Gaudy. Overstyled. Ostentatious. Attention-hungry. These are words that can be used to describe any number of high-end, six-figure automobiles with pedigreed names and gobs of power. Often, those credentials are accompanied by trademark styling that ranges from the merely adventurous to the outright extreme. That particular branch of motoring is not ideal for everyone, however. Some prefer elegance to envelope pushing; understatement to "Look at me!" Thankfully, elegance and power are not mutually exclusive. Bentley, you see, has just about perfected the art of merging the two. Tastefully beautiful, the Bentley Continental GTC draws as many stares as cars designed to be attention magnets. With 6.0 liters, 12 cylinders, and 552 twin-turbocharged horses underhood, it's no shrinking violet, either. That's the best part, you see. When asked, the Bentley sizes up all comers, and then it blows their doors off -- with panache.
All photos Copyright ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
You know the weekend's off to a good start when Friday involves the delivery of droptop Bentley. Glistening in the afternoon sun, resplendent in an Anthracite finish from the Arnage line (a $4K option, by the way) with an interior swathed in Fireglow red leather and piano-black wood inserts, the GTC almost looks back at you through the window as if to ask, "Why on Earth are you in the house when you could be out here driving me?" Not a bad question.
The GTC is easily the most attractive of the Continentals, its topless profile transforming a car that is eye-catching as a coupe into a classically gorgeous open tourer. Though its design looks thoroughly modern, there are distinct nods to Bentley's heritage in that sculpted bodywork. The accent line that follows the front wheel arch and extends into the door is just like the one you'll find on an old R-Type Continental. The same goes for the car's pronounced rear haunches, which are perhaps the strongest visual indicator of the immense muscle it packs underhood. Those elements, along with the subtly back-angled headlamps, the deeply raked windscreen, and the gentle downward slope at the rear give the GTC a jaunty, streamlined presence when viewed from the side. Fortunately, raising the roof does nothing to spoil the look, either. In fact, on our tester, the roof added an unexpected shot of pizazz, as it was finished in the same shade of red as the interior.
The front end of the car is simple and uncluttered. Four circular lamps flank the bright, diamond-patterned grille that looks metallic, but isn't. It's a more pedestrian-friendly lightweight plastic. Since the Contis are the sportier model range, there's no upright Flying B ornament. Those are reserved for the Arnages. Instead, a flush-mount "winged B" sits above the grillework. It also acts as the bonnet's lift. When you pop the engine cover, the "B" rises, becoming a handle. Pull on it, and up swings the hood, revealing the twin-turbocharged W12 it protects. The GTC's rump is also cleanly organized. Its squarish taillamps have stacked oval light patterns inside them, a shape subsequently repeated on the exhaust tips exiting through the rear bumper. They, like those ample rear haunches, radiate power, and for good reason.
Pull the door handle and you're greeted by a deliciously inviting cockpit. It's a symmetrical layout, with dual cowls separated by the center stack. There's an ignition switch to the left of the steering wheel, but you needn't trouble yourself with it. The car's switchblade key is also a keyless fob, so it never needs to leave your pocket. It's heavy, too, kinda like a roll of coins. After you slide into the cushy red seat (it's heated and, in our case, had a lumbar massage feature), the first thing you notice is that nearly every conceivable surface is covered in contrast-stitched leather. The IP hood? Black leather, red stitching. Everything else? Red leather, black stitching. Hell, the mechanized tonneau cover is all-leather, too. So are the pop-up roll hoops behind the rear seat headrests. What isn't covered with leather is trimmed in wood and metal. Every GTC comes with veneered wood inlays on the instrument panel and center console, but not every one gets the piano black treatment ($890) applied to ours. This made the cockpit look much sportier immediately, and contrasted the red primary color very well. The smaller details trim out the rest of the cabin nicely. A Breitling clock is mounted high in the center of the dash, and big round vents with organ-pull controls send heated or chilled air into the atmosphere.
The startup routine is of the push-button variety, and in an instant the W12 twin turbo is alive, and so, when you hear it, are you. One friend who came over to check out the car and go for a ride took on a look of total incredulity at the spectacular noise coming from the Bentley. "Are you serious?!?" he asked. "I never would have figured this thing to sound like that." What "that" sound is, is 3/4th's Veyron, albeit a little less apocalyptic than the Bugatti's 16-cylinder box of wickedness. This is not an exaggeration. The GTC's look is all class, but the sound it makes when you goose that throttle on startup is evil on a popsicle stick, as if your right foot opens a portal to hell. My slackjawed friend summed it up thusly: "Oh my God . This thing is badass ." Indeed it is.
Now, as mean and nasty as the motor sounds when you spark it up, it would be somewhat out of character for it to always be at full menace. You can put on a floor show in your driveway for a little while, but then civility kicks back in. The exhaust system is modulated so that at startup, it's wide open and sounds that way. After idling 60 seconds, however, a set of flaps close, muting the aural signature. You can now go about your business making no more noise than Grandpa's Buick. Nudge the tach over 3,000 RPM, however, and the flaps open back up, heralding the return of that predatory exhaust note. This is made around 500% more enjoyable thanks to the complete lack of a roof, which is why the GTC is so engaging. You don't miss out on any aspect of the multimedia experience the car provides.
The Bentley's flared rear fenders could easily make one believe the GTC's a rear-driver, but that's one trait it doesn't share with its R-Type forebear or any of its showroom siblings from the Arnage line. The GTC's six-speed automatic with Tiptronic channels power to all four wheels. As such, launching the 5,456-pound convertible is rather drama-free. Pull the shifter down into the Sport Program by selecting "S," and punch it. There's no wheelspin, no smoky burnout -- just the bellowing sound of the exhaust and the feeling you've been launched from an aircraft carrier's steam catapult. Bentley pegs the GTC's 0-60 time at 4.8 seconds, and who are we to argue? The rate at which this car accelerates is astonishing, and you'd never guess that it weighs over two-and-a-half tons if you didn't know better. It takes some serious braking power to halt that mass, and again, the GTC is more than up to the task. Showing off front discs the size of appetizer tray through the wheel spokes, the brakes also draw comments. My neighbor, eyeing the car as I pulled it up for a show-and-tell, deadpanned, "Gee, you think the front rotors are big enough?" Yeah, they'll do.
On the road, the GTC is rock solid, its air suspension doing a good job of keeping the hefty ragtop planted and the ride pleasant. As the driver, you can also adjust the settings manually when the conditions call for it. With a few colleagues in the car for a demo ride, I came upon a long stretch of road that had recently been torn up. The ride became noticeably louder as we traversed the grooved, uneven pavement. I pulled up the suspension interface on the multimedia display in the center stack and dialed the slider over to the highest comfort setting. Almost immediately, the suspension adjusted itself according to my input. We were quickly rewarded with less noise and a smoother ride. Very impressive.
At highway speed, the cabin can get rather blustery. This isn't a complaint as much as it is an observation, as whining about wind in a convertible is akin to complaining that it's wet in your swimming pool. With the windows up, it's notably calmer, and with the top up, it's as quiet and well-insulated as some sedans. You can't operate the roof while underway, but if you get caught in a passing shower, all you need to do is pull over for around 25 seconds to make it happen. It's very quick and completely automatic -- no latches to release, just hold a button and wait. Conveniently, you don't need to be in the car to operate the roof, either. This is especially useful if you have a full load of passengers, as the gang can pile out at a restaurant without pretending they're Romanian gymnasts. Wait for your friends to exit gracefully and then put the top up by simply holding down the lock button on the outer door handle. Equally neat is the ability to lower it with the key fob. Getting ready to leave after coffee? No problem. While your party is polishing off the last sips of cappuccino, you can "prep" the car for your arrival if your seat's in the remote's operating range. Hold down a button on the fob, and watch the Bentley quickly stow its roof while it patiently waits outside. Bonus points if there are people standing near the car when you do this, as it's fun to watch their startled reactions.
The driving position is comfortable and affords good forward visibility, and the controls are generally straightforward. The multimedia interface takes a little getting acclimated to, but it quickly becomes second nature. Back seat passengers have a tight squeeze, but as I learned during a night out with friends, when you show up in their driveway with a Bentley, the paucity of rear legroom is something people are willing to look past. If we were taking the GTC on a road trip, however, we'd keep the passenger compliment limited to two, and use the back seat as additional luggage space for anything that didn't fit in the surprisingly ample trunk. The top is so compact when folded into its shallow storage well, it doesn't interfere with boot access at all. When you open it and peer in, you'll likely forget it's attached to a convertible. There's even a floor-mounted cargo net to keep smaller items from rolling about, which came in handy after a stop at the grocery store.
The GTC is not without a couple of nits to pick. For one, it clearly wasn't designed for people who bring a beverage in the car. The cupholder is an afterthought -- a removable attachment that snaps into a storage cubby in the center console. To access it at all, you must raise both front seat armrests, which become unusable as long as your coffee sits in its cradle. If the Porsche Boxster, a pure sports car, can provide eminently usable cupholders to its ooccupants, so, then, should Bentley, in its opulent open sports tourer. The other maddening experience with the GTC was its resistance to my particular Bluetooth phone. Even after following the manual and using the controller stowed in one of the armrests, all attempts to mate my Blackberry with the car were futile, as it apparently welcomes some Bluetooth devices but not others. It's frustrating to know that I'm all but guaranteed to quickly connect my phone in a Bluetooth-equipped Nissan or Toyota costing $25,000, but can't in a technology-laden $206,000 luxury car. Bentley has informed us that Bluetooth connectivity has been improved in its 2008 models. Granted, a Bentley owner (as opposed to a Bentley interloper like myself) faced with Bluetooth connection issues is likely to just go out buy a new phone that works with the car.
There are no other complaints to be made about the GTC. The total experience is simply too rich, too rewarding, and too invigorating for nitpicks to matter. Chalk them up to its "character." The Bentley doesn't want you sipping a coffee or yapping on the phone. It wants you to drive it, and for a glorious weekend, we did.
Cruising along one night, with the top down and a full load of passengers, I scooted down an empty tree-lined road and noticed a faint, occasional rumble, almost like thunder in the distance. It was a clear night, and rain hadn't been in the forecast. "Is that thunder?" I wondered aloud, perplexed. Then it dawned on me. It wasn't thunder at all. It was the Bentley, reminding everyone it was there, its exhaust burbling every time I lifted off the throttle. In a way, it capsulizes the entire experience of the car. Motoring along placidly, the rumble foreshadows a different kind of storm -- one that you control. The Bentley Continental GTC is either that quiet calm leading up to the big blow, or the thunderous, biblical, board-up-the-windows blast itself. It just depends on how far you flex your right foot.
All photos Copyright ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.