"Don’t forget: pull the lever right back,” advised Bentley’s chairman and CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer, as I prepared to drive away from his company’s busy Crewe works in the 21,000-mile, 12-plate Bentley Continental GT V8 that Autocar will be running for the next six months. “It’s the best way to hear the music from the exhaust…”
The Bentley boss has a well-earned reputation as a press-on sort of driver and he was referring, of course, to the extra performance and agility available if you pull a Bentley’s elegantly knurled transmission selector straight back through Drive into the rearmost Sport position. Do this and everything tenses, like the muscles of an athlete getting ready to race: the steering gets a little heavier, the throttle response gets a little sharper, the eight-speed auto holds gears a little longer and, once you’ve given the 500bhp twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 its head, the exhaust emits a rumble reminiscent of a distant earthquake.
I didn’t take Dürheimer’s advice at first. It’s better to ease your way towards learning the foibles of a car as powerful, substantial and expensive as this. It seemed more appropriate to glide quietly into the traffic, not least because I’d just been chatting with the men who supplied the car — Mark Keeping, head of Bentley Pre-owned, and Chris Gretton, used car sales manager at Bentley Birmingham, who will look after our car.
If the above sounds different from the usual road test preamble, it’s because this car already has the three-year ownership of a fastidious Bentley-owning property developer under its belt. Crewe is well known for selling all manner of bespoke configurations to buyers of new cars, but it is also keen to emphasise the desirability and good value of its approved used cars, which are obviously built to give of their best for much longer than the average first-ownership cycle of 32 months.
Gretton reckons many customers new to Bentley are happier to buy an existing car — and learn from the experience — than to specify their first, especially since approved cars up to 11 years old come with a warranty that, to my eye at least, is pretty much indistinguishable from a new one. And, of course, there’s money to be saved. Our Conti, new at £125,000, is now priced at £89,950 before haggling, which puts it in the zone for people who might be considering well-specced BMW and Mercedes coupés — both of which can be expected to recede in value much faster than a three-year-old Bentley.
We first clapped eyes on the Bentley as it stood outside Crewe’s new customer reception centre (about a quarter of a mile further up Pym’s Lane from the famous factory). It seemed indistinguishable from a new car, what with its eye-catching optional 21in wheels and carbonfibre styling pack that consists most obviously of elegant, blade-like strakes along the sills. Marque experts will know there have been minor body mods to the car since the 2013 model year, but seen in isolation with its lustrous Onyx paint and classy metal wheels and brightwork, it seemed just like new.
Bentleys always come very well equipped. We have only two extras beyond the wheels and body mods: embroidered Bentley emblems on the front seats and a vehicle tracker.
As described, I had feared the car might be a bit too black: Onyx body colour, Beluga hides inside and a wood veneer described as Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus. I’ve never been struck on black-on-black. But the exterior colour has a lustre and a depth that’s night-and-day different from solid black.
The interior hides are a kind of charcoal, again with a special sheen and a depth of finish far from mere blackness. And Fiddleback Eucalyptus turns out to be a mahogany-like wood of depth and quality, with a particularly beautiful grain. Bentley says many owners spend time looking at cars as they’re built on the line, and this is why.
The trip back to London was easy, the Bentley purring along with the traffic and showing just under 30mpg on the trip computer (next job: assess its accuracy). And the car seemed quieter and more mechanically sophisticated than GTs I remember, perhaps because it’s some time since I’ve driven one and cars from manufacturers as fastidious as Bentley tend to move on.
Two discoveries, so far, have given me great pleasure. First, that the V8 is such a jewel of mechanical refinement. Sure, you can sharpen it up with the Sport button — and I do, sometimes — but there’s huge pleasure in its silence and smoothness, too. By comparison, the original W12 engine is inclined to be a shade ‘buzzy’ in some rev ranges, although we’re obviously applying nitpicker’s standards here.
Even more important to me, and I suspect to many discerning owners, is that the Continental GT does not suffer from the high levels of road noise that dog so many German-developed cars today. Its tyres are only really audible over the worst kind of broken bitumen, and even then it’s still the best car with a 4.6sec 0-60mph sprint time and a 190mph top speed that I know. And the quality… were it not for the numberplate, you’d have a very hard time knowing it wasn’t showroom fresh.
The car: Bentley Continental GT
Needs to be: Luxurious and effortless, hiding its age and mileage enough to justify that still significant used price tag.
Run by Autocar since: December 2015
Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe
Price new (2013) £125,000; Price now £89,950; Mileage 21,082; Options (2013 prices) 21in sevenspoke alloy wheels £3220, Carbonfibre Mulliner Styling Pack £6780, embroidered Bentley emblems £455, vehicle tracking system £1320 Economy 26.8mpg; Expenses None; Faults None