We want a Bentley to feel both weighted down with that famous wafting substance and yet always ready to spool up fast and hard like an express train when there's an opportunity to overtake the poor. One could see that as a dilemma for the automaker, as the world jumps on the "lightweight and green" bandwagon. But this, in reality, is a form of special dispensation we allow both Bentley and Rolls-Royce year after year. If Bentleys started feeling light or harried, we'd be less impressed.
We could see closing the roof of the new Bentley Continental GTC when we might, say, want to explore high-speed runs, but even then it would feel improper; the GTC looks so damned good and inviting with that big roof down, it'd be a crime to enjoy it otherwise. We've recorded the roof action for you on video here, but only because it's sort of required that we have you bear witness to the triple-layered folding lid. We didn't close the roof once during our two days testing as the GTC is one of the purest forms of life on the sunny side of the street.
We've driven the second-generation Continental GT with the massaged 6.0-liter W12 bi-turbo, now pumping out 567 horsepower peaking at 6,000 rpm, and cranking forth 516 pound-feet of torque between 1,700 and 6,000 rpm. That 5,115-pound bear of a GT roars to 60 mph in a reported 4.4 seconds. The soft-top version we're driving now weighs 5,500 pounds, gets to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and is limited to "just" 195 mph. Yes, 385 pounds have been added to its curb weight, all in the name of making sure this wide-open scoundrel of substance doesn't bend like a noodle versus the hardtop. Ever try to juke with 385 pounds attached to your lower extremities? It's a lot, but the Continental is a lot of car.
The new-gen GT can sometimes feel over-tired with the 21-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zeros that Bentley has always prefered, making the ride a little sturdier than we sometimes wish. Combined with the four-setting Intelligent Continuous Damping Control suspension adjustable through the 8.0-inch touchscreen display, the optional 21-inchers at the corners can take on some harsher feedback as felt through the seats and hands. Bentley introduced a much welcome 20-inch standard set soon after the launch of the coupe and it makes a noticeable difference.
The funny (more curious than ha-ha) added consequence, however, of the additional heft built into the forward bulkhead, windscreen pillars and rocker panels of the GTC is that it drives brilliantly on the 21-inch setup. In fact, so far as sheer Newton meters/degree flex numbers, the GTC is the most rigid convertible in production today, which in turn frees up the suspension to be toyed with a bit to find the comfort desired. There are some eerily perfect new roads in the middle of nowhere across Istria, Croatia where Bentley has us testing the new GTC, but there are a multitude of lunar surface-like older roads everywhere, too, and the 21s treated us like slaphappy oligarchs no matter which road we chose. That and the calculated stiffness of the roofless structure provided effectively no cowl shake or sensible chassis give to spoil the joy ride.
Speaking of strict codes of moneyed leisure, the dense three-layer roof goes about its business only when the GTC is sitting still. Good thing, too, because the thing is big and takes a merry 18 seconds to either open or close. We lied earlier – for the final 10 or so miles of our sunburn search, we closed the roof just so we could attest to the insulating prowess of the rig. Impressively, a lid-closed GTC is not far off from the silence of the hardtop GT at all speeds. Having the roof shut also allowed us to hear even more of the color of the fascinating bi-turbo W12 at our feet. Under duress, a quick throttle-lift into a corner in the GTC creates a mega-gasp of the turbochargers' wastegates that we quickly came to adore, all the more with the top shut. But, as stated previously, we had little will to close this show.
With the roof open wide at middle-of-nowhere-in-Croatia highway speeds and all windows down, the lack of significant wind buffeting was impressive. That big, sturdy windscreen with its buffering acoustic five-layer glass and thick front pillars just seems to chuck all the wind, which would otherwise muss our coiffeur (What coiffeur? - Ed.), all the way into Montenegro. It's better even with the tall front windows up as they likewise use the acoustic glass, but with the small rear windows buffeting, the swirl effect was at its worst. Oh, if we only had pursued that master's degree in aerodynamic sciences, we could deftly explain all of this to you in gobbledygook terms, but we didn't... so we won't. Compared to the first-generation GTC, the shoulder line of the car is now higher and we sit more nestled in the cocoon of cush, protected a bit more from the elements.
The adaptive suspension also renders this nearly three-ton creation a dynamic pro for this rich segment. At the same time, the heavily assisted steering is reactive and takes us exactly where our eyes are aiming, but it's numb like Novocain. So, the combo is uniquely "wafty," erring on sport-waft, and would be viciously criticized on almost any other sort of car sold today. But the steering on Rollers and Bentleys has always been engineered to be ship-like, the pilot moreso guiding the car around and giving helpful directional suggestions by using the wheel. We mustn't ruffle Her Majesty's nerves in back. Evolving away from this delicate and accepted balance would rob owners of much of what they bought into in the first place. Like we say, though, the car always follows the line we have in our heads and we just end up getting used to it – hell, enjoying it.
Using the second generation of the Continental family to introduce the 50-percent quicker shifting ZF six-speed automatic and a more rear-biased all-wheel drive torque split of 40:60, versus 50:50 in the previous generation, has given customers a much more nimble car. Yes, nimble when it wants or needs to be, with added help from a wider track than on the first GTC. Out of curves in particular, the new GTC's agility, as set in either full-auto S mode or sequential mode shifting via either the lever at the console or paddles fixed at the column, works in timely fashion with the greater rear-axle push. The programmed-in double downshifts possible in S mode are a particularly nice feature.
Trouble is, we spent almost all our time depending on the full-auto S mode since the insect arm-like old column-mounted shift levers are a pain to live with. It's a shame that the entire stalk and column shifters arrangement couldn't afford to be revisited and done better, because we still don't like it. Searching for the relatively small shift arms for downshifting in hairpins, too, is really not a world-class experience. That all this may change significantly once this second generation of Continentals reaches the middle of its life in 2015 gives us hope. But once the S sport mode learns our drive-lust rhythms, it does an equally solid job executing. But we do crave workable steering wheel-mounted – and larger – paddles in our $212,800 British-German cars, please.
The standard ventilated brake discs at 16.0-inch front with eight-pot calipers and 13.2 inches rear are gi-normous platters worthy of arresting the momentum of a hurtling 5,500-pound Englishman. But our test car was fitted not only with the big 21-inch wheelset and Pirellis, it also had the optional cross-drilled carbon silicon carbide brake discs measuring a massive 16.5 inches front and more normal 14.0-inch rear. This disc technology results in ceramic disc-like stopping distances without the ceramic disc screech or grind, and we relied on them liberally for the many miles traveled. The upgrade also drops 44 pounds of rolling weight from the car, which is right handy and in the right places.
The interior is glorious, with the wood detailing, the leathers and the workmanship being just what they ought to be for the personality of the Bentley GTC. Our red living space was an enhanced version of the usual splendor Bentley cobbles together on each car. It's called Mulliner Driving Specification after the company's hallowed bespoke department and it includes, among other things, the quilted leather of the seats and door panels, drilled anodized alloy pedals and footrests, a milled gear lever knob for a more jeweled effect, specific five-spoke 21-inch painted or polished wheels, and a fuel filler cap that is an aluminum logoed piece put over the normal plastic cap. Sharp, say we, and the quilted leather suits our posteriors very nicely, thank you. It was hot in the Balkans so we had no need for it, but the seats of the GTC come with Neck Warmer ventilation, which we tried nonetheless. All we can say is: can't wait for winter.
As we noted previously on the GT coupe, the new VW Group-sourced onboard computer with touchscreen is a revelation, at least compared to what was slammed into the dash prior to this. In comparison to a few other premium Euro manufacturers' onboard suite of features, however, it's not at the vanguard, and still feels like a last-generation device, particularly when dealing with the terminologies used on the sat-nav route and address interface. If we lived with it, this would probably cease to be a problem eventually. One other option that does better is the Naim ten-speaker sound system that booms and sounds distortion-free, at even the highest volumes.
We're willing to put up with it when the overall packaging is this sexy, but the GTC's trunk loses 3.4 cubic feet of space to accommodate the big cloth top in its cradle. That makes for a rather paltry 9.2 cubes total for a big, country-touring 2+2 and its four potential passengers. That's tiny, but the trunk space is actually large-looking and simply squared off, so very useful for all its tiny-ness on paper.
The other space issue can happen if and when someone does have to sit in back. We had a 6-foot, 2-inch colleague sit as he likes it in the driver's seat and we, at 5-foot, 11-inch and mostly legs, sat behind. For all the reported 1.8 inches of added legroom in back thanks to the carved-out "Cobra" front seats, things were not that good. For a rollicking double date with two new-money couples off on a picnic at the country estate, the host couple will need to sit closer than they usually like to the dashboard. Either that, or the couple in back will be justified in never again accepting the invitation to enjoy crustless sandwiches in the garden.
The precisely fitted super-formed aluminum exterior panels and composite trunk lid of the second-generation GT coupe look even finer here on the GTC. There are fewer cut lines and all contours are sharper then on the last GTC, so under the right light, the car stirs the cockles of our heart. It still looks good on our tester to have its red roof up, but, like we said already, leave it open unless your very life depends on it being closed.
Then there is the running soundtrack of a burbling-to-howling exhaust note from the stretched oval chrome tips peaking out the rear fascia. The sound is comforting yet bold, and never acts the uncouth rogue. (Reading over this review, we can see how British this Bentley makes us talk and write. It's pathetic, sure, but we can't fight it.)
So, it's a wafter in pure Bentley fashion. A $213,000 wafter to us Americans. That's at least $38.73 per pound, or $375.66 per SAE horsepower. On an economically and environmentally sort of positive note, the GTC 6.0-liter W12 is now flex-fuel capable like the Continental Supersports, so can theoretically also run on recycled and treated French fryer oil, bio ethanol, or even high octane unleaded. Customers can average a whopping 15 mpg – more than enough reason for rejoicing. Ours start to arrive most likely in January of 2012 after the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
And now we await the third foot to fall sometime in 2012: the gen-two four-door Flying Spur. Also, launching in the first quarter of the year, there's the 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 with cylinder deactivation that is shared with the upcoming Audi S6, S7, and S8. Followed afterward by the Bentley super SUV developed on the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg underpinnings and soon to be shared also by the next Audi Q7. This SUV promises to have a version using the next-gen W12 bi-turbo that will get cylinder deactivation to make it a W6 in highway cruising mode. There's a lot going on at Bentley these days as they claw back to the sales levels of 2007 when they sold a record 10,014 units. The Great Recession was hard on the marque, but by the end of 2011, they should be back to 7,000 annual sales, 2,000 of these hopefully being the GTC.
But enough of that heavy stuff. A Continental GTC drive is a great way to blot out these tough times and think lighter, happier thoughts – even if it's neither.