Bentley GT (Mk3) | PH Used Buying Guide

The third Continental GT is one of the best Bentleys ever – here's what to look out for secondhand

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, March 20, 2022 / Loading comments

Key considerations

  • Available from c. £125,000
  • 6.0-litre W12 petrol twin turbo, all-wheel drive
  • Gen-three looks like the real deal
  • Truly wonderful cabin
  • A bit squished in the back, but why sit there?
  • You don’t need to believe in the badge to believe in the car

In 1998 Volkswagen bought Bentley. Nothing happened for a while. Then, five years later in 2003, the Bentley Continental GT appeared. The car it was replacing, the stately Continental R, had been going since 1991. By the end of its 12-year run it was putting out 420hp from its low-revving 6.75-litre turbo V8 with four-speed GM slushbox, but even at launch with 325hp or so it was the fastest, most powerful and most expensive production Bentley ever. In fact, its list price of £178,000 made it the most expensive car in the world full stop.

That didn’t put anybody off. Quite the opposite. Inside six months there was a two-year waiting list of buyers who were happy to secure their R order with a £20,000 deposit. Bentley kept the supply and demand thing working nicely by building just 1,854 of them over 12 years, the equivalent of just under half a car a day. For owners, that rarity was part of the beauty of the Continental R. As far as VW’s accountants were concerned, rarity was the trouble with the Continental R. They were one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers. Half a car a day was a joke. Something had to change for the R’s successor.

That something would be mass production. Obviously there’s mass and there’s mass. Nobody was expecting Bentley to churn out Golf-sized numbers of cars, but the pressure was certainly on for the first ‘VW Bentley’, the 2003 Continental GT, to succeed not just as a car but as a profitable product.

It did. Between 2003 and 2018, over 65,000 first- and second-gen Continentals were built, equivalent to just under 12 cars a day and a production rate increase of around 2,500 per cent over the old R. Some diehard Bentley fans would call that sacrilege rather than success, but needs must in the modern age and, mass-produced or not, the gen-one Conti was a good car. It went along the road quickly, it was comfortable, it was safe thanks to its all-wheel drive system, and as far as enlarging the customer base went it was half the price of the Continental R.

Anyway, it’s all been going jolly well for Bentley of late. They’ve been reporting sales increases every year since 2012, a year after its new Continental came out in gen-two form, still on the gen-one’s VW D1 platform but this time featuring an eight-speed auto in place of the gen-one’s ZF six-speed unit.

The 2018-on Continental which made its debut at the 2017 Frankfurt show ran on the Porsche-developed MSB platform, adding another 135mm to the wheelbase to boost cabin space. This gen-three Continental had the first production car body to be made entirely of ‘superformed’ aluminium, which was basically aluminium that had been gas-blown into shape rather than stamped.

In 2021 nearly 15,000 Bentleys were sold, beating the previous best of the year before by over 4,000. Like Porsche with its Cayenne, Bentley’s success has largely been built on the back of an SUV, the Bentayga accounting for four in every ten sales in 2021. That’s very much a Marmite car, but it served a useful purpose in delineating the Continental GT as a traditional and ‘proper’ Bentley.

Here we’re focusing on the full-fat, twin-turbo 6.0 litre W12 GT, which currently retails at around £165k new. You could save £5k on that by opting for the ‘entry level’ 4.0 V8 version – or you could save nearly £40k on a gen-three W12 by going down the pre-loved route. Given the barrage of expensive options that most used Continentals come with, the detail of which we’ll get into later, this course of action has a real appeal because most of the cars you’ll be looking at will have thousands of pounds worth of gear included effectively ‘for free’ on top of the depreciation savings you’ll be making. What a fiscal thrill!

SPECIFICATION | BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT (2018 on)

Engine: 5,950cc W12 48v twin turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],350-4,500rpm
0-62mph (secs): 3.7
Top speed (mph): 207
Weight (kg): 2,244
MPG (official combined): 23.2
CO2 (g/km): 278
Wheels (in): 8.5 x 18 (f), 9.5 x 18 (r)
Tyres: 265/40 (f), 305/35 (r)
On sale: 2018 – now
Price new: £165,400
Price now: from c. £125,000

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

Buy a new V8 GT and the engine will be sent over from Germany to Crewe for assembly. Buy a new W12 GT and there is no engine shipment involved because the W12 – basically two V6s driving a single crankshaft – was not only designed and developed in Crewe, but it’s also still built there.

Mechanical changes for the gen-three included new cylinder heads and the ability to run indirect and direct injection. An array of economising tech including Variable Displacement six-pot shutdownability when cruising was said to cut fuel consumption by a claimed 40 per cent over the previous W12. There’s a harder edge to the engine compared to the gen-two but that didn’t affect its uncanny coin-balanced smoothness. A 650hp version powered the Continental GT Speed that was announced in spring 2021.

Despite its mighty volume, the W12 is happy to rev. Maximum power of 635hp wasn’t developed until 6,000rpm and full-bore upshifts arrived at 6,200rpm. Few owners would bother to go beyond halfway to that point however because fast Continental motoring in something this large and luxurious is all about torque, and this motor had a veritable barrowload of it: 664lb ft delivered across a prairie-sized rev band starting just off idle and not tailing off until 4,500rpm. Pour that lot through the PDK dual-clutch eight-speeder that replaced the gen-two’s ZF torque converter, and the result was a totally unflustered, rub-your-eyes-in-disbelief 0-62mph time of 3.7sec, a gnat’s whisker off the time set by Porsche’s 750kg lighter 911 GT3 RS. For any car, let alone a two and a quarter tonne one, the W12’s pickup was surreal. If you wanted to test the availability of your advertised 207mph top speed, the high-revs max power would help you out.

The GT was just as impressive when your right foot was nowhere near the throttle pedal. Lifting off while in ‘Bentley’ mode would disengage the clutch and you’d be sailing on land, turning the car’s weight into a force for good and lending credibility to the unfeasibly low sounding drag factor of 0.29. Tapping off from a motorway cruise would also engage the six-cylinder shutdown feature.

It says something about modern engineering that even with such staggering performance available the fuel consumption is not equally staggering. The official combined figure is 23.2mpg and you can add 3-4mpg to that when you’re kicking back. Obviously it’s no econobox, and that 23mpg will quickly change into a more attention-grabbing sort of number if you’re flogging it everywhere, but respect is surely due for the efficient mix of aerodynamics and engineering concocted here.

CHASSIS

One key advantage of the MSB platform was that it allowed Bentley to position the engine 135mm further back in the chassis. That might only be a little over five inches in old money but with an engine this big it made a big difference to the front/rear weight distribution, altering it from 58/42 to 55/45.

The GT’s three-chamber air suspension with Bentley Dynamic Ride adaptive damping worked with a 48v active anti-roll bar system to endow the car with a level of handling and grip that was hilariously out of kilter (in a good way) with its vastness. Something like the similarly priced Aston DB11 was faster around a track, but not by much, and certainly not by as much as you would expect from something that was 400kg lighter than the Bentley.

If you were brave, you could drive the gen-three GT on the throttle more easily than any previous iteration. The steering was light to suit the perceived market but not as light as it was on previous models, a good thing from the driver’s perspective. Torque by default went predominantly to the rear wheels, though nearly half of it could be routed to the front axle when the occasion demanded. Previously it was fixed at 40 front and 60 rear. Of the three driving modes, Comfort, Bentley and Sport, the default Bentley setting was the one recommended by Bentley itself and by most sober independent testers.

The new car was 80kg lighter than the old one. Given the overall weight of the vehicle you might think that’s not much to crow about. In fact, a lot more than that was saved as a result of the platform change but Bentley ‘spent’ some of those savings on extra cabin gear to meet the updated expectations of its 21st century customers.

With this amount of weight and performance to rein in you needed a bazzing set of brakes, and the Continental had them. Its 420mm front discs were the biggest iron discs ever seen on a production car, and the 380s on the back would probably have stopped a runaway artic on their own. On the 2021 GT Speed Coupe and Convertible the fronts went up to 440mm.

BODYWORK

The gen-three restyle pulled off the trick of being subtle and striking at the same time, the mark of a good refresh. Its superformed aluminium bodywork came in a choice of no less than 88 paint colours, 14 of them silver and nine of them, remarkably, blacks, which is perhaps not that remarkable when you hear that one of the most common combinations for GTs was black paint with black wheels and a black cabin. Some of the paint names don’t really sound like colours at all. Pale Brodgar, anyone? Or Camel, which is definitely not what you might expect.

The proletariat could tell you were in a W12 and not the common V8 if their NHS specs allowed them to notice the ’12’ subtly hidden in the chromed wing panels just ahead of the door bottoms. The boot spoiler could be controlled by button. The bootlid itself was composite. Those big coupe doors stayed open in just about any position, which sounds a bit ‘meh’ until you found yourself trying to exit the cabin squeezed between two other cars in a windy outside park. That’s when you thanked Bentley for its forethought.

You’ll either love the shape-mirroring of the exhaust tailpipes and rear lights or you won’t. Most seem to like it, but others will suggest that the rear aspect of the Continental is not as impactful as the bulldoggy front which had the additional attraction of fire-and-forget LED matrix headlights with beautifully jewel-like internal surfaces.

INTERIOR

We don’t have access to Bentley’s customer research data, but we’d place a fairly sizeable bet on ‘wonderful interiors’ being near to, or at, the top of the list of attributes customers expected in the company’s products.

The GT’s human-facing environment was almost bamboozling in its richness, especially when it had been specced up with a package or eight. A multiplicity of materials appeared even on smaller components like the diamond-knurled indicator and wiper control stalks, where maybe a couple of materials would have done the job just as well. You forgave it that because the materials used were just so lovely. The centre console could be specced in a technical finish called Cotes de Geneve which emulated the surfacing of the best automatic Swiss watches.

The leathers were predictably exquisite, and the slightly wobbly stitching added to rather than detracted from the feeling of artisanal love that wafted over you like a whiff of Creed when you climbed aboard. Okay, some of the switchgear does have a bit of a Golfy look to it, but who cares about that when you’ve got the world’s first rotating central display to play with? This spinning electronic Toblerone was a piece of 007 genius and surely would be a must-have option for most right-thinking PHers, even at £4,700.

The Continental GT was a pillarless coupe, so the single-button operation to drop all four windows at once was a nice feature. Less impressively, Android Auto wasn’t part of the infotainment suite. Presumably focus group results showed that all Bentley owners were Apple users. Again it all paled into insignificance when you were luxuriating in the pin-sharpness and instant response of the proximity-sensitive 12.3-inch touchscreen, many of whose graphics (e.g., Night Vision and tyre pressure monitoring system) were subtly cute rather than knowingly so as they are on, for example, Teslas.

On the downside the Bentley’s screens were quite bright at night. You could mute the brightness but only if you were prepared to wade through a few menus. If you couldn’t be bothered, rotating your Toblerone to the three analogue clocks view or to the blank veneer panel brought some optical relief. Shame they didn’t just go trad by chucking in another milled metal knob to control the brightness.

The standard audio – an 11-channel, 650-watt amplifier and 10 speakers – was perfectly fine, but why would you stop there when £5,000 more got you a 1,500-watt, 16-speaker B&O setup with illuminated speaker grilles? The BeoSonic sound placement function was something you’d probably only use a couple of times, but it was still wonderful to have it.

A thunderously powerful and spookily accurate Naim for Bentley stereo was also available. Some might baulk at the £6,600 price of that but compared to the titter-inducing six-figure sums that Naim routinely charges for its top o’ the range home audio others might call the GT setup cheap. It was a 2,200-watt, 18-speaker system with active bass units built into the front seats to really ram home those low notes and create a seat-shaking cinema style experience. It was exclusive too because Bentley is the only car manufacturer with whom Naim works. Justifying this sort of outlay for in-car audio was a lot easier once you’d heard it in action and realised how much money you could save on concert tickets. The GT’s double-layered acoustic glass minimised any pesky outside noise and helped to turn any trip, trans-continental or trans-towninental, into a rare pleasure.

You sat quite high up in a GT. That was a classic Bentley thing and a helpful one from a visibility perspective. Head and legroom weren’t hugely generous in the rear when the front seats were all the way back, but it would be churlish to complain about having to dial an extra degree or two of bend into your knees when you were ensconced in such deep-seated (in every sense) luxury. This is a coupe, after all. While we’re talking about this part of the car, the only gen-three recall – for 2021-model cars – was to put right a faulty seat control module that could trap a rear-seat passenger.

The big panel between the two back seats literally comes off in your hand. Once you’ve got over the initial shock of that happening you realise that it’s supposed to do that to allow you to shove long things through from the boot. Not sure where you’re supposed to put the panel when you’ve got your grandfather’s one-piece fly fishing rod poking through the resulting hole, but again it all seems right for the car somehow. The boot’s 358-litre capacity was appropriate for the coupe bodystyle, but luckily this is a helluva big coupe so if you enjoy hitting small balls with metal sticks you can angrily hurl a couple of golf bags in there.

Many of the gen-threes you’ll see on sale will have the Mulliner Driving Specification, a £10,000 option that gave you 22-inch forged wheels, five interior colour splits, diamond-in-diamond quilting for the seats and doors, embroidered Bentley emblems, a choice of wood veneers, a heated duotone steering wheel, a jewel-finish fuel filler and metal pedals. The slightly cheaper (£6,200) Touring Specification gave you a head-up display, Night Vision to help you spot darkly clothed pedestrians, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and pre-sense braking. Other Specification packages included Mood Lighting (multicoloured ambient lighting), Front Seat Comfort (ventilation and massage), and City (hands-free boot opening, pedestrian warning, traffic sign recognition, city braking and a top-view camera). First Edition launch cars incorporated Mulliner, Touring and City specs as well as the rotating display. The premium for FE cars was nearly £35,000.

For 2019 a £1,400 Centenary spec came out. Basically this was a gold-based badging exercise with year-marked dials and sill plates. In the context of cars optionable to well over £200k you probably wouldn’t be told that you had to stick rigidly to packages if you were a serious new GT buyer wanting to go off piste.

PH VERDICT

If ownership of a truly bombastic petrol-powered Bentley is on your bucket list, you might want to think about executing that wish sooner rather than later by getting yourself into a gen-three 2018-on Continental GT.

One reason is that Bentley is aiming for end-to-end carbon neutrality by 2030 – just eight years from now – and an all-electric range. The main reason though is because, by any standards, this is a fabulous piece of kit. The cabin tech, comfort and overall feelgood factor is right up there with the world’s best. That’s a sea change from the good old bad old Bentley days when, if you were being totally honest with yourself, strong badge loyalty was a kind of mental blindfold you needed to blank out the obvious flaws. If in 2022 you believe that there’s more than a ring of truth to Bentley’s claim to be the world leader in luxury mobility, and that the GT is a pretty good definition of what a Bentley coupe should be, why put off the pleasure of ownership if you can afford it now?

The gen-three is too new to have accumulated a list of common faults and there is no reason to suppose there will be too many of them going forward. We’d simply mention that electronics are the most common reason for failure and/or breakdown in modern cars, and the GT has a truly daunting amount of them. Windows could fail in earlier cars, air suspension systems generally can blow, and you shouldn’t ignore the five-year schedule for brake hose replacement. Fixed-price servicing (10,000 miles/12 months) is available. Stratton, for example, offers it for £599, although if you dig a bit deeper in their website they do put the word ‘from’ in front of that.

So, with that said, what pops up when you do a PH classifieds search on gen-three Continentals? Nearly 70 cars is the answer. At the bargain basement (sub-£140,000) end of the range there were six cars to choose from as we went to press. The lowest-priced of these was this 25,000-mile 2018 car in St James Red (he must have been on the altar wine that day) The price is £132,980, but if you discount the £41,000’s worth of options you could easily convince yourself that you were actually only paying £90k. Maybe. Despite the big colour palette offered by Bentley this is one of the very few used GTs you’ll find on sale in the UK in anything like a bright colour.

As noted earlier, if the PH classifieds is any guide more used gen-three GTs have Mulliner Specification than don’t. This 12,000-miler in Granite (again that’s the colour, not the material) has it, along with the Mood Lighting pack and looks decent value at £139,950. A fiver under £158k gets you this 2019 car with B&O sound and the rotating Toblerone on top of Touring and Front Seat Comfort packs. To get a gentle breeze rustling through your expensive hair here’s a 9,000-mile First Edition Convertible with 22-inch wheels, a £4,500 Sequin Blue paintjob and the essential village-waking Naim audio, all for £171,950.


Find a used Bentley Continental GT here

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