The Bentley Continental lineup grows to four models for 2008 with the addition of the Continental GT Speed coupe, a luxurious 600-hp brute named after the classic Speed series that debuted 85 years ago. With a maximum velocity of 202 mph, it is the fastest production Bentley ever constructed.
The remainder of the armada includes the Bentley Continental GTC convertible and GT coupe, both two-door versions, and the Bentley Continental Flying Spur four-door sedan. Each offers unique styling. All are effortlessly propelled by a twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine. All have all-wheel drive and air suspension. All 2008 models feature minor enhancements and detailing to further refine the experience.
Despite tabs hovering around $200,000, price is a factor in Continental purchases. While a Continental is perhaps twice the tariff of a flagship from Audi, BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes-Benz, similarly executed prestige brands such as Maybach and Rolls-Royce are a six-digit increase above the Bentleys. Exclusivity and cost tend to go hand in hand.
Arguably three factors separate the Bentley Continentals from Rolls and Maybach: First, its styling is more more distinctive than that of those other more imposing, less elegant carriages that probe the limits of how large a car should be. Second and no less important, the Continental is much more a driver's car, as rewarding piloting as being chauffeured, a dynamic the others can't match. The final feather in Bentley's motoring cap is the breadth of range, with two-doors and convertibles the others may not offer. Perhaps it's no surprise that the Bentley Continentals outsell Rolls-Royce by roughly 10-to-one and Maybach by 20-to-one.
The 2008 Bentley Continental models have a more upright grille and front end with added chrome around the headlamps; they look a hint more aristocratic without being snooty; the only reason to bow to a Bentley is to say a prayer of thanks to the gods of speed. And they have blessed us with a new, 2008 Bentley Continental GT Speed coupe, its W12 engine sporting lighter internal parts and more manifold pressure to deliver fully 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, along with naught to 60 mph in just more than four seconds, countered by firmer, lower suspension, and 20-inch wheels housing massive carbon-ceramic brakes.
Other noteworthy changes to the line include additional paint and leather selections, Sirius satellite radio, and a restyled Breitling timepiece. Newly available are a rearview camera for the navigation display, voice-dialing through updated Bluetooth, three-spoke sports steering wheel, more advanced stability and traction controls, and carbon-ceramic brakes on GT coupes with 20-inch wheels.
While the majority of mechanical parts and the body shell are assembled in Germany, final finishing is done in Crewe, England, as it has been for decades.
The 2008 Bentley Continental line includes the GT and GT Speed two-door coupes, the GTC two-door convertible, and the Flying Spur four-door sedan. The two-door models are strictly four seats, while the Flying Spur offers the choice of four or five seats.
All are powered by a 6.0-liter W12 engine, console or paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive, and all use fully independent automatic air suspension with four driver-selected modes.
As the ultra-performance flag-bearer, the GT Speed is slightly lower and adds 20-inch wheels, wider rifled tailpipes, dark-tinted chrome matrix grilles, and the Mulliner specification (drilled alloy pedals, knurled chrome and leather shifter, and Diamond-quilt patterned seat facings, door panels, and rear seat side panels). It shares the concealed, pop-up spoiler behind the rear window with the GT coupe.
Luxury and labor-saving devices are abundant, with trunk, folding roof and door-sealing all performed at the touch of a button. Standards include heated and cooled 16-way front seats, driver memory, keyless operation, navigation, mirror-finished unbleached wood (generally walnut unless otherwise specified) that includes roll-top console lids on some models, and leather for the seats, door panels, coupe and sedan headliners, assist handles and steering wheel.
The Flying Spur has a rear bench seat that accommodates three and includes a pull-down center armrest concealing a lockable pass-through access to the trunk. The four-passenger version features two, electrically adjustable, bucket-style seats separated by a walnut and leather-trimmed console. Audio, climate and telephone controls are on the consoles, and the sedan includes overhead vanity mirrors and head, face, and foot-level ventilation outlets.
As prices rise, so too do expectations in customization. Conventional options include pneumatic lumbar massage ($540), wheel choices, moonroof ($995), refrigerated cooler ($2,140), thick floor mats with leather serge ($440), and a valet key ($290). Then you move in to less-common offerings such as wood veneered picnic tables (Flying Spur) and door panel inserts, two-tone leather steering wheel, contrast stitching and Bentley emboss to highlight the upholstery, alloy fuel cap, and a rear-armrest telephone (Flying Spur) for those private calls. The final steps are custom-house Mulliner touches that could be anything from the shift lever to sewn patterns on interior surfaces, woodwork choices, and paint or leather color matched to your sample.
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.