Car reviews - Bentley - Continental - GTC Convertible
Styling, front seat comfort, cachet value, steering, body rigidity
Room for improvement
Rear seat legroom
13 Dec 2006
By CHRIS HARRIS
FEW people could have foreseen the impact the Volkswagen Group would have on Bentley when it bought the beleaguered company back in 1998 from Vickers.
There may have been fears that the heart could be leached out of this blueblood brand but VW has been true to the soul of this proud Brit.
In 2003 – the year the Continental GT Coupe arrived - Bentley sold 995 cars globally.
The GT was the portent of change. It was the first product of a harmonious cross-cultural marriage between VW and Bentley.
Fast forward to 2006 and things have really changed.
This year Bentley will sell more than 9000 cars, largely on the back of new products like the Conti GT, the Conti Flying Spur sedan and now the Conti GTC Convertible.
They join the Arnage and soon the Azure convertible and the Havana hardtop, to push the English chaps well into the 21st century with some exciting product.
Wisely, VW has not tampered with all that is Bentley, injecting $1.3 billion into its facilities and workforce to add some modern technology, drivetrains and build quality into the cars.
The Bentley plant in Crewe was modernised, bringing it into the 21st century, but VW did not abandon the Bentley mantra of assembling some of the world’s best hand-built vehicles.
Now Bentley has turned its efforts to a soft-top GTC.
Visually the GTC shares the Continental’s two-door body with quad headlights, an impressive mesh grille and a tidy rear-end, as well as a lavishly equipped interior.
Underneath it shares the GT’s 6.0-litre "W12" engine and suspension, with appropriate body stiffening added to cope with the loss of the roof.
Importantly though, the GTC’s driving dynamics are very close to the Conti's.
Of course, it does have an electric folding fabric roof but in a Bentley this means a sophisticated seven-bow, three-layer fabric roof that provides hardtop-like acoustic damping and insulation, as well as a heated rear window. The roof can also be lowered at speeds of up to 30km/h and stows in 25 seconds.
Losing the roof has certainly not dented the GT’s reputation as an impressively strong car. Even minus the tin lid, the GTC is rigid and cocooning. There is little evidence of scuttle shake and the doors shut with a reassuring thud.
Apparently, Bentley had considered a metal folding hardtop for the GTC but customers insisted the company remain true to the tradition of convertibles – the roof had to be a soft-top.
Lift the bonnet and the GTC’s powerplant is a sight to behold, wedged into what seems like an impossibly small engine bay.
The motor is the same top-shelf twin-turbocharged and intercooled version of the Phaeton’s 6.0-litre 48-valve W12 engine. In the GTC it develops 411kW at 6100rpm and a muscular 650Nm of torque from just 1600rpm. All this is delivered in virtual silence.
The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic with sequential shift function as well as steering wheel paddle shifters, discretely hidden behind the wheel.
Like the GT, the power is harnessed by an all-wheel drive system with a Torsen differential sourced from the Audi A8.
It delivers a top speed of 312km/h with the roof up (306km/h with the roof down - just 12km/h shy of the hardtop) and takes 5.1 seconds to hit 100km/h - 0.3 seconds more than the GT.
Traction and stability control keep the power in check, while the brakes have enough stopping power to halt an aircraft carrier. The discs measure 405mm at the front and 335mm at the rear.
If it all sounds big and beefy it is. But the GTC handles with the alacrity of something approaching a hot-hatch and the torsional rigidity of a Sherman tank. The brakes, too, prove particularly adept at hauling the hefty 2495kg beast of burden to a very quick halt.
The GTC also offers a magic carpet ride even with the roof down.
Although it is 110kg heavier than the GT it delivers a crisp driving experience. You’re aware of its weight but at no point does it impede on the car’s steering or braking.
The steering is communicative and reasonably sharp, the ride lush and wind roar almost absent with the roof down.
Rush into a corner and a polite dab on the brakes will set the car up well to power through, the slightly mechanical rasp of W12 through the exhausts reminding you that this is no ordinary engine.
Importantly, the extra body stiffening, hydraulic roof mechanism and roll-over protection hoops behind the rear seats do not really affect the car’s outright performance or balance.
But who cares?
The GTC is the style and type of car you want to be seen in. Just ask Paris Hilton. She’s been photographed enough times in the GT to warrant a stipend from Bentley for free advertising.
Apart from Hollywood-types, the GTC is also destined to be a hit in Australia. So far, 74 Aussies have ordered one.
Apart from the visual "bling", you get an awful lot in the GTC. It is a craftsman-built car with all the standard features comeasurate with its price.
We particularly like the wood veneers and leather, as well as the roof, which has three-layers, is acoustically damped and has a thick "sandwich" insulating layer to keep temperature extremes at bay.
Given the cabin’s opulence, there is enough wood and leather inside to upset the Greens and the trim, from the aluminium air-vent bezels to the carpets and seatbelts, feel as though they’ve been hand-picked for the car.
The front-seat passengers sit low and deep in this environment. The driving position is good and as you would expect, the ergonomics are spot on.
Despite its smaller boot, the GTC there is enough room for two golf clubs and the boot has a load-through facility for skis.
Bentley engineers had to re-engineer the car’s rear air-suspension units to allow for the folding roof mechanism in the boot, but owners won’t be too fussed with complaining about a lack of luggage room.
Most Bentley owners already own more than one car and we’d suggest their garages would already have something that could carry something as mundane as luggage.
Physically, the GTC is 9mm higher than the GT but sits on the same 2745mm wheelbase and is the same width and length at 1916mm and 4804mm respectively.
Predictably, the GTC’s interior is as lavish as you could expect of a car with a six-figure entry price. The seats are sumptuous for two adults but rear-seat room is strictly for children.
And that’s probably really the only criticism of this uber-coupe. It’s just a two-seater – but what a two-seater.
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