Few experiences equal the feeling of driving a new 2012 Bentley Continental GTC down a crowded Los Angeles highway – especially when the droptop is prismatic magenta with highly polished 21-inch wheels.
Some stare. Others glare. But most simply sneer.
The response should be expected. After all, a vehicle of this caliber is designed to broadcast to others that you have succeeded. Unfortunately, this specific boisterously purple quarter-million dollar convertible with flashy wheels takes things a bit too far: it also seems to remind passers-by that they have failed.
But let's not blame Bentley for someone's misguided selection on the color wheel. A mere 30 microns of pigment over perfectly primed aluminum, whether or not it appears related to Barney the dinosaur, isn't reason to dismiss this magnificent open-top GT.
Or is it?
Purple, er... magenta paint aside, the GTC is absolutely stunning in the flesh. The new droptop shares all of its underpinnings and most of its other body panels with its closed-roof sibling, the Continental GT. As you may recall, we were introduced to the reskinned and updated GT coupe in Oman more than a year ago. In September, we flew to Croatia to meet the new GTC face-to-face. Like the Coupe, the GTC now sports all-new sheetmetal and new fascias, both front and rear. Of course, Bentley has also upgraded the interior and splashed new technology throughout.
The underpinnings are generally carried forward. Buried deep within the convertible is a steel unibody platform still shared with the Volkswagen Phaeton. Despite its age, the robust chassis is incredibly stiff – it is reportedly the most rigid convertible on the market.
Bolted to the steel structure are aluminum panels. Instead of using traditional hydraulic or more modern hydroforming techniques, Bentley uses superforming to give the aluminum its shape. Flat sheets are heated to more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit and then deformed in a pneumatic mold utilizing air pressure. The process is less stressful to the alloy, thereby allowing it to take on a much more complex shape. Take a closer look at the front and rear quarter panels, as the brilliance is found in those sharp creases.
More splendors are discovered within the passenger compartment where the British automaker has cleaned up the primary controls, instrumentation and dash vents by cleanly integrating them into the surrounding landscape. Bright metal bezels provide contrast and a new VW-sourced eight-inch touchscreen takes center stage. In addition to a new steering wheel and metal pedals, last year's heavy seats have been replaced with lighter "cobra-design" thrones.
It goes without saying that everything looks, feels and smells oh-so-rich. But it should, as the sticker price on our 2012 Bentley Continental GTC was a not-so-paltry $235,137.45.
But it didn't start that high. The base GTC is "only" $212,800. However, our test car arrived configured with $22,597.45 worth of options. These included the offensive Magenta paint ($4,200) over Beluga leather and contrasting Magenta stitching ($1,830) with embroidered Bentley emblems. Other upgrades included the Dark Grey metallic roof ($2,040), massaging seats ($820), neck warmers ($960), and a $9,540 package with drilled alloy sport pedals, 21-inch two-piece wheels and knurled sports gear lever, among other things. Lest we forget, the valet key was an additional $260 – it should have been standard (who doesn't valet park a Bentley?).
As the schedule would dictate, our time with the GTC was booked over New Year's weekend. While the dead of winter is hardly optimal for open-top motoring, Mother Nature must have missed Old Man Winter's memo as we basked in California's low-80s glow every single day.
The roof peels off the Bentley GTC with the touch of a button (the main switch is located on the center console or from the remote key fob). The operation isn't hurried, as it takes a rather leisurely 25 seconds for the substantial three-layer tailored soft top to completely disappear below the leather-covered alloy tonneau. Retracted, there are only two small protruding leather-covered rear head restraints (with integrated emergency roll hoops) to block the view to either quarter or to the rear. The view, as they say, stretches to the horizon.
Driver and front passenger are treated like royalty (as many likely will be). Both front seats are identical in shape and function, building on the traditional power-operated multi-angle adjustments by adding seat ventilation, heating and pneumatic massage. Our test car was fitted with Bentley's "neck warmer," a must-have option that blows electrically heated air on the napes of those occupying the seats to excellent effect on chilly days. The functional controls for the seats are split between the center console and an angled panel on the outboard side of the bottom cushion. The layout is confusing at first, but they are easy to operate.
The nobility will want to stay in the two front seats, as the rear accommodations are snug. Small children don't even fit back there with taller drivers. It is not for lack of head or torso space, which is actually generous, but the compartment is void of leg room. Even with the automatic seats moving themselves up and out of the way, the only method of packing four passengers into the two-door Bentley was with the driver and front passenger thrones moved uncomfortably forward several inches, yet sitting this way is both awkward and very inelegant for all.
A quick press of the Start/Stop button (located aft of the transmission control on the center console) spins the engine to life. The twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W12 is identical to the powerplant in the Coupe, both rated at 567 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) and 516 pound-feet of torque (at 1,700 rpm). A sturdy ZF six-speed automatic with a traditional selector gate (PRNDS +/-) is tasked with the gear ratios while a permanent all-wheel-drive system is responsible for traction.
The heavily insulated firewall prevents nearly all powerplant noise from permeating into the cabin, a complaint we also had with the GT Coupe. However, the absence of an aluminum roof overhead means the welcomed exhaust burble is much more pronounced. It was never loud, just slightly more vocal. At idle the turbocharged engine growls softly, but a tempered sporty burble is evident on downshifts.
Around town, the GTC drove as smoothly as a stick of butter sliding across a very warm skillet. Much of the credit goes to Bentley's Continuous Damping Control (CDC) air suspension, which keeps all 5,501 pounds of British opulence gliding effortlessly down the road. We set the electronically controlled system on soft, and then left for a relaxing cruise.
Driving down California's famed Pacific Coast Highway, with all four windows stowed cleanly out of site, there was relatively little buffeting from the wind rushing around the front windscreen at 55 mph. The driving position affords a good view of the road, but also puts all passengers deep within the cabin, thereby keeping them out of the turbulence and air vortices. At higher speeds, most will prefer the side glass up, as we did, to allow easier conversation and limit drafts. For the ultimate sky-gazing isolation, Bentley also provides a very trick collapsible aluminum/mesh wind blocker (rear passengers need not apply). Combined with the neck warmers and the cabin heater, we cruised comfortably in nighttime ambient temperatures dropping into the low 50s.
Despite its anvil-like curb weight – The GTC is about 400 pounds heavier than the standard GT – the Bentley will move smartly when ordered. The W12 develops massive amounts of torque down low and the permanent all-wheel drive ensures that it never misses a step. According to the automaker, the GTC will sprint to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. There is ample power, and the convertible feels fast, but we wouldn't call it quick. We floored the accelerator on the highway at 70 mph and the nose lifted several inches as the vehicles mass transferred rearward, like a boat. Six liters of turbocharged power can do remarkable things.
Bentley offers two different brake packages on its Continental. Ours was the standard setup, with iron rotors on all four corners clamped by two-piston sliding calipers up front and single-piston sliding calipers in the rear. The standard brakes are huge, and they never felt overworked. Those who frequent higher speeds, or want to benefit from lower unsprung weight, may want to order the optional carbon-ceramic brakes with eight-piston fixed calipers in the front and single-piston sliding calipers in the rear.
Our investigative diligence required us to take the Continental GTC into the canyons for a workout. We put the CDC in Sport mode and changed gears with the fixed column-mounted paddle shifters. The all-wheel drive, with a torque split of 40:60 under dry conditions, kept all four P275/35ZR21 Pirelli P-Zeros arduously clawing at the asphalt. While we easily stayed within the reflective paint on the road's surface, the overall feeling wasn't engaging – it just isn't that type of enthusiast vehicle. Even in its firmest setting, the plush suspension and luxurious chassis tuning left us rather disconnected, as if we were steering from an operator's position 10,000 feet above the driver's seat.
Feeling a bit dejected, we returned the suspension settings to soft and relegated the transmission's gear choices back to the computer. As if to thank us, the Bentley seemed more pleased in this configuration.
We found a lot to like about the Bentley GTC. Its W12 powerplant is smooth and power delivery is strong with a confident note coming from the twin exhaust. While a bit thirsty (EPA 11 city/19 highway), the 23.8-gallon fuel tank offers plenty of range, meaning trips to the fuel pump are few and far between. The chassis is unbelievably rigid and the front seats are very comfortable and supportive. Despite operating at its own slow pace, the roof operation was flawless and we appreciated the dome light on the inside of the roof over the rear seats when closed – this was an unexpected and very helpful feature. The high beam headlights were some of the most powerful we have ever experienced, piercing miles down the road, and the overall interior fit and exterior paint finish was superb.
Of course, we also discovered a few less desirable traits. The two heavy doors would not stay in place when opened on anything but level ground (we parked on a hill and they threatened to swing back and remove our legs), and the rear seats are all but useless. The column-mounted paddle shifters are too small in size and out of position to be effective, and the primary center-console touchscreen display washes out in direct sunlight. Lastly, the 21-inch wheels may look hip, but their exorbitant weight detrimentally affects the ride. Sadly, much of those alloys' mass is felt directly through the steering wheel.
Then there is the elephant in the room: the magenta paint.
Color evokes emotion. That holds true whether it is the exhilaration felt when watching a Rosso Corsa (racing red) Ferrari 458 Italia zoom by, the unique splendor of a Silver Metallic Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe crossing your path, or the somberness associated with a Midnight Black Cadillac hearse. Color is not just a protective coating; it is part of the design.
The brilliant magenta paint on our 2012 Bentley GTC was polarizing. It was the first thing people mentioned and seemed to draw animosity everywhere we arrived. It is one thing to own a $235,000 vehicle, but another to flaunt it in a bright pinkish purple color. It was as if we were driving down the highway with one arm thrust out the window firmly holding a middle finger salute. The color wasn't just outlandish, it was uncomfortable.
Yet beauty is thankfully much more than skin deep. Unflattering hue aside, the 2012 Bentley Continental GTC was every bit as breathtaking as we expected it to be. While we enjoyed the refreshed GT Coupe last spring, we found its open-roof sibling even more appealing. It is every bit as powerful, and the slight discrepancies in performance are hardly noticed. Top down, there are only a handful of more lavish ways to enjoy sunbathing and stargazing from the same plush platform, and even fewer that are able to get us there as quickly. Of course, when it comes time to order ours, it will be in sparkling Glacier White.