2009 Bentley Continental GT Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 9, 2009

With panache to spare, the 2009 Bentley Continental GT also has an appetite for speed—and fuel—that’s unrivaled among four-seat coupes and convertibles.

Luxury-car experts at TheCarConnection.com drove the 2009 Bentley Continental GT and GTC to bring you this hands-on road test of the Continental’s performance, styling, comfort, safety, and quality. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also evaluated competitive vehicles, to compare and contrast the Bentley Continental GT and GTC with other handcrafted four-seaters in its class.

Pro athletes cling to its seductive lines, and hip-hop deities are devoted to its stunning 12-cylinder power. It’s no wonder the 2009 Bentley Continental GT has single-handedly revoked the Bentley franchise’s age-old reputation as a dowager sedan and replaced that rep with a coolness unattainable by, say, today’s Rolls-Royce lineup.

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT/C lineup includes four distinct models. The Continental GT two-door coupe is complemented by a higher-powered version dubbed the GT Speed. A convertible Continental GTC is also offered in a Speed edition. The four coupes and convertibles start at a base price of $179,200, rising above $203,600 for the Continental GT Speed. The Bentley Continental GTC Speed provided to TheCarConnection.com for this hands-on road test (a 2010 model, with performance exceptions noted in this review) carried a sticker price of $276,405.

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The Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible put out distinctly different vibes, though both are two-doors derived from the Continental Flying Spur four-door. They share lower body panels, front ends, and trunks, but the elegant, massive lines of the pillarless coupe version come off as more enticingly modern to TheCarConnection.com’s editors. The Conti GT simply looks smaller with the roof in place, and sexier, too. The vivid creases alongside its body above its front and rear fenders find some relief in the coupe style; with the comely lid snipped off, the convertible sits a little more thickly on its haunches. It turns into more of a boulevardier shape, though it shares the coupe’s circular headlamps, chromed matrix grille, and LED tail lamps. Inside, it feels traditional, with Bentley logos, chrome, and wood trim on 24-hour watch across the Continental GT’s wide twin-binnacle dash. In the middle of the lavish trim sits a real Breitling timepiece, mingling with chrome air vent pulls, rich leather and wood, and delicate chrome detailing. The paneled-library effect is hushed even more in Mulliner Driving Specification, with its diamond-quilted leather seats, a knurled shift knob, and a three-spoke steering wheel. Speed versions of the coupe adopt the Mulliner trim as well as dark-finished metal trim, a rear spoiler, and wider exhaust pipes. In all, the Bentley Continental GT’s meaty outline may not be timeless like some Ferraris, but it is imposing; one look and you know this will be a driving event, not an ordinary commute.

The basics of Bentley Continental GT performance center around a single drivetrain: a 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, W-12 engine teamed to an all-wheel-drive system and a six-speed automatic shifter. The engine is unique and hugely powerful. In standard cars, it issues 552 horsepower, locomotive numbers that push the 5,500-pound Continental to 60 mph in less than 5.1 seconds in all versions; GT Speeds tick off 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, Bentley promises. That vivid acceleration has a soundtrack: a cardiac lope of its W-12 engine, more so on Speed versions, that signals something distinct underhood. The GT’s transmission is a stout piece, with six forward gears and paddle shift controls. Drivers can choose shift quality from comfort and sport driving modes, or change gears manually without a clutch pedal, through the paddles or the shifter lever. Seamless shifts happen in any range, with notably quicker action in Sport mode. The Continental GT also is fitted with standard all-wheel drive, with a Torsen differential doling out torque as traction needs shift, from front wheels to rear wheels. Fuel economy is a miserable 10/17 mpg.

An independent air suspension with computer-controlled shocks and a three-mode ride control called Continuous Damping Control (CDC), the 2009 Bentley GT rides like a hefty car should: very well in all circumstances, blunting any bump with sheer mass. Steering is light to the touch, always, but the brakes are big and deep—especially the $16,500 optional carbon-ceramic rotors, the most powerful brakes ever found on a production car, Bentley says. Its sheer mass dictates much of its handling—but far from sloppy, the Continental GT makes amazing work of quick corners, until its sheer size and price tag damp the spirits of the driver.

In its four-passenger, hardtop, or convertible body, the 2009 Bentley Continental GT fits in a vast amount of passenger space in front, with much less than expected in back. It’s 189.1 inches long—about the same as two Smart Fortwos—and the wheelbase is 108.1 inches, roughly the same as many mainstream four-door sedans. In front, driver and passenger have all sorts of shoulder and knee room, and headroom is ample in coupes. (In convertibles, it can be infinite.) Those front seats are fabulously supportive, too. In back, it’s less easy to get in and not nearly as roomy as expected. Like most sports cars, the Conti GT has a “drop”—the difference between front shoulder room and the “waist” of the car, or its rear seat width. Here the drop is about 10 inches, which would make an athletic suit cut, but in a four-adult car, makes for some grumbling. At least there’s a console between the rear seats, with a ski pass-through. And all seating positions are swaddled in some of the most obscenely well-chosen, well-fitted materials found in cars. Some switches might be almost randomly placed (finding the Hazard button can be a hazard), but the quality of construction is undeniable.

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT has advanced safety equipment, but neither NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested one of these ultra-luxury cars. All versions do offer standard front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and all-wheel drive. GTC Continentals also have rollover protection in the rear headrests, while Speed versions add sport-tuned stability control for more advanced drivers. A rearview camera is available.

The Continental GT is nearly a bespoke car—with enough handcrafted options and trim choices to make any single car a collector’s dream. The standard features on all four versions include electronic climate control; Bluetooth connectivity; soft-close doors and decklid; and DVD navigation that also controls climate and audion functions; as a result, they lead to some confusing logic while choosing a destination. Sirius Satellite Radio and a six-CD changer are standard, while a Naim-tuned 1,000-watt, 14-speaker audio system is a $6,000 option. In this test vehicle, the Naim system doesn't improve sound quality as much as expected, and does not allow the driver to choose settings for bass, treble, and other typical sound qualities. Convertibles add a power top that folds in 25 seconds and has an indulgent feel and great sound-damping ability. The Mulliner package of trim adds quilted leather, knurled chrome, and turned aluminum panels; all 2009 Continental GTs can be specified with a choice of lambs-wool rugs, 17 shades of leather, and five grains of wood trim. The few options include the Naim audio system; an iPod interface; 20-inch wheels; the carbon-ceramic brakes; and for later vehicles, a radar-based cruise control system.

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2009 Bentley Continental GT

Styling

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT and GTC look great, with a more modern and less imposing look than other ultra-luxury coupes.

Although the 2009 Bentley GT coupe and GTC convertible share quite a bit with the Continental Flying Spur sedan, the pillarless coupe version appears more modern.

Compared to some of its rivals, such as Rolls-Royce and Maybach, Automotive.com says the styling of Bentley Continentals “is more distinctive than that of those other more imposing, less elegant carriages that probe the limits of how large a car should be.”

“The Bentley's dramatic exterior shape, makes the Benz look even more like a frumpy Solara than usual,” Edmunds remarks, adding, “check out the quad circular headlamps, fastback profile and imposing 19-inch wheels—now that's attitude.”

The Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible also share the same elegant, massive lines but are visually disparate from one another. For 2009 the Continental GTC lineup gets a new front grille.

“The GTC looks much like the GT in front of the windshield, but the GTC's rear deck has a chrome strip around the passenger compartment,” says Cars.com. “The GTC has pronounced rear fenders, as well as four round headlamps with chrome bezel surrounds. The GTC's wire-mesh grille has been revised and is now more upright, with a larger lower air intake.” Edmunds determines the convertible top closes in approximately 25 seconds and adds, “Thanks to a modified version of the coupe's rear suspension, the top folds completely flat and maintains a sleek profile.”

The interior of the Bentley has a traditional feel with Bentley logos, chrome, and wood trim on 24-hour watch across the Continental GT’s wide twin-binnacle dash.  The convertible top is available in different colors, as are the styles of wood trim.

“The Bentley Continental GT's cabin is a standout, even in this rarefied segment. The metal accents, rich wood trim and soft leather will make buyers feel as if they got their money's worth and then some,” says Edmunds. “There's a charming old-world feel to the whole affair, highlighted by push-pull vent controls, a Breitling timepiece, and switches and levers constructed of real metal.” Cars.com reports “luxury features include six natural, unbleached, laser-cut wood veneers and 17 different colors and styles for the leather-wrapped upholstered interior.”

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2009 Bentley Continental GT

Performance

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT accelerates quickly and guzzles fuel—as you would expect—yet it outhandles some smaller sporty coupes easily.

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT and GTC models are powered by a unique 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, W-12 engine outputting 552 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque.

“This massive engine whisks the big Bentley from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds en route to a 12.8-second quarter-mile at 108 mph—not quite as quick as the CL600, but still good enough to match the Audi R8 supercar,” says Edmunds.

“Even with 5500 pounds to haul around and all-wheel drive, the Continental's thrust is capable of chirping tires as it hurtles you effortlessly to the horizon or merge lane,” reports Automotive.com. They add, “always smooth, it builds power progressively and without harshness, characteristics displayed also by the transmission as the car lunges forward to a terminal velocity of more than 190 mph.”

“Ample, smooth power is available immediately from a stop, and the standard all-wheel drive maximizes traction under all conditions,” says ConsumerGuide. "The all-wheel drive pretty much ensures that no amount of throttle will rotate the tail," reports Car and Driver. "Push hard and all you ever get is understeer."

The GT’s transmission features six forward gears and paddle shift controls. Drivers can choose shift quality from comfort and sport driving modes, or change gears manually without a clutch pedal, through the paddles or the shifter lever. ConsumerGuide Automotive says, “The automatic transmission shifts smoothly in normal driving and more sharply under heavy throttle. There's a bit of a delay before it downshifts for passing, but power arrives in abundance once it does.”

Scrubbing speed from such a hefty car could be difficult, but of course the Bentley is up to the task. “Slowing from high speeds requires strong brakes, and the Continental delivers as smoothly and progressively as it builds momentum. Simply press on the pedal, and the harder you press the sooner you'll stop,” says Automotive.com. If the stock 16-inch front discs aren’t enough, Bentley has available carbon-ceramic brakes on GT models with 20-inch wheels.

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT rides very well in all circumstances, blunting any bump with sheer mass. An independent air suspension with computer-controlled shocks and a three-mode ride control called Continuous Damping Control (CDC) are standard equipment.

Edmunds editors “found the Bentley Continental GTC to be a tremendously dynamic drive, while remaining buttoned down throughout. To make up for lost body stiffness due to the lack of a fixed roof, Bentley has fitted the GTC with additional structural reinforcements.” Car and Driver further commends the GTC's handling, reporting "minimal body roll, and lateral grip is tenacious," although they criticize the steering for being "heavy and a little leaden."

Need we mention mileage? “Fuel economy, should anyone care, is EPA estimated at 10 mpg city/17 highway and 13 combined,” reports Edmunds. And Automotive.com says, “Discussions on CO2 emissions should be avoided, even if they are slightly improved for 2008.”

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2009 Bentley Continental GT

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT is marvelous for two, and the cabin is quiet, comfortable, and lavish in look and feel.

The 2009 Bentley Continental, in either hardtop or convertible versions, is spacious and comfortable up front but less so in back—which is surprising considering its 189.1-inch body length.

ConsumerGuide says, “Entry and exit are complicated by a low seating position,” but “once inside, these Bentleys coddle with large, supportive seats."  Automotive.com reports, “The two-door models sport very comfortable bucket seats that you'd label a tailored fit in apparel, with integral headrests, and available massage; hefty releases and fore/aft switches ease entry to the rear seat.”

“The GTC can seat up to four people on front and rear bucket seats, though the rear seats would likely only be comfortable for children,’ says Cars.com. But ConsumerGuide warns, "Small adults will fit, but won't be very happy about it. Headroom is adequate for those up to about 5'8", but there's scant foot space, and kneeroom is very tight behind a 6-foot driver.” Edmunds notes that there's room in back "only if those in front are in a generous mood; otherwise, the backseat is good for parcels and puppies only.” Car and Driver also confirms that "the back seat can still hold two adults but only for about 20 minutes."

The fit and finish of the 2009 Bentley Continental is almost without rival. “One doesn't speak of materials in a Continental as plastic is employed rarely, and only at a touch point for some switches where it is the best substance for the job,” says Automotive.com, adding “one need only look upward to the headliner to find stitched hides like a fine briefcase, or in the convertible, a fully insulated and lined fabric top that even has an interior light in the middle of it.”

According to ConsumerGuide Automotive, “Large, classy-looking gauges are easy to read at a glance. Most controls are within arm's reach, and though some are mounted low on the dashboard, Bentley manages to group them logically without resorting to the 'one-knob' systems that plague Audi, BMW, and Mercedes vehicles.” And controls also employ an ease of operation. “Interior controls are intuitive enough that most drivers will be able to figure everything out without cracking the owner's manual,” says Edmunds. Automotive.com reports, “Deeply recessed analog instruments with non-glare covers and a new TFT information panel transfer the variety of data and directions available via the steering wheel and infotainment controls.”

“In-cabin storage includes only a modest center console, smallish door pockets, and a midsize glovebox,” says ConsumerGuide Automotive, also noting, “Small opening and a narrow cargo area limit the size of items that can be squeezed into the trunk, although total volume is sufficient for weekend trips.” Edmunds comments, “The 13-cubic-foot trunk provides ample cargo space for a car of this type.”

The 2009 Bentley Continental GTC boasts a quiet, refined interior almost unlike that of any other soft-top convertible. Car and Driver observes that the GTC "is but one decibel noisier than its tin-topped forebear."

“Even with the top down,” says Automotive.com, “the sound system is stout and clear enough to hear the pedal tones and real organ stops on pipe organ recordings.” Edmunds predicts,” With the top down, expect noise to pick up considerably above 50 mph.”

On the GT model, “Double-pane side glass blocks wind noise and helps keep the cabin as quiet as a reading room,” says Edmunds. And ConsumerGuide remarks, “Womb-like silence is broken only by occasional patter of huge tires over patchy pavement and the engine's refined purr during acceleration.”

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2009 Bentley Continental GT

Safety

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT hasn’t been crash-tested, but its mass and safety gear imply few injuries in an accident.

The 2009 Bentley Continental features front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and all-wheel drive. GTC Continentals also have rollover protection in the rear headrests. A rearview camera is available.

However, neither NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested one of these ultra-luxury cars.

Few reviewers actually speak about safety in the GT or GTC, surprisingly. Reports Automotive.com, “Virtually every safety system is standard, with two-stage frontal airbags, side airbags for all doors, side curtain airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, tire air pressure monitors, and on the GTC Convertible, reinforced windshield frame and pop-up rear seat rollover bars. Active safety software includes eight-generation electronic stability control, all-wheel drive, rain-sensing wipers, HID headlamps with washers, fog lamps front and rear, and antilock brakes with brake assist.”

In regard to vision, Automotive.com finds rear and quarter vision in the convertible superior to that in the coupe, thanks to the higher roof line, larger side windows, and distortion-free rear glass window that is wider than the view available through the inside mirror.

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2009 Bentley Continental GT

Features

The 2009 Bentley Continental GT allows buyers to custom-fit their car with high-end audio, tech-savvy add-ons and an array of wood and leather trims.

According to Edmunds, “The 2009 Bentley Continental GT is a premium luxury coupe available in one loaded trim level.” Of the GTC model, Automotive.com says, “Luxury and labor-saving devices are abundant, with trunk, folding roof and door-sealing all performed at the touch of a button.”

Standard equipment includes Bluetooth connectivity, bi-xenon headlamps with washers, electronically adjustable air suspension, soft-close doors, a full leather interior with a choice of primary and secondary hides in 17 colors, a power opening/closing trunk, 14-way power heated front seats, 19-inch wheels, multizone automatic climate control with rear-seat controls, DVD navigation, and a 10-speaker stereo with satellite radio and a glove-box-mounted six-CD changer.

Sirius Satellite Radio and a six-CD changer are also standard, while a Naim-tuned 1,000-watt, 14-speaker audio system is a $6,000 option. In TheCarConnection.com’s test vehicle, the Naim system doesn't improve sound quality as much as expected, nor does it allow the driver to choose settings for bass, treble, and other typical sound qualities.

Edmunds lists options as “virtually limitless (though you'll pay handsomely for them)…There are also a variety of special-order options known as Mulliner Driving Specification that range from more exclusive veneers and lamb's-wool carpeting to diamond-quilted seating surfaces and specialized exterior paint colors.”

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9.0
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Styling 8.0
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Comfort & Quality 10.0
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