The new Bentley Continental GT is many things to many people. It's a status symbol. It's a piece of art. It's history on wheels and an instant classic.
But do you know what it is most of all? It is fast -- very, very fast. Like all Bentleys, it is a luxurious vehicle that can simply melt away the miles on any journey, no matter how long or short it is.
That performance comes courtesy of a six-litre, W12 engine -- that's 12 cylinders arranged in two Vs so it looks like a W. That arrangement on its own would have been enough to make it a rapid car, but the people at Bentley decided to bolt two turbochargers onto it.
The end result is 550 bhp and a tarmac-tugging 479 lb/ft of torque, all from just 1600 rpm. And it's mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox with a sport mode setting and gears selectable by paddles, with power delivered to a continuous, all-wheel drive system.
What this means is a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds and a top speed of about 198 mph (Autocar, 29 June 2004). Impressive for a 2,385Kg motor. So the Continental GT is just as fast as a Dodge Viper SRT-10 in a straight line, but its 2+2 configuration allows you to bring your family along for the fun too.
Unfortunately, like most places Canada has no unrestricted roads, so I couldn't test the top speed abilities of this car, but I did manage to get up to (and get away with) some highly illegal speeds. It might not be as planted as a Lamborghini Gallardo, but it's still very confidence-inspiring.
That confidence is there, even when you're putting it to the handling test. Despite its weight, it manages to handle like a dainty sports car. Quick lane changes inspire confidence and so does the braking; the car's huge brakes -- 405mm front and 335mm rear, both ventilated, and with both ABS and ESP -- can stop you from 50 mph faster than you can say its name.
Overtaking other cars is a lot of fun, since all you have to do is bury the throttle and the auto-box does the rest. It is simply effortless to go fast in this car. It is simply effortless to go anywhere in this car, thanks to its supple ride, which can be electronically adjusted, and also thanks to its marvellous interior.
Bentleys are known for their comfortable interiors and this one is no exception. Of course, everything works electrically and you have almost all the gadgets you could wish for. One gadget I wasn't expecting was seats that massage driver and passenger . I'm not sure if getting a massage is a good idea while you're driving, but it felt very relaxing. If this were my car, my chiropractor would be out of business.
In fact, this car is capable of putting a lot of cars out of business, because it can do the job of three cars. It's a relaxed everyday cruiser that you can drive even in a Canadian winter, and whose huge boot will swallow all your luggage or groceries. It's a sports car for when you want to have some fun through twisty country roads, and it is a supercar that can embarrass most Ferraris and Porsches. However, long-distance non-stop touring is spoiled somewhat by the need to refill fairly frequently -- the 90 litre fuel tank won't, even at the claimed 16.5 mpg, take you much further than 300 miles between stops.
Now to the price. The base price is £112,750 and so much is standard that even a fully loaded model won't set you back much more. Yes, it's a lot of money. You can (almost) buy a house for that sort of money but, compared to other cars in this class, and especially compared to its predecessor, it's still a bargain.
Thanks to Glen Erin Inn for allowing us to use their estate for the pictures.