2009 Bentley Continental GT Road Test

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author photo by Autotrader June 2009
Luxury-car experts at TheCarConnection.com drove the 2009 Bentley Continental GT and GTC to bring you this hands-on road test of the Continental's performance, styling, comfort, safety and quality. TheCarConnection.com's editors also evaluated competitive vehicles, to compare and contrast the Bentley Continental GT and GTC with other handcrafted four-seaters in its class.

Pro athletes cling to its seductive lines, and hip-hop deities are devoted to its stunning 12-cylinder power. It's no wonder the 2009 Bentley Continental GT has single-handedly revoked the Bentley franchise's age-old reputation as a dowager sedan, and replaced that rep with a coolness unattainable by, say, today's Rolls-Royce lineup.

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT lineup includes four distinct models. The Continental GT two-door coupe is complemented by a higher-powered version dubbed the GT Speed. A convertible Continental GTC is also offered in a Speed edition. The four coupes and convertibles start at a base price of $179,200, rising above $203,600 for the Continental GT Speed. The Bentley Continental GTC Speed provided to TheCarConnection.com for this hands-on road test (a 2010 model, with performance exceptions noted in this review) carried a sticker price of $276,405.

The Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible put out distinctly different vibes, though both are two-doors derived from the Continental Flying Spur four-door. They share lower body panels, front ends, and trunks, but the elegant, massive lines of the pillarless coupe version come off more enticingly modern to TheCarConnection.com's editors. The Conti GT simply looks smaller with the roof in place, and more sexy, too. The vivid creases alongside its body above its front and rear fenders find some relief in the coupe style; with the comely lid snipped off, the convertible sits a little more thickly on its haunches. It turns into more of a boulevardier shape, though it shares the coupe's circular headlamps, chromed matrix grille, and LED taillamps. Inside, it's a traditional feel, with Bentley logos, chrome and wood trim on 24-hour watch across the Continental GT's wide twin-binnacle dash. In the middle of the lavish trim sits a real Breitling timepiece, mingling with chrome air vent pulls, rich leather and wood, and delicate chrome detailing. The paneled-library effect is hushed even more in Mulliner Driving Specification, with its diamond-quilted leather seats, a knurled shift knob, and a three-spoke steering wheel. Speed versions of the coupe adopt the Mulliner trim as well as dark-finished metal trim, a rear spoiler, and wider exhaust pipes. In all, the Bentley Continental GT's meaty outline may not be timeless like some Ferraris, but it is imposing: one look and you know, this will be a driving event, not an ordinary commute.

The basics of Bentley Continental GT performance center around a single drivetrain: a 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, W-12 engine teamed to an all-wheel-drive system and a six-speed automatic shifter. The engine is a unique design, and one that's hugely powerful. In standard cars, it issues 552 horsepower, locomotive numbers that push the 5500-pound Continental to 60 mph in less than 5.1 seconds in all versions; GT Speeds tick off 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, Bentley promises. That vivid acceleration has a soundtrack: a cardiac lope of its W-12 engine, more so on Speed versions, that signals there's something distinct underhood. The GT's transmission is a stout piece, with six forward gears and paddle shift controls. Drivers can choose shift quality from comfort and sport driving modes, or change gears manually without a clutch pedal, through the paddles or the shifter lever. Seamless shifts happen in any range, with notably quicker action in Sport mode. The Continental GT also is fitted with standard all-wheel drive, with a Torsen differential doling out torque as traction needs shift, from front wheels to rear wheels. Fuel economy is a miserable 10/17 mpg.

An independent air suspension with computer-controlled shocks and a three-mode ride control called Continuous Damping Control (CDC), the Bentley GT rides like a hefty car should--very well in all circumstances, blunting any bump with sheer mass. Steering is light to the touch, always, but the brakes are big and deep--especially the $16,500 optional carbon-ceramic rotors, the most powerful brakes ever found on a production car, Bentley says. Its sheer mass dictates much of its handling--but far from sloppy, the Continental GT makes amazing work of quick corners, until its sheer size and pricetag damp the spirits of the driver.

In its four-passenger, hardtop or convertible body, the Bentley Continental GT fits in a vast amount of passenger space in front, with much less than expected in back. It's 189.1 inches long--about the same as two Smart Fortwos--and the wheelbase is 108.1 inches, roughly the same as many mainstream four-door sedans. In front, driver and passenger have all sorts of shoulder and knee room, and headroom is ample in coupes. (In convertibles, it can be infinite.) Those front seats are fabulously supportive, too. In back, it's less easy to get in and not nearly as roomy as expected. Like most sportscars, the Conti GT has a "drop"--the difference between front shoulder room and the "waist" of the car, or its rear seat width. Here the drop is about ten inches, which would make an athletic suit cut but in a four-adult car, makes for some grumbling. At least there's a console between the rear seats, with a ski pass-through. And all seating positions are swaddled in some of the most obscenely well-chosen, well-fitted materials found in cars. Some switches might be almost randomly placed (finding the Hazard button can be a hazard), but the quality of construction is undeniable.

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT has advanced safety equipment, but neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested one of these ultra-luxury cars. All versions do offer standard front, side and curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control along with all-wheel drive. GTC Continentals also have rollover protection in the rear headrests, while Speed versions add sport-tuned stability control for more advanced drivers. A rearview camera is available.

The Continental GT is nearly a bespoke car--with enough handcrafted options and trim choices to make any single car a collector's dream. The standard features on all four versions include electronic climate control; Bluetooth connectivity; soft-close doors and decklid; and DVD navigation that also controls climate functions and audio controls and, as a result, leads to some confusing logic while choosing a destination. Sirius satellite radio and a six-CD changer are standard, while a Naim-tuned 1000-watt, 14-speaker audio system is a $6000 option. In this test vehicle, the Naim system didn't improve sound quality as much as expected, and does not allow the driver to choose settings for bass, treble, and other typical sound qualities. Convertibles add a power top that folds in 25 seconds and has indulgent feel and great sound-damping ability. The Mulliner package of trim adds quilted leather, knurled chrome and turned aluminum panels; all Continental GTs can be specified with a choice of lambs-wool rugs, 17 shades of leather and five grains of wood trim. The few options include the Naim audio system; an iPod interface; 20-inch wheels; the carbon-ceramic brakes; and for later vehicles, a radar-based cruise control system.

The Bottom Line:

With panache to spare, the 2009 Bentley Continental GT also has an appetite for speed--and fuel--that's unrivaled among four-seat coupes and convertibles.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2009 Bentley Continental GT Road Test - Autotrader