This is the swan song for the current Continental GT, which I first drove in July 2003 in Scotland, and a memorable drive it was. Later, I drove a different Conti GT at 165 mph in Death Valley; another drive for the mental scrapbook. As have always been the case, straight-line speed and acceleration are remarkable. Great exhaust note. But there are signs of age, and it is certainly time for the new Continental, which is going on sale in early 2011 and which we will be driving soon.
The navigation interface, for one, is very dated. It’s ironic that the nav system in a Hyundai Sonata is ten times better than the one in this Bentley. I enjoyed playing around with the adjustable suspension, which has four settings from comfort to sport. I managed induce a bit of oversteer on a couple of on-ramps, but it was easily controlled.
The interior of our test car was absolutely beautiful. This one is black with cream diamond-stitched inserts on seats and door panels with contrasting dark gray stitching. Wow. Machined aluminum faceplates to the instrument panel, center stack, and surround in front of the passenger are fetching-and well they should be, since I notice that they cost $7650.
From 110 mph to a hard stop, the brakes weren’t hugely inspiring as the pedal didn’t bite as quickly and as strongly as I would have liked. They did the job, ultimately, but you do feel the weight of this car when you’re asking it to decelerate quickly.
Remarkably big trunk; I filled it with lots of loot from Costco. Great stereo. We made a big splash at the Toyota dealership in Maumee, Ohio, where we were shopping for a used pickup truck.
It’s always interesting to look under the hood of the Conti GT to see how far forward and highly positioned the W-12 engine is; this is not good for weight distribution. The new car will have a V-8 (as an alternative to the W-12), which should help reduce the pendulum effect of the current car’s twelve-cylinder lump hanging off the front end.
All in all, still a very nice car, although you’d have to think carefully about all the other ways you could spend $237K. One other thing: when I filled the fuel tank, I could not figure out where the fuel cap would go; it’s on a tether but I couldn’t find a mount. So this beautiful aluminum cap was left dangling against the bodywork.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
It’s amazing how slipping into the driver’s seat of a really fancy car can make your cares wash away. I had a pretty bad head cold when I piloted the Series 51, but the Bentley cured me, if only briefly. In a perfect world, my doctor could prescribe a Bentley and my insurance would cover everything but a $20 copay …
I know this Continental is old and outdated (good grief, look at those terrible navigation graphics!), but the more I drove this one, the more I loved it. The quilted leather door panels and seats are succulent, as are the rich leather on the wheel and the headliner. Everything is extremely well wrought.
The exhaust note was surprisingly impressive, too, and the twelve-cylinder engine emits a wonderful back-pressure burble almost like a Shelby Mustang or a Dodge Viper.
By the way, Joe: there is a holster for that optional (and beautiful) $290 Mulliner fuel cap; it’s a small plastic hook, sized perfectly for the cap’s tether, at the top of the vertically swinging fuel door. A different detail of the Conti perplexed me, though: when you turn off the car, it instructs you to push and hold the start button to lock the steering wheel. I could not, for the life of me, manage to get this feature to work. I just kept restarting the vehicle. Oh well.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
This Bentley Continental GT Speed Series 51 marks the end for the first-generation Continental, so this last-chance drive has me thinking a lot about what I would love to see from the next car, due in early 2011. Paul Jones, the project leader, has promised the base Continental will offer “the agility of the Continental GT Speed with a better ride than the standard car.” I hope that leaves room for a sharper, more sport-focused Speed, as this car feels slightly dull and disinterested in curvy roads. I much prefer the Continental GT Supersports, which makes no apologies for its crisper ride. It’s sharper steering and stiffer suspension, not to mention the additional 21 horsepower, make it a significantly more direct, sporty car.
We also know that Bentley will offer a new V-8 alongside the tweaked twin-turbo W-12. While the V-8 will likely have a lower output, it stands to be the sportier engine. Along with reducing overall weight, the smaller block should reduce the amount of mass that hangs over the Continental’s front axle, helping handling and turn-in. Admittedly, Bentley has a rare niche with the Continental, successfully blurring the line between luxury, comfort, and sport unlike anything else out there. It’s a formula that’s clearly worked well, as the Continental is Bentley’s best-selling vehicle by a wide margin. Personally, though, I’m hoping the GT coupe and the Speed model can raise the agility that’s currently masked by the heft curb weight and questionable engine placement.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2010 Bentley Continental GT Speed Series 51
Base price (with destination and guzzler tax): $213,995
Price as tested: $237,175
6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Air suspension with manual adjustment
20-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels
Multi-zone electronic climate control
10-speaker audio with 6-disc CD changer
Sirius satellite radio
Power door latching
Power closing trunk lid
Premium hide interior
Stainless steel pedals and dead pedal
Hide-trimmed multi-function steering wheel
Embroidered Bentley emblems on seat facings
Electronic stability program
Tire pressure monitoring system
Options on this vehicle:
Aluminum tint — $7650
Fascia plus front and rear console panels and roof panel
Bentley premium audio system — $6900
Series 51 GT Speed — $5070
Convenience specification — $2820
Deep-pile carpet mats — $450
Mulliner alloy fuel-filler cap — $290
Key options not on vehicle:
Carbon ceramic brakes
10 / 17 / 13 mpg
Size: 6.0L twin-turbocharged W-12
Horsepower: 600 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1700-5600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Curb weight: 5170 lb
Wheels/tires: 20-inch wheels, 275/35R20 Pirelli P Zero performance tires