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Long-term test - 10 February 2009
Transit, Astravan, HiLux… and Continental? Running the Bentley as my only car means using it for some jobs that a Bentley just shouldn’t be used for, or at least not until it reaches that final, sad, Arthur Daley stage of its life. Mine’s not there yet – though it’s nearly four years old now – so it felt wrong to be using it for a trip to the local municipal dump.
The hugely friendly Wandsworth Council staff gave me a big grin and a thumbs-up as I arrived, doubtless hoping I was a credit-crunched city trader come to dump the car. Sadly for them it was just a load of recycling, stuffed into the Conti’s cavernous boot.
Eco-freaks will doubtless tell me that the environmental benefits of recycling about half a tonne of Christmas packaging are doubly outweighed by the impact of driving three miles to the dump and back in a 12-cylinder, 6.0-litre, twin-turbocharged car that struggles to average 13mpg in city use. But at least I’m trying.
And the trip proved again two of the car’s great advantages; genuine everyday usability, and the ability to turn even the most mundane trip into an event.
By Ben Oliver
£1460.00 (5401 miles)
Top engineers’ approval…
...but what would Gordon say?
I’d seriously considered parking the Bentley round the back when I drove it down to a party at Gordon Murray’s new design offices in Surrey recently; I had visions of the Lord of Lightness kicking me and my overweight, overly complex car off his premises. But I needn’t have worried; there were already two Continentals parked outside, including the chauffeur-driven Flying Spur of one of his major investors, so I figured I was safe and pulled up alongside.
After a few months of ownership the Conti doesn’t strike me as a particularly satisfying piece of engineering; a victim of the vicious cycle of adding more weight and power. But people who know more about cars seem to take it more seriously. The engineers I meet all want to know in great detail what it’s like to live with; it happened again a couple of nights ago with Jaguar’s top product guys. Most acknowledge that it is very heavy and very complex, but admire the breadth of its abilities – nearly 200mph, but four seats and a big boot - and what it did for Bentley’s sales before the global economy threw them into reverse. Their approval made me see the car in a new light, but I doubt Gordon would have been so kind had he seen it.
By Ben Oliver
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We wanted to run a ‘previously cherished’ Bentley as a long-term test car as much for the fact that it’s used as for the fact that it’s a 552bhp, blue-blooded British Bentley. We usually run box-fresh cars for a year, and the build quality of modern cars is such that it’s rare for anything to go wrong in that that time. We’d be disappointed if it did, though it would give us more to put in these reports.
We thought the hand-made Continental GT might be more obliging with stuff to write about as it moves into its fourth year, and by letting us down occasionally, it hasn’t let us down. It needed to go in for a routine recall on the oil filter a couple of months after delivery. That coincided with an outbreak of warning messages about the lights and brakes, all of which seemed to be working fine, an occasionally lumpy idle which would send the car kangarooing forward when idling in gear, the demise of the subwoofer which turned Led Zep in to Aled Jones circa 1986, and a glovebox that developed a definite droop.
This list looks like every recently acquired used-supercar owner’s worst nightmare, but fortunately this dealer-supplied GT comes with a year’s warranty. You don’t get told how much it cost Bentley to replace the oil filter, coils, high-level brake light and parking brake control module, rewire the subwoofer and rehang the glovebox, but I’m sure it wasn’t cheap.
It took eight days to do, or about one-eighth of the time I’d had the car up until that point. But dealing with the dealer is always a pleasure; they deliver and collect the car at short notice and bring yours back immaculately valeted. We’d wondered how the Bentley customer experience would compare to mere ‘premium’ brands; after recent bad experience with Audi (eye-wateringly expensive service, no delivery drivers for days, car returned uncleaned) it seems to measure up pretty well, though I’d rather it hadn’t had to go in in the first place.
There’s also the consolation of a Bentley courtesy car, though this was mostly due to the fact that the recall meant their usual Jaguar XFs were busy. The 500-mile, ’08-plate GT demonstrator I borrowed steered more lightly and rode more deftly than my ’05 car; I was surprised to see the antiquated sat-nav and iPod controls were the same. But I was glad my car has the black trim, rather than the pale magnolia of the courtesy car and which I’d thought I’d wanted on mine. After eight days, the leather-bound steering wheel and seat squab were embarrassingly grubby. I don’t think I’m particularly unhygienic, but maybe I don’t live the Howard-Hughes dirt-free life of a typical Bentley owner.
Finally, a word on fuel consumption. If you’ve been following the reports in the magazine you’ll know that the car initially struggled to hit 18mpg. That turns out to have been the high point so far; the worst from a tank has been 11.3mpg, with an average of 15.3mpg. I started out keeping the fuel figures displayed on the main screen in the dash; now it’s less painful to display something else.
I don’t mean to sound negative; I’m still getting a heart rate fluctuation every time I drive it, or even look at it; few cars can do that without asking your forbearance in other areas. But the reliability issues and fuel consumption ought to remind anyone considering buying something similar to have a long think first, even before we gauge how the tanking economy has affected its resale value. I suspect that plunging markets and the price of Bentleys are connected.
By Ben Oliver
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CAR is about to become the first magazine ever to run a long-term test on a Bentley. The car we’ve chosen is the Continental GT, easily Bentley’s biggest-selling model and the car that kick-started the company’s extraordinary tenfold growth in sales with its launch in 2003. It is arguably the most important Bentley ever.
Seeing more on the road doesn’t seem to have made them less desirable. Bentley still ranks as a super-premium brand alongside Ferrari or Aston Martin; the latter in particular has seen similar growth recently without losing its lustre.
But with Crewe cranking out over 11,000 cars each year, buying a used Bentley becomes a more attractive proposition. Supply makes them a little more affordable, though definitely not cheap. The typical first owner isn’t short of cash or other cars, and will have cared for it well and used it lightly. More importantly there’s a decent choice of age, mileage and – crucially in a bespoke car - trim; the options are endless, but you can get pretty close to the car you’d have asked Crewe’s craftsmen to make for you had you ordered it new. You get Volkswagen group standards of reliability, which wasn’t always the case in the past. You get the usual dealer finance and warranty facilities, but in rather more refined surroundings. And you get all this for less than the price of a mere premium-badged car like an Audi R8, a BMW M6, or any Mercedes-Benz CL.
That’s the theory. I’m going to test it over the next year. I’ve just acquired a 2005 Continental GT with 13,000 miles and one previous owner for £79,950. I’m not just testing whether you should buy a used GT; I’m seeing what it’s like to live with any GT, new or old, and whether Bentley’s claims that this is an everyday supercar, and one that can function as your only car with its big boot, decent visibility, four seats and four-wheel drive, really stack up.
And beyond that, I’m going to report on what it’s like to live with any supercar. Are the pleasures of an extraordinary cabin, the 552bhp performance and the image outweighed by clogged roads, speed cameras, green guilt, eye-watering fuel prices and worries about where you park it? In short, is there a place for a car like this on modern roads? It’s the most exciting, enjoyable long-term test we’ve ever run, but also the most significant and revealing. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go out and get started.
By Ben Oliver
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