Bentley is now owned by Volkswagen and is no longer affiliated with Rolls-Royce, its luxury-car partner for 71 years. The Continental GT (grand touring) coupe was first unveiled at the 2002 Paris Motor Show and made its U.S. debut at the 2003 North American International Auto Show. At that time, the car was referred to as a GT Design Concept and was not yet ready for production.
The Continental GT coupe is striking in design. It is a full four-seat coupe that has four-wheel drive. Its 552-horsepower, 6.0-liter W-12 engine breathes with the assistance of twin turbochargers; it drives a paddle-operated six-speed sequential automatic gearbox that promises supercar performance. The “W” configuration makes this engine unusually compact. Bentley claims the Continental GT coupe’s top speed is over 190 mph and it can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds.
Bentley emphasizes the GT’s racing skills, performance potential and posh attributes. Over the past year or more, Bentley has demonstrated a considerably revived interest in motorsports by focusing on the burning urge to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Two Speed 8 models also entered the Sebring, Fla., 12-hour race in March 2003 — they were the first Bentleys to do so in 80 years.
According to Bentley, the Continental GT was “conceived to be a sporting coupe without rival.” Adrian Hallmer, a board member for Bentley sales and marketing, calls it the “fastest genuine four-seater coupe in the world,” adding that Bentley customers wanted true performance, contemporary design and Bentley’s standard of luxury in a new model. In the words of Franz-Josef Paefgen, chairman and chief executive officer of the Bentley organization in Britain, the GT “combines 56 years of Crewe [England] craftsmanship with the precision of modern technology.”
Following the debut of a production version at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, sales began in Europe later that year. The U.S. version is expected to reach dealerships in May 2004. With more than 2,000 orders received before the first cars arrived in the United States, the Continental GT coupe is already sold out through much of 2004; it costs just under $150,000. Production of the final Continental R Mulliner and Azure Mulliner models has ended.