Our long-term Bentley Continental GT: the seven-month verdict

Published: 22 December 2020

► Lockdown life with a Bentley coupe
► New Continental GT long-term test
► We live with the latest V8 coupe 

What a surreal blur the past year has been. Daily life turned on its head, viral lockdowns and the biggest jolt to society in a century. The GT's arrival coincided with arrival of the pandemic and provided a daily dose of lockdown luxury to ease the hurt all around. During dark times, the V8 provided some light relief. To retreat to its leather-bound cabin was to isolate yourself from the chaos, cocooned in a double-glazed Bentley bubble away from real life.

It's been a strange juxtaposition at times. In my welcome report (lower down this page) I wondered if driving a Bentley at a time of national crisis might jar – but it really hasn't. While the St James Red paintwork and de-chromed Blackline specification might've looked good in photos, they did draw a little extra attention, but nobody sneered. In fact, the car has drawn largely positive comments from passers-by.

For this is a superlative GT. Our half year behind the wheel might've involved fewer long journeys than we would normally undertake, and total mileage a whisker short of 3k tells its own story. But as restrictions eased, we took the Bentley on a couple of longer trips to stretch its legs. And this is where it truly shone.

Bentley Continental GT: the 2020 long-term test

The Conti performed admirably as a daily shopper, its large 358-litre boot handling all the shopping we threw at it and even weekend-away luggage for four. Those rear seats are perfectly comfortable even for tall teenagers and adults, so long as you compromise front legroom a little. We sought out larger parking bays at the supermarket, but the reversing cameras are excellent and, at 2187mm wide, its footprint is just on the acceptable side of daunting in urban manoeuvres.

But who spuffs £150 big ones on a Bentley shopping trolley? What I'll remember the GT for are its eponymous grand touring abilities, demonstrated ably on longer runs to Goodwood and Dorset, family in tow, and this is where a century of Crewe tradition came up trumps. There are few finer ways to dispatch a three-hour journey: seats set to massage and chill/heat, Naim stereo banging out some mighty tunes, adaptive dampers set to Comfort... Long journeys pass in a jiffy, the languid V8 barely audible on a long motorway drive.

Yet turn off trunk roads and the Continental comes alive. It's no sports car – and I regret we kept winter Pirellis on the car all year, blunting precision – but on your favourite back road, in Custom mode to tailor dampers/steering response/engine just so, this car can be hustled and bustled with the best.

Author Tim Pollard looks back at half a year in a Bentley Conti GT

When it clears its throat, the twin-turbo 4.0-litre musters a proper V8 cackle and is seriously quick, yet we managed to push economy past 30mpg at a cruise. Our half-year average was a more costly 23.2mpg (as near as dammit the official claim). Reliability was excellent (as it should be after just 3000 miles of pottering) and build quality was faultless. Only a small bit of carpet trim coming adrift from the bootlid caused any concern, but I was left impressed by the way they build cars in Crewe.

The virus is still with us, but the Continental isn't. We're missing it already and would wholeheartedly recommend one, should you have a GT-shaped hole in your garage and a spare £1700 or so in your PCP piggy bank each month. With its third generation it's matured into a mighty fine all-rounder. And the cheapest two-door Bentley is all you need – we'd pick the V8 over the W12.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe

Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 23.2mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2
Energy cost 24.2p per mile
Miles this month 656
Total miles 7980


Month 6 living with a Bentley Continental GT: Brit twin test

Our Conti GT V8 took on the Aston DB11 at Goodwood (photos by Alex Tapley)

Our Conti met up with Ben Miller's Aston Martin DB11 AMR for a Brit brute face-off at Goodwood. It was our first outing after the first nationwide lockdown, and the big Bentley felt remarkably at home at the West Sussex circuit, its huge reserves of torque and peerless traction making it a slingshot experience on track (even if its heavy weight and GT sensibilities blunted the fun factor compared with the nimble Aston). You can read the full comparison test here.


Month 5 living with a Bentley Continental GT: watch our video review!

See our video review of the latest Bentley Continental GT V8 in our new film above, as keeper Tim Pollard guides you through what the big red coupe is really like to live with as a daily driver.

Don't forget you can see more of CAR magazine's videos on our YouTube channel here - don't forget to subscribe!

Read on for more of our regular long-term test diary updates, as we uncover the car's true character over an extended test.


Diary update: how practical is the Conti GT?

Bentley Continental GT boot

One of the great surprises of living with a Bentley Continental GT is discovering its immense practicality. The boot is a decent shape and very easy to load, with a good opening. Naturally, it's entirely automated so it opens at the touch of a button (either the flying B badge on the boot or the key).

Because this is a tin-top coupe, it's really a question of stuffing as much as you can in the loadbay's 358 litres for a long weekend away - we were constantly surprised by how much you can fit in, and the ski hatch meant we could carry the paddle for our inflatable kayak with ease. It proved a remarkably versatile companion.

2+2 seats in the Bentley Continental GT

And those +2 rear seats are actually very comfortable and spacious - even fully grown adults can get comfy back there. They're just as opulent as the front seats, trimmed in the lovely leather that Crewe specialises in and occupants are surrounded by the same quilted hide as front-seat passengers.

You'll have to sacrifice some front legroom to provide enough space for the limbs of taller occupants, but we managed several four-hour journeys four-up with no complaints.

Who would have thought it: the Bentley Conti sports car doubles up extremely well as sensible family transport!

By Tim Pollard


Month 4 of our Bentley Continental GT long-term test: the red car in detail

Pillar-box red Bentley meet Royal Mail box and timeless British telephone kiosk

Three red British icons
What is it about pillarbox-red British institutions? Parking our Conti next to a traditional post and phone box made for a poignant snap. Will the GT have such enduring design clout? I’m a fan of the restrained elegance, but predict it won’t age as well as Sir Giles Scott’s distinctive kiosk. Only time will tell…

Conti LTT front

A right grilling
That enormous grille lends a brutish face to our car, especially in contrasting matte black on St James’s Red paintwork. It’s hardly subtle. The latticework grille is plastic – none of the wire-frame grilles of yore – and punctuated by carbuncular, cyclopic cameras and radar sensors. Big Brother is watching you…

Conti LTT fuel cap

Mulliner, if you please
It’s easy to go overboard when ticking the boxes and our single most expensive option is the Mulliner Driving Specification, at £11,580. That brings gargantuan 21-inch wheels, quilted hide seats and door trims, plus embroidered Bentley headrests. Further tactile niceties include the machined metal fuel filler cap, pedals and oil cap.

Conti LTT parked

Little and large?
Two more different cars I cannot imagine. Parking next to this fabulous 2CV belonging to James Walshe of Practical Classics magazine reminded me how big the Continental is. At 2187mm wide and 4850mm long, it’s a colossus, weighing in at a chunky 2.2 tonnes – nearly four times the featherweight Citroën!

Our Bentley is riding on Pirelli Sottozero winter tyres - even in a hot summer!

Winter tyres in summer
Our V8 arrived on Pirelli Sottozeros at the tail end of winter. Now it’s deep summer and temperatures have (occasionally) soared, I was worried how the compound would perform. Perhaps needlessly: grip is still excellent, wear appears insignificant and only squidgier steering feel lets the side down.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe

Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 21.2mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2
Energy cost 25p per mile
Miles this month 410
Total miles 6120


Month 3 of our Bentley Continental GT V8 long-term test: this or the W12?

Ours is the 542bhp V8

Three months in and I’m wondering if picking the V8 rather than the W12 was a step down in any way. The twin-turbo 6.0-litre range-topping W12 arrived with the Mk1 Conti in 2003 and is still available today now that the coupe has reached its third generation. But the majority of customers pick the smaller engine – hardly surprising as the price compares favourably (£151,800 plays £163,100) and there are advantages in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions too. Even at this rarefied strata of the market, such things matter. It’s a more modest Bentley for these straitened times.

You’d be hard-pressed to tell from behind the wheel, though. Not once have I felt short-changed by the absence of one third of the engine’s swept volume or hankered for a further four cylinders. 

And if you’re worried about appearances, only a tiny V8 badge behind the front wheelarch gives the game away; and it’s a delete option, so nobody need ever know.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe

Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 16.1mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2
Energy cost 26p per mile
Miles this month 323
Total miles 5710


Diary update: the £4770 Bentley Rotating Display

Bentley Continental GT Rotating Display option

One of the Bentley's party pieces is the 007-style rotating central display, which flips between giant touchscreen, three analogue dials and then disappears away behind the piano black veneer when parked up. It's very cool and the first thing you'll show to new passengers, who'll generally coo and make a reference to one J.Bond Esq.

It's very effective and the precision with which it swivels and slots into place on each turn is mesmerising. You can see it in action in our short video clip in the tweet below.

 

 

But we've been pondering it over the first few months and realise we leave it locked on multi-control touchscreen most of the time. Why? Because that's how we operate, well, everything really: sat-nav, stereo, phone operation... It's kinda natural that it spends 95% of its time on this view, as that's what it's designed for.

How often have I used the stopwatch on the analogue dials side? Err, not once. The compass? The sat-nav does this perfectly satisfactorily. And the outside temperature? Well, that's shown on the main instrument binnacle, so I've not needed that either.

I'm left thinking it's a piece of statement design, a party trick to wow passengers. And yourself - I do admit it raises a wry smile every morning when I climb in and the car awakes. But should it be a £4770 option on a car costing over £150k? Maybe not. 

By Tim Pollard


Month 2 living with a Bentley Continental GT V8: poring over the interior

Tim Pollard and his Bentley Continental GT V8

The thing about running your own Bentley is it makes you feel a little bit special every single day. In this job, we get to drive all kinds of vehicles from the sublime to the sub-prime – but the thrill of having a Conti on the drive is very real and still makes me double-take when the St James Red paintjob catches my eye from an upstairs window.

I’ve had ample time to get used to the Mk3’s styling now. The Conti GT has matured into a design clearly comfortable in its own skin. Generations one and two changed little over the years, but this one is noticeably tauter and tighter, a little less blobular than before. It’s a wardrobe that feels deserving of our car’s £151,800 base price.

‘Footballer spec’ and ‘Postman Pat’s gone up in the world’ are two of the less kind comments that greeted our Conti on arrival at CAR HQ. Blame the bright red paint with contrasting £3250 Continental Blackline dark grille, exhaust tips and window surrounds. All chrome is blacked-out for a sinister vibe, but I’m warming to the distinctive colour scheme in an age where so many car parks are clogged with silvers, greys and sludge browns. It’s bright and breezy and brings out the Conti’s sportier side.

It’s no shrinking violet, for sure, and that smoked grille dominates the front of the car. It’s huge – 95cm at the widest expanse of latticework – and has plenty of room to house Bentley’s front parking camera plus myriad sensors for enabling smart cruise control. More on these semi-autonomous features in a future report.

2020 Bentley Continental GT interior: a very special cabin

Climb onboard and the latest Continental is a cinch to drive. Gone are the days where you have to resort to the manual to decipher which button does what in a Bentley, and I’ve found the infotainment system easy to learn. It pairs easily with my iPhone and Blackberry, and tracks down the cheapest petrol locally.

The logic of the touchscreen is exemplary; it’s one area where Bentley is light years ahead of certain Italian thoroughbreds I could mention, and a good example of the Wolfsburg connection really helping out.

It’s telling that two-thirds of this report is taken up just by the quality and design heft of the Continental GT. The feelgood factor is sky-high before you even dab the start button and waken the 4.0-litre V8. We might’ve been limited to short, essential hops during the lockdown and had scant chance to stretch the Continental’s legs, explaining our current average of 16mpg. But the sun is out and, with the promise of better times to come, I can’t wait to plan a proper road trip befitting our car’s DNA.

What I’m hoping for is the opportunity to let it monster a long haul to Scotland for a weekend away or a dash to the south coast for a Goodwood meet; with adaptive dampers set to Comfort, the large 21-inch alloys eliminate most road patter with impressive ease and the pokey V8 can waft or wing it with the best of them. 

This vintage of Conti is full of promise – and I intend to uncork every last drop in my summer of being a Bentley Boy.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe

Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 16.1mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2
Energy cost 26.4p per mile
Miles this month 332
Total miles 5387


Month 1 of our Bentley Continental GT V8 long-term test: the introduction

Bentley Continental GT V8 long-term test

Bentley has quietly sewn up the £100k-£200k pocket of the grand tourer market ever since the first-generation Continental GT launched in 2003. It thrust Crewe into a hitherto unidentified white space in the automotive firmament: the playground of the successful, just-into-six-figures, grown-out-of-Mercedes-Benzes brigade. Now, with the latest Mk3, we’re going to spend a few months finding out just what that’s like.

Having been piloting a humble Ford Focus estate for the past year, I’ve now swapped into another red car of rather different lineage. Our gentleman’s express from Crewe is the more attainable V8 model, not the Continental W12, although our example has had a lot of options (£42,545’s worth!) added to take the list price sailing well past the 12-banger’s RRP. Our car in fact retails within a whisker of £200k. 

It arrived at CAR the same day we were sent home to work as the pandemic swept across Europe, and I can confirm that there are few finer places to self-isolate. As the door thudded closed in the car park, and the double glazing latched into generous seals, I was cocooned in splendid Bentley seclusion. Not many cars at this price can match the sense of occasion of this lounge, lifted by the dual-tone Porpoise and Cricket Ball leather. Sounds a bit of a spiky handful, actually looks elegant.

The hide is pungent and feelsome; none of this thin-to-the-touch, cheap-premium nonsense here. It’s complemented by a deep Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus over Grand Black veneer, whose party piece is the rotating central display – yes, another option costing a jaw-slackening £4770. This James Bond-inspired gadget lets you flick between the wide 12.3-inch touchscreen, a bank of three winningly analogue dials (temperature, compass and stopwatch) or a plain wooden panel, each swivelling into place with chronometric precision. It’s great fun, but we’ll reserve judgment until the novelty’s worn off (if it ever does).

Cleverly, it all feels authentically Bentley, from the traditional, touchy-feely organ-stop air vents to the hewn-from-solid door handles; there are precious few signs that this car hails from the same wider stable as the VW Polo. You may find some of the wilder gadgets a little outré for this most gentlemanly British of car brands (do we really need heated armrests? A steering wheel festooned with 14 buttons?) but this reflects the tech creep that afflicts all motor vehicles nowadays. If successful business types have stepped up into their first Bentley, perhaps they expect the same gizmos they enjoyed on their AMGs and 7-series.

Splendid isolation: CAR magazine's Tim Pollard turns Bentley Boy in the coronavirus lockdown

That first drive home, clutching laptop, chargers and enough notepads to see me through the uncertainties that lay ahead, was a brief glimpse into the Conti’s talents beneath the showroom swoon. Bentley has got first impressions off pat, but as we sailed serenely down an uncharacteristically deserted A1, I realised this long-term test was going to be eerily quiet in other ways too: the V8 is whisper-hushed at a cruise, even when it closes down one bank to operate as a four at light loads, and the soundproofing makes this an exceptionally refined cruiser. Bluetooth telephone conversations are much easier as a result.

Spear off the motorway and the Conti packs some serious punch. It’s hard to believe this is Crewe’s entry-level model, but its 542bhp is as vigorous as it sounds, an accompanying 568lb ft of twin-turbocharged wrench available all the way from 1960 to 4500rpm. It’s like the leather-bound reading room of the RAC suddenly catapulting you into the distance at closing time. I can’t wait to uncover more of this intriguing duality of purpose in the months ahead.

There’s much to find out. Is the V8 a better bet than the ostentatious W12? Can driving a Bentley at a time of national health and economic turmoil be acceptable? Will our car’s winter tyres go off as spring gives way to early summer? Just how much better will my music and podcasts sound on a £6595 Naim stereo? And  is the latest GT a car that’ll propel the legend of WO, Tim Birkin and those famous Bentley Boys well into their second century? Stay tuned for regular reports, as we indulge in a spot of Continental travel of our own making.

More Bentley long-term tests by CAR magazine

Logbook: Bentley Continental GT V8

Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 21.0mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2
Energy cost 26.4p per mile
Miles this month 280
Total miles 5055

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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