Bentley's all-steel monocoque is assembled and painted at VW's plant in Mosel, Germany, and shipped to the refurbished Bentley works in Crewe, England -- is Rock of Gibraltar solid. Like the Audi A8L, the C-GT uses lightweight aluminum suspension pieces -- double A-arms in front, attached to a stainless-steel subframe, and multi-links in the rear -- to minimize unsprung mass.
Exquisitely calibrated, the ride is firm, sporty but never flinty. The weight of the car is carried by four-way-adjustable air springs. Body motions are nulled out with magnetorrheic dampers like those on the Audi A8L, so roll, pitch and dive are pretty much strangled before they have a chance to gather strength. Cornering is remarkably flat for so big a car. Ride height can be adjusted from the cabin, as can suspension stiffness.
The AWD system shunts power fore and aft up to a maximum split of 80%-20%, which, combined with traction and stability control and stupendous 15.9-inch front and 13.2-inch rear brake rotors (the largest on any production car), gives the C-GT effortless athleticism that would flatter a car weighing half a ton less. The steering is lively, quick and heavy.
Cabin appointments are what you might expect -- our test vehicle was lined with double-stitched aubergine and taupe hides, extravagantly contoured book-matched burled walnut and gorgeous carpeting. All the Bentley pieties are observed: the chrome organ-stop vent controls; the chrome ball-shaped vents; the knurled metal dials for the headlights, seat heaters, steering wheel adjustments, and so on, like those on a vintage Leica camera.
The power-adjustable, heated and massage-equipped seats are supremely comfortable. The driving position, on the high-pedestal seat, offers natural posture, with a good outward view.
The rear seat compartment is fully furnished with a walnut-trimmed center console, fold-down armrest, roll-top cup holder compartment and scalloped seating areas, but, alas, something in this car had to give, and it was the rear seat space. I couldn't squeeze my feet into the foot well. This is a 2+2 car in only the formal sense. On the other hand, the trunk space is surprisingly generous, and with its ski pass-through, you can make haste to the slopes with your skis inside the car.
The stereo system? The best I've ever heard on wheels.
Given all the capabilities of the car -- DVD, navigation, searchable virtual handbook, integrated phone, traffic reports and more -- the C-GT makes admirable use of its dashboard real estate. Higher-order functions, such as the navigation system, have their own buttons. The LCD screen is banked with eight option buttons, which will give you most of the functionality you might require. A central rotary knob allows you to adjust, intuitively, things like suspension stiffness -- turn right for stiffer, turn left for softer. This is a great system.
It is, in fact, the same system that appears in the VW Phaeton. If you look closely, you will see a lot of parts shared by the C-GT with its VW cousins and siblings, though obviously the Bentley has its own control caps and surfaces.
Here is the question: Is a Bentley, which its makers proclaim as the quintessential British grand touring car, less a Bentley for its German accent? I think not. First, without VW, there would in all likelihood not be a Bentley today, and the car world would be the poorer for it. Second, VW is one of the premier auto companies in the world, at the cutting edge of just about everything, and the C-GT's general excellence is the welcome consequence.
There are cars more exotically kitted out. For sheer density of technology, look to the Mercedes-Benz S600 or the BMW 760iL. The Bentley, for example, declines to have the hydraulic door and latch closers seen on these cars.
What the Bentley offers is its formidable presence. Not perfect but so very soulful.
Is it worth $150,000? Depends on who's buying. In Los Angeles, people who are spending $130,000 for a S600, I think, would gladly pony up the extra 20 large for a car so utterly distinctive and stylish. The C-GT price point -- roughly two-thirds that of the Bentley Arnage -- makes this beau ideal of British grand touring accessible to a much wider audience than Bentley has ever before entertained. The closest competitor is the Aston Martin Vanquish, which is no slouch but costs about $90,000 more.
Though grand-marque offerings such as the Rolls-Royce Phantom and the Mercedes Maybach are moving very slowly, Bentley has 2,800 U.S. orders for just 2,200 imported units scheduled to hit American dealerships this spring.
Is it worth the money? The question seems to be answering itself.
2004 Bentley Continental GT
Wheelbase: 108.1 inches