It’s been 15 years since Bentley came up with what has pretty much defined it as a company since: the Continental GT. Sure, there’s been impressive, enormous stuff from Bentley over the last few years such as the Brooklands, the Mulsanne and more recently the Bentayga, but the Continental remained Bentley’s bread and butter and it’s not difficult to see why; it’s a great looking, fast, comfortable grand tourer. However, it did have some growing pains, but funny enough most of those had very little to do with the car itself and a lot to do with who was actually getting it. Now, at 15 years old, that issue may finally be over.
When the Continental GT came out back in the day, it went blistering fast from being just another expensive car to being a status symbol both forcibly wedged in pop culture and shaped by it. Researching for this piece, I tried to come up with a solid number of how many music videos over the years featured a Continental, but I lost track – maybe – at about half way through, which illustrates the point as well as any figure I’d have come up with in the end. Continental saturationTM went from representation to, of course, ownership. As essential as the latest designer trinket or iPhone, the Continental became a must have for (what we’ll call) viral celebrities. Then, these famous folks started realizing that all Continentals looked the same and that just wouldn’t do, so the gates of hell of customization opened and terrible, disturbing things happened to many poor Bentleys.
The 1st gen. Continentals’ submersion and drowning in the spotlight put off a lot of more focused, purposed buyers from the car. In fact, the real importance of the GT has been kind of forgotten because of that, with the car being at times dismissed as the equivalent of jiggling shinny keys in front of toddlers. But the problem with the Continental’s reputation didn’t stop at the botched custom jobs and giant chrome rims; plenty of voices in the automotive journalism world didn’t help either. I couldn’t begin to tell you why the car became so hard to “get” when title Grand Tourer is right there in the actual name of the thing, but still, the Continental took heat for a lot of truly baffling things, even VW’s ownership of Bentley for some reason.
Maybe the issue sat with the whole existence of the car itself. Bentley was a groundbreaking manufacturer back in the day and the W. O. years were badass; during Rolls Royce ownership the company sort of fizzled with only a few noteworthy cars and the promise of revival with the late 80’s Turbo R. The Continental GT truly marked a whole new era, not just because the Germans stepped in but because the whole philosophy changed (back…). The 90’s Continentals were incredibly expensive and the Continental GT, not being exactly bag of peanuts money, still market a big slash in prices. Plus, the basis for the car was an extraordinarily crated and thought out effort by VW in pursuit of their glorious commercial failure, the Phaeton. So what was objectively wrong with it? In my view, nothing. Again, maybe the car’s existence itself under these new circumstances rubbed some people the wrong way. Maybe it wasn’t exclusive enough anymore. Maybe its insta-celebrity status made it feel common place; I myself thought that way about it for a little while.
Despite it all, market rules and the market spoke; that’s why we’re on the third generation of GT’s right now. Through the years the car changed and adapted. From an impressive yet sometimes tricky to maintain W12 to an extraordinary V8 and back to a W12 again; from a simple coupe to 5 billion different specs and configurations; I mean seriously the Continental has had more work done than an 80’s heartthrob, but it keeps reinventing reasons to exists and right now, I’d argue it matured to the actual point people picked on it for not being at back in 03. Boy that was convoluted! Let me clarify.
Let’s say you’re on the market for a Grand Tourer right now; you’re a bon vivant who enjoys traveling across continents in comfort and can’t be bothered to hop on a crowded plane and get some crappy rental when you get there. I get it and I envy you, but let’s move on from that. When the Continental came out you only had two realistically practical options, it or the DB9. Now you’re spoiled for choice! Mercedes came out swinging with the AMG GT, Aston went all Bond charm again with the DB11, the Maserati Gran Turismo is still an amazing thing, Ferrari has its strange attempt at practicality, the GTC4 and even Rolls Royce itself threw its hat in the Grand Tourer ring with the Wraith. Have you seen that thing in Black Badge spec? So why would you pick the Continental now? Well, quite simply because it is, as it has been for the last decade and a half, the best choice.
A lot of the GT’s potential and brilliance became clouded by all the factors we talked about, but the fact remains that if you want to cover large distances in a car in total comfort, this really is THE choice. Fast, luxurious, fair handling, stunning looks, decent price for what it is. There is no reason why you’d want anything else. Plus, the popularity frenzy has died down in some circles, which is bad for Bentley I suppose, but good for everyone else. Music moguls, actors and heiresses have all these new choices to blow cash on so now when you roll in on a Continental, people no longer assume that you’re an insufferable ass. Optics are not an issue for it anymore.
The Continental is today what it wanted to be when it first came out of the factory, not just a good car that translated into money in Bentley’s pocket, but a charming and sophisticated throwback to Bentley’s golden age mojo; a serious, solid choice for the also serious buyer/driver. 2018 saw the arrival of the 3rd gen. GT, a Bentayga engine in a Panamera platform and redesigned looks. It’s still unmistakably a Continental, but it has yet to grow on me like the old one did.
Pictures: Bentley Continental GT Speed (2nd gen. 2012-2014) Autowp.ru
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