For 2011 Bentley has decided to step up the rate of their decline into vulgarity. The latest blow to the marquee's once great image comes in the form of a V8 option for the Continental GT, something Bentley claims they are doing for their more "socially responsible" customers. Even if we were to ignore the fact that social responsibility is not likely a high priority for someone spending in excess of $200,000 on a car, it also seriously detracts from the air of sophistication Bentley has built up over the decades.
The decline in prestige all started with the release of the Continental GT in 2003. It is a very new money car. Every episode of MTV Cribs features at least one of them parked in the driveway of a McMansion and being talked about by someone who most likely doesn't know which one is the salad fork. James Bond drove a Bentley (in the novels) and until the Continental GT came along, this was the kind of sophistication we would associate with Bentley owners. A Bentley used to be for someone who would truly enjoy all of its refinements - and had never used the word "bitches."
The problem with the Continental GT is that it's a car for someone who cares what other people think of them, whether they want to show that they are being socially responsible, or they just want to brag about all of the money they suddenly have, it's still showing off. Someone spending this kind of money on a car shouldn't have to care what anybody thinks of them, that's a problem for the middle class. The whole idea of making that much money in the first place is that you no longer have to give a damn about other people.
As horrifyingly elitist as that might sound, it is still something that the makers of unbelievably expensive cars have always kept in mind until now. Remember that at 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in a Rolls-Royce is the electric clock, not your conscience. Bentley is not the first company that this has happened to. Rolls-Royce suffered from the exact same indignity in the 60's, possibly to an even greater degree. Some of their better known customers managed to make them look downright silly. Rolls-Royce recovered from this though, and hopefully Bentley too.
There really is a lot to like about the Continental GT as a car. It's a pleasant place to be, even for long periods of time. The 2011 has all new body panels, although you'd have to look pretty close to see where they've made the changes. It retains the same elegant shape even though drag has been reduced somewhat. The 6.0 liter twin-turbo W12 puts out 567 horsepower, which is as it should be. There is no word yet on what the power output from the V8 will be, but it is know that it will have a 4.0 liter displacement.