A Stop In Barstow With $227,000 Worth Of Car
When you mention automotive luxury brands from England, two names come to mind: Rolls-Royce and Bentley. The latter didn’t make it through the Great Depression though, and it went up for sale in 1931. Engine builder Napier & Son was poised to purchase Bentley, but Rolls-Royce swept in at the last minute and won the bidding. We'll save the messy history of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Napier for another day.
The company we know as Bentley Motors today is actually the remnants of Rolls-Royce Motors Limited, which Volkswagen acquired in 1998. The confusing deal gave VW the rights to the Rolls-Royce mascot, trademark grille, and the Bentley factory in Crewe, Cheshire, England. Since the 1980s, Rolls-Royce and Bentley vehicles were essentially badge-engineered and rolled out of the same Crewe factory. But under Volkswagen ownership, Bentley is able to take advantage of the German automaker's platforms to create unique vehicles of its own, starting with the first-generation Continental GT in 2003.
For the second year in a row, we turned our CES 2014 road trip into an opportunity to go hands-on with a press car, ditching the boy-racer Nissan GT-R for something able to fit four actual human beings. We called our friends at Bentley and borrowed a beautiful Continental GT V8. Our goal: to figure out why someone would spend more than $200,000 on a car. Join us as we drive from Los Angeles to Bakersfield to Las Vegas and back.
Keeping It Classy
Being a member of the Volkswagen Group has its advantages, the biggest being access to solid platforms. The Bentley Continental GT utilizes the D1, which is also at the heart of the VW Phaeton. Unlike Audi's A8, which rides on a VW D3/D4 platform, D1 employs steels instead of aluminum. Nevertheless, Bentley makes extensive use of superformed aluminum to keep the Continental GT V8's weight "down" to 5060 lbs.
The Continental GT V8 is unmistakably Bentley in its style, with four round head lights and a distinctive winged badge. The car looks classy. And yet, the sculpted swoops and wheel flares are aggressive. Every line flows with the body. It isn't (and doesn't need to be) exaggerated in any way. Bentley applies some chrome trim, but doesn’t overdo it. Even the grille is lightly wrapped in chrome and then blacked out.
Lighting The Way
Bentley employs bi-xenon projector headlights surrounded by LED-based projected supplemental lights on the Continental GT V8. The running lights leverage LED technology as well.
As you might imagine, driving the Continental GT V8 at night is made more enjoyable by its capable lighting system. The headlights illuminate more of the road with brighter output than we're used to, making it easy to see obstacles ahead (even through the thick fog we encountered in the mountains above Tehachapi).
A Distinguished Derriere
You'll find bright LEDs around back as well, which no doubt helped make us more visible in that dense fog. While the tail lights have a conventional shape, the inner light pattern consists of stacked ovals that brightly notify other drivers on the road of your presence. Bentley integrates rear fog lights too, which we put to use during our trip. The oval shape is held consistent in the dual figure-eight exhaust pipes.
So Fresh And So Clean
The car we drove to Vegas came in a stunning pearlescent color that Bentley calls Ghost White. This is an option, and it's not cheap. The company charges $12,045 for the Ghost White finish, which is incidentally right about what you'd pay for a brand new base model 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage. It'd be hard for most of us to justify spending 12 grand on a paint job, but it looks good. And if you have the cash for a Bentley, paying more to set it apart makes sense.
Wild Horses Couldn't Keep Me Away
There's a twin-turbo 4.0 L V8 engine powering the Continental GT, and it's borrowed from Audi. This particular implementation yields 500 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque, and it sounds hypnotically melodious. I found myself mashing the gas pedal every chance I got, though Bentley does enable cylinder deactivation technology to save fuel, if you have more self-control. Surprisingly, despite my lead foot, the Continental GT V8 showed that we got 23 MPG during our week with the car. The EPA rating is 15 MPG in the city, 24 MPG on the highway, and 18 MPG combined. In comparison, we realized less than 16 MPG from Nissan's GT-R last year.
The Bentley is equipped with our favorite transmission, the ZF eight-speed automatic. We've encountered this gearbox in a number of vehicles, including the Jaguar F-Type, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Audi A8L. It hasn't disappointed us yet. Shifts are quick in standard, sport, and manual drive modes. The transmission sends power to all four wheels using a 40/60 split for greater rear-biased driving enjoyment. Bentley utilizes a Torsen-based all-wheel drive system, also referred to as Quattro by Audi.
It's What's On The Inside That Counts
Have a seat in one of the Continental GT V8's front seats and you start to see why Bentley can charge almost $100,000 more than Audi's S8. The interior is covered in leather; there are no soft touch or hard plastic surfaces anywhere. Even after dropping the car off to head home, the Continental GT V8's smell lingers sweetly in my mind.
All of the metal you see inside is aluminum. It makes a clink sound when you tap on it. This isn't something you get from lesser vehicles, which often sport painted plastic. Bentley pays great attention to small details, and the craftsmanship is evident every time you make a pass over the seats, the center stack, or the steering wheel.
Our press car came with the Sports Specification option, which adds $8,145 to its price, but arms you with a full carbon fiber interior. This is real dry carbon fiber, not the cheap shiny stuff you can find online. And I have to say that it really gussies up the black and red leather.
Entry-Level Infotainment Capabilities
Bentley taps the older VW HDD-based navigation system, which is unfortunate because Audi uses much nicer technology powered by Nvidia GeForce graphics with Google Earth map overlays. It's hard to be too disappointed when you're surrounded by otherwise-sublime engineering. But as enthusiasts, we're always looking for more advanced infotainment. Fortunately, we didn't have any trouble finding our way around Vegas, aside for a few roads that were under construction. But that's Las Vegas for you.
I'm more inclined to ding the Continental GT's navigation system for its touchscreen interface, which isn't very responsive and required multiple presses to register input on more than one occasion. The graphics look like come from the early 2000s. At least the map data is stored on a 30 GB hard drive, rather than DVDs.
The infotainment system does support Google Search and online traffic data, though it requires a compatible phone. Also, it relies on rSAP (remote SIM access profile) to take advantage of online features. My CyanogenMod 11-equipped HTC One doesn't support this, so I wasn't able to test the online features. I'd really like to see Bentley improve the technology that appears inside its Continental GT, or even modernize it using hardware from elsewhere in the Volkswagen Group; I'd expect more even in a cheap sub-compact.
Limited Options For Adding Your Own Music
Compounding our disappointment with the infotainment system, Bentley does not expose USB connectivity for listening to music. Instead, there’s an SD card slot under the display, and the memory card sits flush in the dash once you insert it. USB would really be nice though, if only for charging smartphones.
What's That Slot For?
Right about now is where we realized that the missing features and fancy tech were likely related to Bentley's target demographic. Pop open the car's glove box and you're greeted with an old-school six-disc CD changer. Surely there are a lot of old wealthy folks who have a ton of optical media.
Fortunately, the tech-savvy aren't left out in the cold. Bentley includes a 30-pin connector for previous-gen iPods and iPhones.
Bentley's Premium Sound System
The standard audio system in the Continental GT V8 sports eight channels and eight speakers. As you're starting to see, however, this press car is armed with a lot of factory options. Sure enough, the “Naim for Bentley” Premium Audio System option box is checked off. The $7300 upgrade gets you 15 channels and 11 speakers.
I frankly didn't care for the system at first, but that was probably because I kept the volume levels low. After all, I was talking and listening to the engine. But once I was alone and able to crank up the volume, the system sprung to life. With flat tone settings, it sounded very neutral, rewarding me with good detail, clarity, and punch through the whole frequency range.