't feel a sense of presence from the GT - rather it seemed like a shy teenager in the midst of a gathering of family ancients, unwilling to show its beauty and power lest it be slapped down and laughed at.

However, here at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town it was the best of the best in a car park filled with fine cars. Its lines flexed with sheer zest, gorgeous from every angle, a work of art enjoyable in more ways than merely visual.

Designed from the ground up in around two years - after being chosen from a batch of half a dozen design concepts - the Continental GT follows the philosophy of Etoire Bugatti, who built exotic (and erratic) sports and luxury cars in the 1930s.

"If it looks right, then it is right".

However, whereas Bugatti's cars often proved to be temperamental, the Continental has been designed to combine solid and reliable German design excellence with equally solid British craftsmanship.

Latest technology

Thus the Continental GT has a high tech. VW-designed hand-built twin turbo W12 engine of 6-litres capacity which develops a staggering 411 kW of power and no less than 650 Nm of torque. Almost enough to pull out the giant palms that line the Mount Nelson's driveway...

It is allied to a drive train of sheer brilliance, with all-wheel-drive with a central Torsen differential, and driving through a superb ZF 6-speed automatic gearbox that has a sequential manual option (with steering column paddles) for those who feel the occasional rush of blood to their heads.

And on top of that the latest electronic aids to ensure that, if you do stray beyond your limits, the car's computer will initiate a whole host of life-saving manoeuvres

The net result of installing that compact but brutally powerful engine is colossal acceleration - you are pushed back into your seat with the proverbial "giant hand" - that gives a 0-100 km/h sprint in just 4.8 seconds. And which keeps going on and on and on until you hit a terminal speed of 312 km/h!

Not that I managed to get to that top speed in my short stint with the car - although I managed 260 km/h on our test run before running out of road. But I DID encounter, and eventually start to use, that massive acceleration, more than enough to overtake slower cars in complete safety.

I also experienced the absolutely solid stance, the superb ride and handling (it has air suspension and electronically-adjustable variable rate shock absorbers), and best of all, the almost total lack of outside noise, thanks to double glazed glass.

Plus the sheer luxury.

Electrical adjustment

Naturally the seats and the steering wheel can be adjusted electrically in myriad ways to ensure you're comfortable. And the windows retract completely into the bodywork to show the true pillarless coupe design. Again, electrically (as well as remotely from outside the car).

There's a large screen in the middle of the centre console surrounded by simple buttons from which such functions such as the air-conditioning, navigation, computer information and more advanced entertainment features are individually controlled, and displayed.

Instrumentation employs classically styled chrome-rimmed dials fitted in deep recesses directly in front of the driver.

There's a revcounter and speedo which flank a small screen where the driver can monitor the in-car systems, and there are smaller gauges for fuel and water temperature.

There's also a classically-styled electric clock carrying the world-famous Breitling brand in the centre of the dash, and many classic Bentley styling cues - such as the bull's-eye ventilation outlets with their organ stop controls, a feature no Bentley has been without for a generation.

There are aluminium pedals, and knurled finishes to many of the ancillary controls.

There's also a fair-sized boot, at 355 litres, and a 90-litre fuel tank to quench its thirst.

The Continental GT might be a sporting car, arguably the world's fastest four-seater.

But it is also indisputably a Bentley, with fine hand-stitched hides, even finer handcrafted woodwork.

At around R2.8-million, still a bargain.


As you meet people throughout life, they fall into four categories.

1. Those you don't like
2. Those who are OK in small doses.
3. Those you want to keep as friends.
4. And last, but certainly not least, those you would happily share your life with forever.

Usually the last, most important, category is reserved for but a few very special people. And if you're discerning, and sensitive, and play your cards right, you find just one who is perfect.

One of the questions I am asked every day is "if you could choose just one, which car would you buy?"

However, that's the most difficult question you could ask a motoring journalist, because we experience so many wonderful cars that to choose just one would be almost impossible.

Which brings us to the Bentley Continental GT.

Would this be my car for life? I'd like to answer that question in another way.

Marek Letowt, who has been selling Bentleys and other fine cars for some years, and now works for local importers Bentley South Africa, told me most potential owners who have approached him to buy the new Bentley GT - and 16 or so have been pre-sold to date - already have several fine cars in their garages. Some of them have as many as six expensive luxury or sports cars.

If they can't decide, what chance have I? But I can assure you the Bentley GT would be one of them...

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