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The Bentley Continental lineup grows to four models for 2008 with the addition of the Continental GT Speed coupe, a luxurious 600-hp brute named after the classic Speed series that debuted 85 years ago. With a maximum velocity of 202 mph, it is the fastest production Bentley ever constructed.
The remainder of the armada includes the Bentley Continental GTC convertible and GT coupe, both two-door versions, and the Bentley Continental Flying Spur four-door sedan. Each offers unique styling. All are effortlessly propelled by a twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine. All have all-wheel drive and air suspension. All 2008 models feature minor enhancements and detailing to further refine the experience.
Despite tabs hovering around $200,000, price is a factor in Continental purchases. While a Continental is perhaps twice the tariff of a flagship from Audi, BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes-Benz, similarly executed prestige brands such as Maybach and Rolls-Royce are a six-digit increase above the Bentleys. Exclusivity and cost tend to go hand in hand.
Arguably three factors separate the Bentley Continentals from Rolls and Maybach: First, its styling is more more distinctive than that of those other more imposing, less elegant carriages that probe the limits of how large a car should be. Second and no less important, the Continental is much more a driver's car, as rewarding piloting as being chauffeured, a dynamic the others can't match. The final feather in Bentley's motoring cap is the breadth of range, with two-doors and convertibles the others may not offer. Perhaps it's no surprise that the Bentley Continentals outsell Rolls-Royce by roughly 10-to-one and Maybach by 20-to-one.
The 2008 Bentley Continental models have a more upright grille and front end with added chrome around the headlamps; they look a hint more aristocratic without being snooty; the only reason to bow to a Bentley is to say a prayer of thanks to the gods of speed. And they have blessed us with a new, 2008 Bentley Continental GT Speed coupe, its W12 engine sporting lighter internal parts and more manifold pressure to deliver fully 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, along with naught to 60 mph in just more than four seconds, countered by firmer, lower suspension, and 20-inch wheels housing massive carbon-ceramic brakes.
Other noteworthy changes to the line include additional paint and leather selections, Sirius satellite radio, and a restyled Breitling timepiece. Newly available are a rearview camera for the navigation display, voice-dialing through updated Bluetooth, three-spoke sports steering wheel, more advanced stability and traction controls, and carbon-ceramic brakes on GT coupes with 20-inch wheels.
While the majority of mechanical parts and the body shell are assembled in Germany, final finishing is done in Crewe, England, as it has been for decades. BMW already offers more different size and shapes of cars and SUVs than at any time in its history, and the North American debut of the 2008 BMW 1 Series signals another attempt to provide the sporty-minded buyer on a budget a car that he or she will really enjoy driving.
For its U.S. debut, BMW is adding a two-door coupe to the lineup, which will arrive at BMW dealerships in the first quarter of 2008, and a two-door convertible, which is expected to arrive just in time for summer weather. (The BMW 1 Series has been available in Europe and other markets for more than a year in three-door hatchback and five-door hatchback body styles.)
The 1 Series is currently offered with two diesel and three gasoline engines in most markets, but initially the U.S. will get only the full-dress, high-performance coupe, the BMW 135i, which offers more than 300 horsepower. This will be followed later on by a slightly less frenetic BMW 128i with a 230-hp inline-6 engine and nearly all of the same amenities as the 135i will have, for about $5000 less.
The 1 Series is about seven inches shorter overall than the next car up in the lineup, the popular 3 Series. The 1 Series wheelbase is four inches shorter than that of the 3 Series, and it's slightly narrower in width. The 1 Series is meant to be a serious, sporty competitor to all the front-wheel-drive Japanese, Korean, and domestic cars in the entry luxury coupe class. BMW brings its highly developed rear-wheel-drive platform to the fight.
In many ways, the 1 Series is nothing more or less than a scaled-down coupe version of the 3 Series two-door coupe, with similar looks, similar equipment and similar performance and handling because it uses many of the same components and systems, including the big twin-turbocharged engine that was introduced last year in the 335i, so the 135i is a smaller, lighter package with the same engine for about $4000 less starting money, said to be starting around $35,000.
The 1 Series convertibles will feature soft tops expected to be of the level of quality of the previous-generation 3 Series, which is to say top quality with three-layer sound insulation. The BMW 3 Series comprises a range of sedans, coupes, convertibles and wagons, with different engines, a wide variety of options, and a spread of $35,000 from the bottom to the top of the line. Yet from the least expensive 328i sedan to the ultra-high performance M3 (reviewed separately), all 3 Series cars put an emphasis on one thing: Sporty driving dynamics that appeal to enthusiast drivers.
For 2008, BMW matches its xDrive all-wheel drive system with its 300-horsepower, twin-turbo six-cylinder engine for the first time in the 3 Series, introducing the 335xi sedan and coupe. The 3 Series also offers paddle shifters on the steering wheel with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. And with introduction of the new 1 Series coupe, the 3 Series cars are no longer the smallest in BMW's North American lineup.
All 3 Series models share mechanical components and similarly compact exterior dimensions. Differences lie in body style or exterior design, though the coupe and convertible have belts for four passengers rather than five. All are a blast to drive.
BMW sells more manual transmissions in this class than any manufacturer, and that probably says something about the type of drivers choosing the 3. These are rear-drive cars, though all-wheel drive is available, and even the optional automatic transmission is tuned for crisp, sporty shifting. Handling response is sharp and precise, and braking capability is best in class. The base engine in the 328s, BMW's trademark 3.0-liter straight six, is more than powerful enough for brisk acceleration and a sinfully good time. The upgrade twin-turbo six in the 335s is one of the most viscerally satisfying engines in production.
The four-door 3 Series sedan is most familiar, and among the most passenger friendly. The Sports Wagon adds substantial cargo space and utility. It's great for couples or families who often bring the dog, though it isn't available with the twin-turbo engine.
The 328i and 335i Convertibles might be the sexiest 3s, with their fully automatic, one-button folding hardtop. With the top up, the convertible is nearly as solid and quiet as the coupe. The tradeoff, aside from the substantial price increase, is that the convertible seats four and has very little trunk space.
The two-door 3 Series coupes are the sportiest. The firmer sport suspension, optional with other body styles, comes standard on the coupe, and these are the lightest cars in the line. They seat four, like the convertible, but they'll appeal to those who want sporting capability something like a sports car's but need a reasonable back seat and decent-sized trunk.
The emphasis on sporty driving shouldn't put anyone off. Even with the firmest suspension, the ride in all 3 Series models remains reasonably supple. There's room inside for young families or four adults for a night out, in well-designed, nicely finished interiors.
The 3 Series offer gizmos you'd expect in larger, full-on luxury sedans. Those powerful engines are also efficient, and EPA mileage ratings go as high as 28 mpg Highway. Exterior dimensions for all models are relatively compact, making them good cars for crowded city centers. All are distinctively styled and clearly recognizable as BMWs, which should get you a good valet spot, depending on the places you frequent.
All 3 Series models have a full array of airbags, with good scores in government and insurance-industry crash tests. Available all-wheel-drive adds extra security in foul weather. All models feature the electronic wizardry that has become BMW's stock-in-trade over the last decade, including one of the auto industry's most complex stability-control systems.
Some competitors offer more room, more power, better mileage or maybe better interiors for less money. But aside from subjective price-value analysis, the noteworthy hitch in the 3 Series is the downside of the electronic gizmos. There are long-time fans who'll tell you that the basic appeal of their favorite Bimmer is getting mucked up with too much annoying stuff.
With that in mind, the bottom line remains. The 3 Series cars accelerate, turn and stop with remarkable agility and balance, without seriously compromising comfort or common sense. These cars still define sports sedan (or coupe or wagon), and they remain the target for every luxury car brand from Acura to Volvo.
The 2008 Bentley Continental line includes the GT and GT Speed two-door coupes, the GTC two-door convertible, and the Flying Spur four-door sedan. The two-door models are strictly four seats, while the Flying Spur offers the choice of four or five seats.
All are powered by a 6.0-liter W12 engine, console or paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive, and all use fully independent automatic air suspension with four driver-selected modes.
As the ultra-performance flag-bearer, the GT Speed is slightly lower and adds 20-inch wheels, wider rifled tailpipes, dark-tinted chrome matrix grilles, and the Mulliner specification (drilled alloy pedals, knurled chrome and leather shifter, and Diamond-quilt patterned seat facings, door panels, and rear seat side panels). It shares the concealed, pop-up spoiler behind the rear window with the GT coupe.
Luxury and labor-saving devices are abundant, with trunk, folding roof and door-sealing all performed at the touch of a button. Standards include heated and cooled 16-way front seats, driver memory, keyless operation, navigation, mirror-finished unbleached wood (generally walnut unless otherwise specified) that includes roll-top console lids on some models, and leather for the seats, door panels, coupe and sedan headliners, assist handles and steering wheel.
The Flying Spur has a rear bench seat that accommodates three and includes a pull-down center armrest concealing a lockable pass-through access to the trunk. The four-passenger version features two, electrically adjustable, bucket-style seats separated by a walnut and leather-trimmed console. Audio, climate and telephone controls are on the consoles, and the sedan includes overhead vanity mirrors and head, face, and foot-level ventilation outlets.
As prices rise, so too do expectations in customization. Conventional options include pneumatic lumbar massage ($540), wheel choices, moonroof ($995), refrigerated cooler ($2,140), thick floor mats with leather serge ($440), and a valet key ($290). Then you move in to less-common offerings such as wood veneered picnic tables (Flying Spur) and door panel inserts, two-tone leather steering wheel, contrast stitching and Bentley emboss to highlight the upholstery, alloy fuel cap, and a rear-armrest telephone (Flying Spur) for those private calls. The final steps are custom-house Mulliner touches that could be anything from the shift lever to sewn patterns on interior surfaces, woodwork choices, and paint or leather color matched to your sample.
Virtually every safety system is standard, with two-stage frontal airbags, side airbags for all doors, side curtain airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, tire air pressure monitors, and on the GTC Convertible, reinforced windshield frame and pop-up rear seat rollover bars. Active safety software includes eight-generation electronic stability control, all-wheel drive, rain-sensing wipers, HID headlamps with washers, fog lamps front and rear, and antilock brakes with brake assist. Initially, the BMW 1 Series lineup is limited to the 135i coupe, but it will soon be followed by a less-expensive, lower-performing 128i coupe. Both the BMW 128i and BMW 135i will be offered in convertible versions, but these will not be available initially.
The BMW 135i comes with a high-performance 3.0-liter inline-6 with twin turbochargers, with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission with conventional floor shifter and wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
An AM/FM/CD changer will be standard. An AUX input for MP3 and iPod players will be standard, with a USB port a likely option.
Options include bi-xenon headlamps, cornering lamps, premium sound systems, a demountable rear rack, and a choice of three interior and upholstery schemes, cloth, leather and cloth, and leather.
Safety features that come standard on the 135i include six air bags, ABS, electronic stability control, traction control, cornering brake control, and launch control for getting started on slippery surfaces. The 135i comes with run-flat high-performance tires. The brake lights include a panic-braking mode that lights up the entire lens extra bright whenever the brake pedal is stomped hard. The 2008 BMW 3 Series includes four-door sedans, wagons, two-door coupes and convertibles in 10 distinct models, not counting the extra- powerful M3s. All the standard 3 Series cars are powered by BMW's familiar inline six-cylinder engine, and all-wheel drive is available. It's really a choice of body style and engine power.
Model designations are consistent across the body styles and standard equipment is similar, though the coupes and convertibles include a few more features in the base price. Minimally, all 3 Series cars come with automatic climate and headlight control, a climate-controlled center console, heated windshield washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, a power moonroof, 10-speaker AM/FM/CD and BMW's self-braking Dynamic Cruise Control. Wheel size varies from 16 to 18 inches. All offer a choice of aluminum or different wood interior trims, with vinyl upholstery and a six-speed manual transmission standard. BMW's six-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,325) is optional on all models.
The rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger BMW 328i sedan ($32,400) is powered by a 230-hp 3.0-liter inline six. The 328xi sedan ($34,600) adds BMW's x-Drive permanent all-wheel drive system, noted by the x-designation on all 3 Series models so equipped.
The 335i sedan ($38,700) and 335xi sedan ($39.300) feature a turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter six, delivering 300 horsepower. The 335 models also add features, including power front seats with memory and BMW's Logic 7 audio upgrade.
The 328i Sports Wagon ($34,300) and 328xi Sports Wagon ($36,100) offer more load-carrying potential and versatility than the sedan, with a rear tailgate and rear window that can be opened separately. The wagon is not offered with the turbocharged engine.
The 3 Series coupe is available in four versions: 328i ($35,600), 328xi ($37,400), 335i ($41,200) and 335xi ($43,000). The slinky coupe has two doors, a two-place rear seat and a slightly smaller trunk than the sedan, with a firmer, sport-tuned suspension that's optional on other body styles.
The 3 Series Convertible offers a retracting metal hard top that opens and closes with the touch of a button, and either engine: 328i ($43,500) and 335i ($49,500). The convertible seats four, like the coupe, but it's not offered with all-wheel drive.
Options are plentiful, though most are grouped in three packages. The Premium Package ($1,650-$3,350, depending on model) adds Dakota leather upholstery and a number of conveniences, including Bluetooth cellular phone interface, power folding side mirrors, a digital compass in the rear-view mirror and hardware for BMW Assist, the telemetric package that provides safety, convenience and concierge services. The Cold Weather Package ($600-$1,000) adds electrically heated seats, high-intensity headlight washers and a split-folding rear seat with ski sack.
The Sport Package ($500-$1,800) includes sporting suspension calibrations tuned by BMW's M performance division for the sedan, wagon and convertible, more heavily bolstered sports seats and a wheel-performance tire upgrade.
BMW's Active Steering system ($1,400) and radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,400) are available as stand-alone options on all 3 Series variants, as is a DVD-based navigation system ($2,100). Sirius satellite radio hardware ($595), the Logic 7 stereo ($1,250) and most of the features in the three packages are available as stand-alone options.
Safety features include front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front passenger side-impact airbags and full-cabin, curtain-type head protection airbags. The convertibles add knee airbags that help keep front passengers from sliding under the seat belts.
Active safety features, designed to help the driver avoid collisions, include Dynamic Stability Control and the latest generation antilock brakes. The ABS preloads the brake pedal when the driver suddenly lifts off the gas pedal, and includes a feature that lightly sweeps the brake discs dry every 1.5 seconds when it's raining.