Preview - 2004 Bentley Continental GT

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Sep 24, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    A grand tourer to soothe the spinning spirit of W.O. Bentley

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    BY FRANK MARKUS
    October 2003

    Walter Owen Bentley has had plenty of reasons to spin in his grave during the past 32 years as the storied brand he founded withered and the cars bearing his name declined into badge-engineered shadows of their snootier Rolls-Royce Shadow, Spur, and Seraph siblings. His spinning surely must have redlined in 1998 when what was left of the Rolls/Bentley empire was auctioned off to the Germans—the same crowd he'd helped to defeat in World War I by designing radial aircraft engines for British warplanes.

    Bentley's dramatic win at Le Mans this year after a 73-year absence must have assuaged Walter Owen's soul somewhat, and the first road car produced by Volkswagen-fostered Bentley Motors seems certain to return him to peaceful rest. In fact, we half wonder if the advanced product-planning research didn't include séance-facilitated communication with the founder himself, so faithfully does this new Bentley Continental GT adhere to his car-design tenets.

    W.O.'s career began in the railway business, so perhaps it's not surprising that when he turned his attention to building automobiles, he built them large and sturdy, with huge, powerful engines. Their speed and reliability helped them win Le Mans five times from 1924 through 1930, and their imposing size led another automaker, Ettore Bugatti, to refer to the 1930 4 1/2-liter supercharged Le Mans winner as "the fastest lorry in the world." The Continental GT is infused with the attributes of those champions.

    Large and sturdy? The Bentley's platform is shared with the all-steel VW Phaeton sedan. The GT's bodywork is shortened 9.9 inches, lowered 2.4 inches, widened 0.6 inch, and perched on a 5.3-inch-shorter wheelbase. The body shell is so rigid that if you clamped the rear of the GT in a giant vise and hung a second GT (weighing 5250 pounds) from one of the front wheels, the structure would twist only one degree. The cowl is sedan high, and the seats are well off the floor—for easy entry, exceptional visibility, and ample space for four adults and their luggage.

    And the engine? Would six liters divvied up among 12 cylinders force-fed by two turbos and two intercoolers good for 552 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque qualify as "huge and powerful" in your book? We can't comment on reliability except to say that in pursuit of same, a Continental GT was run for 18,500 miles at 175 mph at the Nardo test track in Italy.

    The W-12 engine (picture two VR6s on a common crank) is based on the powerplant used in the Audi A8, but it gets unique low-compression pistons to handle boost levels of between 4.4 and 10.2 psi huffed up by twin 3K Warner turbochargers. That pressure arrives instantly and imperceptibly, providing peak torque at just 1600 rpm. The engine is hand-assembled at the Bentley factory in Crewe.

    A ZF six-speed automatic digests that immense torque and apportions it evenly between the front and rear axles via a torque-sensing center differential. Ordinary drive, sport, and Tiptronic shift modes are offered, with manual shifting via paddles behind the wheel or the usual lever.

    Style and elegance matter as much as size, space, and power to today's Bentley buyer, and in these, too, the car excels. This coupe has an undeniable sense of gravitas; it is at once imposing, graceful, feline, and muscular.

    There's no mistaking this Bentley for anything with just five digits behind the dollar sign. Climb in, and the nose is treated to the scent of fine leather while the eyes and fingers encounter nothing but double-stitched leather, aluminum, and book-matched burled-wood trim on practically every surface. Even the rear seat is first-class, with no surface impinging on this 5-foot-11 scribe sitting behind a front seat adjusted to his driving position.

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    That Bentley has managed to produce a car so vastly improved over its Continental R forebear in every aesthetic and functional sense, at a price ($149,990) that undercuts that car's by more than half, is a testament to the value of a large corporate parent. The factory where it is built in Crewe, England, for example, has been thoroughly refurbished to the bright, shiny-floored look of an operating theater. Computers and robots are only used to marry the driveline to the body, apply adhesive to the windshield, and prepare parts and deliver them for assembly. Body shells arrive assembled and painted (except custom colors) from Mosel, Germany. BMW similarly ships completed bodies to Rolls-Royce's Goodwood factory.

    The new assembly system brings the total manufacturing time down to "just" 250 hours, about half what the predecessor required. By comparison, one VW Golf can be produced in about 18 hours—the number of man-hours it takes to complete a wood set for the Continental GT's interior.

    Bentley invited us to the smooth, undulating open roads of northern Scotland for our first drive. We climbed into the GT with three adults aboard for a brief familiarization ride on short, tight roads. Our first impressions were lukewarm. The 500-pound passenger load and the tall gearing needed to propel the Continental GT to its ungoverned 198-mph top speed smothered the power at launch.

    Furthermore, the engine note emanating from the completely separate dual exhaust pipes was unexpectedly guttural at the low revs we were running, sounding more like a baritone Viper V-10 than a tenor V-12
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    But the next day, as two of us uncorked the car over 220 miles, we marveled at how effortlessly 120 mph can be summoned, maintained, and shed. Extensive underbody aerodynamic tuning and a rear spoiler combine to eliminate rear lift, and the air suspension lowers the front of the car to counteract high-speed lift. Steering accuracy is superb at all speeds, with no dead spot on-center or artificial effort, and the Audi-style four-link virtual-steering-axis front suspension never imparts the slightest hint of torque steer at the rim. Handling limits are impressively high, making the car seem far lighter than it is, and the ride quality of the adjustable suspension is supple in the comfort setting and lowest of three sport settings (the highest sport setting mainly serves to demonstrate how bad the road surface actually is). The braking power afforded by the gigantic 15.9-inch-diameter front rotors (the largest on any production car) and 13.2-inch rear discs is awesome, shedding speed as effortlessly as the W-12 builds it.

    Bentley says it has taken deposits for 3200 GTs. Deliveries begin next spring. Three-quarters of the orders are from new customers, most of whom own other expensive cars and are drawn to the Bentley's unique blend of space, comfort, and blistering performance. Surely, W.O. is smiling.

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    Vehicle type: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe
    Base price: $149,990
    Engine type: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 48-valve W-12, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection

    Displacement: 366 cu in, 5998cc
    Power (SAE net): 552 bhp @ 6100 rpm
    Torque (SAE net): 479 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm

    Transmission: 6-speed auto with manumatic shifting
    Wheelbase: 108.1 in
    Length/width/height: 189.1/75.5/54.7 in
    Curb weight: 5250 lb

    Manufacturer's performance ratings:
    Zero to 60 mph: 4.7 sec
    Top speed (drag limited): 198 mph


    Projected fuel economy:
    European combined cycle: 14 mpg

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  2. AsianRage

    AsianRage Know about Media Ventures?

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    That rear is UGLY!

    Nice article though.... anyone got 200K? :o
     
  3. GoGophers

    GoGophers New Member

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    I'll take one in black please. :yum:
     
  4. DK

    DK New Member

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    i dont like the back, apart from that, its great!
     

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