- Available from £18,000
- Reliable, but expensive to service
- Timeless design and opulent interior
- Effortless progress from world-class engine...
- ...that's fond of hydrocarbons
The Continental GT is the most important car Bentley has ever built. While the original R-type Continental that donated its name to the 2003 model will forever be the darling of the classic car world, without the GT there would probably be no Bentley at all. The company's fortunes hinged on the GT and it turned out to be a roaring success.
At launch, the GT was not rapturously received by the press, journalists citing its firm ride and performance that didn't feel as quick as it should. But there was far more to love in Bentley’s handsome two-door coupe, which bore an interior so lavishly trimmed that £110,000 in 2003 didn’t appear all that bad. After all, it was much more affordable than an Arnage, yet it had sleek, modern fastback looks and space for four passengers.
Few buyers appeared bothered that Bentley had borrowed much of the GT's mechanical parts from the Volkswagen Phaeton. For some, this meant the reassurance of consistently high build quality standards and reliability. There was also still enough Britishness in the Continental GT because it was built in Crewe and its distinctive W12 engine being assembled there, too.
In time, Bentley addressed the early press criticisms and the Continental GT evolved into an ever more desirable machine. In 2006, the GTC convertible arrived to add open-top motoring to the car's appeal, while the Speed model of 2007 increased power by 50hp over the already lavish standard output.
The final flourish for the first generation of Continental GT arrived with the Supersports model that introduced 630hp and a 0-62mph of 3.7 seconds. It helped that the model weighed 110kg less than a standard GT thanks to the removal of back seats and use of lighter materials like Alcantara and carbon fibre where you would normally expect leather and wood.
Reckoned to be the best driving Continental GT, a Supersports will set you back anywhere between £40,000 and £70,000 depending on age, condition, mileage and whether it's a coupe or convertible. A Speed model will cost from £30,000 and rise to £50,000, but the real bargain here is the standard coupe model that can be had from as little as £18,000. For that, you will be getting an all-wheel drive 6.0-litre Bentley that has more than earned its place in the firm's history books.
SPECIFICATION | BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT W12 (2003-2011)
Engine: 5,998cc, W12, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 560@6,100rpm
Torque (lb ft): 479@1,600rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 secs
Top speed: 198mph
MPG (official combined): 17
Tyres: 275/40 (f), 275/40 (r)
On sale: 2003 - 2011
Price new: £110,000 (2003)
Price now: from £18,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The twin-turbo W12 engine's layout is unique, and helps keep the weight of the motor further back in the chassis as it's shorter than a conventional V12. Essentially two VW VR6 engines spliced on to a common crankshaft, the 5,998cc W12 has a bore and stroke of 84.0 x 90.2mm and four valves per cylinder. In its original launch format, the engine produced 560hp at 6,100rpm and 479lb ft of torque at a lowly 1,600rpm. The Speed model increased power to 610hp at 6,000rpm, but more importantly upped torque to 553lb ft at 1,750rpm. For the Supersports, power rose to 630hp and 590lb ft.
In all three configurations, the Bentley Continental GT's engine has proved to be reliable and long lived, which accounts for the sheer number of high mileage cars out there. Several specialists told PH they would choose a well used car with full service history over one with low miles as the Continental does not like being left standing for prolonged periods.
If the car has been stored, you can expect one or both of the batteries to have drained flat. The main battery performs all of the duties you expect, while the second battery is there as back-up. Be careful not to keep the ignition key too close to the car when it's parked as this can drain the battery as the car and key sensor are alerted to each other in readiness to unlock the car.
Other electrical faults can also leave the GT stranded, such as failed coil packs that seem to be a VW Group weak spot. You should spot this by an uneven engine idle and the coils can be replaced for about £350 a set, while spark plugs will cost about £160 for 12. However, bear in mind the spark plugs are tricky to reach and replace as the engine is so densely packed into the bay. Luckily, the spark plugs have a four-year recommended life span.
Some head gaskets have been known to fail on the W12, but it's rare. If this does happen to your car, it will likely mean a £15,000 bill to remove the engine and replace the gaskets on what is supposed to be a sealed engine unit.
There should be no worries with the two turbochargers so long as the engine has been serviced with the correct 0W-40 synthetic oil. If there is any blue smoke from the exhausts, best to walk away.
Finally, check the condition of the radiator as best you can from above and below the engine bay and through the grille. Replacing a corroded or blocked radiator means removing the front bumper, which is time consuming and adds to the final bill on top of more than £600 for the radiator itself.
As for the six-speed ZF automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive system, they are strong and reliable. Any problems here are most likely due to a worn electrical connector, so repairs tend to be affordable rather than astronomical.
Double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear set-up use air springs to help cope with the weight of the Continental GT's steel monocoque body. For 2008, Bentley revised the suspension to use more aluminium and help reduce the car's overall weight by 35kg. At this time, the Speed model also arrived with a 10mm lower ride height, firmer spring settings, firmer dampers and tweaked anti-roll bars. The Supersports' suspension was made even stiffer and Bentley changed its Continuous Damping Control (CDC) to deliver a more sporting drive.
The CDC is fitted to all Continental GT models and allows the driver to choose from four settings, ranging from Comfort to Sport. These adjustable dampers have not given any trouble, but it's still worth checking they all work as they should during a test drive. Also, listen out for any knocks or clunks from the suspension that indicate worn drop links, which are about £50 to replace.
With the car parked up, have a look at the condition of the brake discs. The front discs are 405mm vented items and the rears are 335mm on the GT and GTC. An option was carbon ceramic discs with 420mm fronts and 356mm rears, which were the largest brakes fitted to any production car at the time. Replacing the steel discs on the GT and Speed models will set you back at least £900 for a set of front discs and pads plus labour, while the ceramic brakes fitted to the Supersports as standard will cost £10,000 for a full set from Bentley.
Another brake-related worry is the electronic parking brake module is a known weak spot. If this fails, the handbrake won't work, but a replacement module is about £230 plus fitting.
An essential check when buying any Continental GT model are the wheels. The standard car came with 19-inch alloys, while the Speed and Supersports models have 20-inch wheels. The Mulliner Driving pack included 20-inch alloy wheels and a chrome finish for the wheels was a further option.
A new wheel for a Supersports is around £1,000 from Bentley, so any damaged wheels should be accounted for in the price. Also check how old the tyre pressure sensors are as they need to be replaced at five-years old as their batteries run out. A set of four will cost around £400 and you need to factor in the cost of removing and replacing the tyres plus balancing the wheels as part of this job.
The steel bodywork of the Continental GT should be in excellent condition if it's had a caring owner. Any dents or parking knocks will be expensive to remove and point to an owner who has been careless. A lot of Continental GTs live on the street, but most owners are fastidious about the car's appearance.
The bluff front of the Continental GT means it can be prone to stone chips and make sure the headlights are not cracked. It's the same story with the windscreen, which costs around £1,850 plus fitting to replace if your insurance doesn't cover this.
The GTC's convertible roof is one of the best insulated soft-tops ever made and uses a unique seven-bow, three-layer design. It also has a heated rear glass screen and is operated by electro-hydraulics. It's unlikely the roof will be damaged through wear, but a vandalised hood will be difficult to repair and a replacement is £3,000 that includes the inner and outer linings, ECU module and all hydraulics.
The Continental GT's interior is what sets it apart from most rivals, mixing superb comfort with handmade quality. In the case of the Continental range, handmade means precision and attention to detail rather than lovely materials thrown together.
The driver's seat outer bolster might show some scuffing and wear, but a well-cared for car should have had this remedied before sale. Check all of the leather carefully for marks as replacing any damage will be expensive and difficult to get an exact colour match.
A lot of Continentals from 2005-on will have the Mulliner Driving pack that grouped together the most popular options into one option price. This included two-tone leather, diamond quilting for the upholstery, knurled chrome for the gear lever and buttons, embroidered Bentley logo on the seats, and the choice of burr walnut or piano black veneer finishes.
Other than being sure all of the seat motors work smoothly, the only other thing to check inside the Bentley's cabin is the front left footwell. A lot of the car's electronics are positioned in the area and it has been known for water to leak into this region. If you can feel or smell damp, or spot streaks from a previous leak, it could spell major problems on the horizon. Sorting out damaged electrics in this part of the car can run to a bill of £15,000.
The sheer number of original GTs still active confirms just how well engineered they were. It is also testimony to the essential rightness of the concept. Perhaps the original is just starting to show its age - but the fact that the latest model did little more than sharpen up the detailing and fix the proportions is a tribute to just how well Bentley did the first time around. It makes for an attractive purchase in its twilight years - and is rare example of a big-engined luxury car that could almost be called low risk.
Naturally you'll still need to keep an eye on running costs. Even using the famously easygoing old world economy measure, the GT delivered just 17mpg combined back in the day. Doubtless that thought - alongside plenty of availability - has massaged the car's long-running depreciation. At the time of writing, the classifieds contain some below £20k. At that end of the market you obviously run the risk of encountering examples which have had less than careful owners. But the fact remains that well maintained, if high-mile GTs, can be had for family hot hatch money.
Find yourself one of the many good ones – in 2021 the choice is plentiful – and the experience will likely far outweigh the purchase price. At launch the first GT cost £110k, but by the time it was pulled off sale in 2011 that figure was over £130k, which just shows how much pomp you’re getting for your money these days. Admittedly, it doesn’t look like the Conti is done depreciating just yet, but again, that’s probably a facet of the volume that Bentley shifted over a long life cycle, rather than a sign of dwindling desirability.
It has aged too well for that. The new iteration is superior in almost every aspect, it's true - but no-one is going to mistake the old car for anything other than a Bentley GT and that means it retains considerable cache. You could even argue that it's a little less conspicuous than its successor - which is quite something when you consider the model's early association with Premiership footballers. That time has assuredly passed now; what's left is arguably one of the most compelling secondhand luxury purchases of 2021. So long as the price of super unleaded doesn't sky rocket...
[This is an updated version of a buying guide that was originally published in 2016]
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