Grand Touring Icons: Bentley Continental GT

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It's big and comfortable, luxurious and extremely powerful. The Bentley Continental GT is quite possibly one of the best road trip cars ever.

To even define exactly what a GT car is can be difficult. The words "Grand Touring" (or "Gran Turismo", if you prefer) suggest that it should be a wealthy young person's road trip car. That means comfort is important, but it should also be powerful, and this is where we sometimes run into problems. In an effort to always make sure that their car looks best on paper, many carmakers will get a little too carried away with the sport angle, and end up sacrificing comfort as a result.

This blurs the line between sports car and GT, but there is one car which still unquestionably defines the genre, the Bentley Continental GT. We touched on the original Continental in an article in July about the 1952 R-Type, and the modern car embodies the same philosophy. Even the name is reminiscent of the days when the sons of British nobility would travel around "the continent" (mainland Europe) and Italy in particular to soak up as much culture as they could. The Brits and Italians still have the best handle on what makes a proper GT car, even though Bentley has been owned by Germans since before the Continental debuted.

It can be taken as evidence, however, that the Teutonic influence hasn't caused them to lose sight of their British roots. Comfort is an important feature on a GT, and the Continental GT is supremely comfortable. It's the sort of comfortable that you might have never known was possible for a car to possess if you've never sat in one. I worked at a Bentley dealership when deliveries of the Continental GT started, and the big activity on the day the first one arrived was to just sit in the driver's seat and be amazed. It really is that impressive. There are all of the tech niceties you'd want in a car at this price, along with all of the wood and leather expected of an expensive British car.

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The Continental GT is a big car, very big. This does mean more cargo space, which is important in a true GT, as it should be prepared for a road trip and the luggage that comes with that. But it does also mean it weighs quite a bit. To be exact, the current model weighs 5,115lbs. That's the hardtop too, add about 300 more pounds for the convertible. The Speed and Supersports models shave a few hundred pounds off of this weight, but you're still talking about a car that weighs more than 4,000lbs. But Bentley has a solution for this, lots of power. The car debuted with a 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 engine producing 552 horsepower.

For the 2012 model year, a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 has joined the lineup. The V8 is a much more advanced engine, even if it is smaller, and although it produces less power, the difference in performance isn't even noticeable without some sophisticated timing equipment. The new V8 also means a lower base price, bringing the price tag down to $175,000. Even without the lower price, the Continental has been a huge success for Bentley right from the start. In the first year of the car's production, Bentley went from selling about 1,000 per year to selling more than 7,000.

They hit 10,000 in 2007, and although they took a hit when the economy tanked, they've now almost completely recovered. This highlights one possible problem with the Continental: it isn't what you'd call exclusive. No car costing $175,000 is exactly common, but this is easily the most popular car in the $150,000-$200,000 range. That's fine if you don't absolutely have to be the only one on your block to have one, and exclusivity does tend to cost a lot more, but just remember that not too many of your fellow vacationers in Monaco will be impressed when you turn up with one.

Image issues aside, if you take the Continental GT purely as a machine, it is truly excellent. Several different versions have been built as well, and it is expected that this will be expanded to Porsche 911-like proportions. There is the expected convertible GTC, and a Zagato-bodied version known as the GTZ. There is a performance version known as the GT Speed, and this was followed up by the Supersports, the fastest and most powerful car ever made by Bentley. Despite its massive size, the Supersports will still hit 62mph in 3.9 seconds and it can pull 1.29g on a skidpad.

That's pretty impressive, even if that kind of performance seems weird in a car of this size. The special editions are nice, but the standard car is already the perfect GT. The only problem with it might be that once you get it out on the open road, you might never want to go home.

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