2010 Bentley Continental GTC Speed – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Bentley Continental GT has been lauded and derided for being too much: too powerful, too fast, too easy, too big, too ubiquitous, and yes, too good. The convertible version, the Continental GTC, dismissed its roof but retained the excess. Now, Bentley has worked its "Speed" hocus-pocus in order to create a new variant of everyone's favorite over-the-top drop-top and Crewe's mad scientists have taken a vehicle that's already cranked to eleven and turned it up a notch or two... or three. Gloriously excessive excess awaits after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Paukert / Weblogs, Inc.

Doing anything to make the GTC a more engaging or – dare we say – a better vehicle, is like getting a letter from the man above telling you that Heaven is now 43% improved. Angels have bigger wings and more melodious songs, and the flowing milk and honey is now organic. What do you do with that? In the case of the GTC Speed, we felt it our duty to drive it as hard as possible – a job we're all too happy to tackle. But like that better heaven, the experience is difficult to relate.

No singular element of the hotted-up GTC is magical. Instead, it's about creating a comprehensively improved package. The Speed versions aren't merely badge jobs, they're the culmination of a methodical, holistic approach to advancement. And stylistically, the alterations are subtle – or as subtle as anything with a flying "B" can be. Some would say Bentley's Speed lineup doesn't distinguish itself enough from its non-Speed siblings, but a closer inspection reveals the details are obvious, assuming you know what to look for.

The grille is more upright and square, the lower intake is reshaped, and the mesh benefits from a slightly darker tint. If you absolutely need a chrome grille, it's yours as a no-cost option and the chrome bezels surrounding the headlamps tie it together. In back, you'll find a new rear spoiler that rises to attention during high-speed maneuvers, and below that are wider, twin-rifled exhaust tips and a black lower bumper valance. The only obvious indication that you optioned up your GTC to the hilt comes on the sill plates, which simply read "Speed." Otherwise, there's that delicious three-spoke steering wheel, drilled alloy pedals, and knurled chrome and leather shift lever.

Beneath the aesthetic details, the car has been reengineered. In fact, some of those aesthetic details assist the engineering: the revised front grille improves airflow by 14% to the 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W12. The engine, which is under new management, spins more freely thanks to lower friction, lighter-weight components that includes a new crankcase design, camshaft chain, pistons and connecting rods, all of which are covered with a manifold finished in crackle black.

The GTC Speed also hunkers lower by 10 mm in front and 15 mm in back on a redesigned suspension. Specific settings for the springs, dampers, and anti-roll bar were reworked for around-town comfort, and the Continuous Damping Control works to minimize the rolling of that prodigious body. The power steering has been tuned for better feedback (it's still a bit too light for our Rolex-free wrists), and actual response is meant to be enhanced by stiffer rear axle bushings.

Since the point of having more is to be able to do more with it, the GTC Speed's electronic stability program intervenes progressively, and permits more wheelspin when set on Dynamic.

Beyond the standard engineering flourishes are optional touches that, naturally, are both over-the-top and over-the-top expensive. The optional carbon ceramic brakes measure in at 16.5-inches in front, 14-inches out back. The front brakes are an inch larger than those on the Bugatti Veyron, making them the largest discs you can get on a production car. Bentley will tack on another $17,840 to the bill as larger wheels and tires are required to accommodate the upgraded stoppers. Adaptive cruise control is $3,040. A satin paint finish in light or dark gray is $32,360. And the list goes on and on...

But money isn't your concern if you're shopping for a GTC Speed. Luxury is. The Speed gets the Mulliner spec with its diamond-quilted hides, and those massaging seats feel so good that cows likely stood in line to offer up their hides. Bentley's in-dash control system is slowly creeping up on modernity, with fully-integrated iPod and Bluetooth connectivity (at a cost, mind you), but it's still not something we enjoy fiddling with. The aurally concussive, 1,100-watt Naim audio system can be heard from the mesosphere, but be forewarned: Put the wrong track on at the wrong volume, and you'll discover that the volume knob is the gatekey to blown eardrums and rattle nerves.

But obviously, the GTC Speed is more than just a faultless operating theater, a few cosmetic tweaks and a rejiggered suspension. This is a 600-horsepower convertible with 553 lb-ft of torque, capable of running to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 200 mph with the roof up or 195 mph topless. It's the most powerful convertible Bentley has ever made, which is like NASA saying "This is the most powerful Space Shuttle we've ever made. And new for this year, you can have it in Aquamarine or Blue Crystal." But you wouldn't...

Bentley describes the GTC Speed's handling as "agile." And it is. But how the crew from Crewe manipulated the GTC's composure is compelling. Weighing in at 5,478 pounds, the Speed is just 200 pounds shy of a Toyota Landcruiser and just five inches shorter than ToMoCo's off-road titan. In order to create some semblance of handling, we can only assume Bentley kidnapped the muse Agility, strong-armed her into the car, put a well-oiled Walther PPK to her temple and said, "You'll give me everything you've got!" The result is a vehicle that's agile, but it overcomes every natural force in the world to do so.

Massive speed is a blink away. Massive braking, when the ceramic stoppers are cold, comes on even a bit too soon - herky jerky is on the menu until you've worked them in. Once they've had time to warm up and stretch out, the pedal loosens and the GTC delivers clean, linear decelerations.

Assault a corner – and it is an assault – and the GTC Speed responds like the finest English butler: everything is put on hold, including physics and maybe even reason, so it can fulfill your orders. It doesn't care that it's too big, too heavy or too plush to perform the desired maneuver. And frankly, it doesn't care that your requests could border on the immoral. This is what you have asked. And it will deliver... sir. Can you go too far? Of course. But the penalty is a mild case of understeer, and you do have the largest brakes in the world and a tsunami of torque to bring you back. And if you go too far for even that – and that's a terribly long way off – well, we wish you the best in the afterlife... but you probably deserved it.

The GTC Speed has been described as being made for "customers who demand a more focused, open-top driving experience." But let's put "more focus" in perspective: The GTC delivers even more power and poise, physics be damned. It's just as roomy, but its leather isn't diamond-stitched unless you pay extra. The GTC has new, low-friction dampers, but not the suite of engineering changes found on the GTC Speed. But as we said before: the GTC is already ludicrously, impossibly, bafflingly able.

The GTC is phenomenal. Yes, the GTC Speed is more phenomenal, but in the difference between the GTC and the GTC Speed, we're really talking slivers here. They just happen, however, to be slivers of heaven. Fittingly, that sliver will run you nearly $40,000 – the GTC Speed starts at $237,695 – but living a nasty, short, and brutish life in a cruel, cruel world, every little extra bit of heaven counts, no?

Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Paukert / Weblogs, Inc.

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