For four days and just over 200 miles, I was witness to a car with face-stretching acceleration, the road presence of a gilded tank and the social panache of a silver screen starlet. And I found nearly the whole experience tedious.
Yes, you're reading this right. It's possible to get tired of driving a 12-cylinder leviathan that has enough power to send the space shuttle Endeavor into orbit.
And one with esteemed provenance, no less. Owned for decades by Rolls Royce and bought by Volkswagen in 1998, Bentley has been building heavy, fast cars since before the Depression.
The Continental GT has been the company's bestselling model since it introduced the two-door, four-seat coupe in 2003. This 2011 version isn't actually all-new; the powertrain, suspension and body are just thoroughly updated for the first time since Bentley started making the car.
To be clear, I was not driving it from the casinos of Monaco to the shores of Switzerland's Lac Leman. I was not using its all-wheel-drive system on the mountain passes that are chiseled out of the Pyrenees or opening up the Bentley's 567 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque on the straights of Britain's A70 highway.
You see, the "GT" on this Bentley's birth certificate stands for Grand Tourer. Its modus operandi is long trips on undulating, open roads at eye-watering speed with all the comfort and serenity of a cigar bar. Deviation from this directed use results in unpleasant side effects like any other prescription.
The best performance-oriented driving I could do was through the hills and canyons of Malibu. Hustling the Continental GT though the blind, hairpin turns and around precipitous cliffs does not make this car comfortable, though it allows one to explore the limitations of the 5,100-pound coupe.
Some large cars, namely the Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide, seem to shrink around you and belie their mass when pushing through tight turns. Not this Bentley. With a nose-heavy setup and 21/2 tons of curb weight, it never feels smaller than it is.
But it eats up corners with heaps of traction, aided by the all-wheel-drive system that sends 40% of the torque to the front wheels and 60% to the rear.
I was blessed with some pity from the transportation gods and had several long moments on the freeway so that I could stretch out the Continental GT's legs. And how. This car is like Julie Newmar; it has legs for days. At high speed, the cabin is library-quiet, despite the air rushing around the car and the twin-turbocharged W-12 engine (that's two V-6's paired together) humming along directly in front of you.
In fact, the engine is so quiet that if you didn't know better, you would think there's a demure V-8 under the hood. You would think.
The twin-turbochargers give the Continental GT a wide torque band, so acceleration exercises are possible at almost any speed. Simply put the six-speed automatic transmission into Sport mode, rip off a couple of downshifts on the steering-column-mounted paddle shifters, and lean on the gas pedal. Objects in your mirror are shrinking faster than they would in any V-8.
Unfortunately, so is your fuel. Caring about the gas mileage of this car is like inviting Ted Nugent to a PETA fund-raiser. Pointless. But if you have to know, I got 11.1 miles per gallon during 200 miles of driving. The EPA rates the car at 12 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway.
If the W-12 setup is too rich or too thirsty for your blood, stay tuned later this year when Bentley will make available a V-8 engine in the Continental GT.
Sadly, expanses of open freeways are rare. The rest of my time with this Bentley I used it as a daily driver, as most of its buyers will.
This is where the tedium set in.
For starters, the bashful nature of the transmission in normal mode is downright annoying when accelerating from a complete stop. You'd expect that a car that can do zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds when really pushed wouldn't be sluggish around town.
You'd also expect the Continental GT's look to evolve a bit more. This 2011 model wears all-new sheet metal throughout and now carries a headlight arrangement similar to Bentley's only other nameplate, the Mulsanne sedan.