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First Drive: 19 seconds to make a Continental GTC

A Bentley Continental GT – surely one of the world’s finest grand tourers – with a limitless amount of headroom, thanks to a z-fold fabric roof that can be stowed or erected in 19 seconds at up to 50kph. The Continental GTC competes with the Aston Martin DB11 Volante and Ferrari Portofino, among others. 

Indeed, there aren’t many differences between the Continental GT Convertible – or Continental – and the coupe on which it’s based. Except the roof, obviously, which brings with it strengthening in the form of much bracing and metalwork. The structure is five per cent stiffer than before, while aluminium panels mean the body is 20 per cent lighter.

And happily, substantially better-looking. The old Continental GT was a not an unattractive car, but this new one moves things on. Bentley’s moved the front axle forward by 135mm, improving weight distribution by shifting the engine lower and further back in the chassis. This means the front overhang can be much shorter, which together with the longer rear overhang gives the Continental GTC a much better profile than the car it replaces.

Things have moved on mechanically, too. The engine is still a W12 with a couple of turbochargers for good measure, but now there’s more power and torque, plus cylinder deactivation for better economy. Still drives all four wheels, but now through an eight-speed DSG rather than a torque-converter auto. Three-chamber air suspension aims to give a silky smooth ride, while a 48-volt active roll control system is tasked with keeping the GTC’s substantial mass in check through the corners.

There are a lot of very big numbers associated with the Bentley Continental GTC, many of them very good. The engine, for example, is a twin-turbocharged, 6.0-litre W12 (that’s 12-cylinders arranged in a ‘W’ formation) making a rather generous 467kW and 900Nm. Less good is how much the Continental GTC weighs. Its 2,414kg bulk means this two-door cabriolet is some 100kg heavier than a five-door, seven-seat, fully-loaded Land Rover Discovery. Or if you’d prefer, not far off four Ariel Nomads. Yes, four.

Not unlike VW Group stablemates Porsche, Lamborghini and Audi, Bentley has chucked a lot of technology at the Continental GTC to make it handle… like it doesn’t weigh as much as a small country. To try and outfox physics. A 48-volt anti-roll system for flat cornering and torque vectoring front-to-back (all-wheel drive, remember) and side-to-side means the GTC does things a near 2.5-tonne car should not be able to do. It steers, grips and goes very well indeed – night-and-day better than the barge it replaces, which used to struggle to keep its mass in check. There’s a measure of fun to be had driving this new one quickly – it’s still a heavyweight, and proud of it, but there’s no heaving or lurching, as direction changes are handled ably, without fuss or furore. Long as you don’t go crazy, you’ll be just fine.

Why? Because where you notice the weight is on the brakes. These may be the biggest steel discs ever fitted to a production car, but they still aren’t quite tough enough for the job. In everyday driving they’re just fine, but use them hard and often and things start to unravel. The other thing is that because this is a convertible, despite loads of strengthening (especially for the sills and A-pillars) there is a bit of scuttle shake. Nothing like as much as a Mercedes S-Class Cabrio, for example, but enough that you might notice a wee bit of a wobble through the steering column over rough roads. Your passenger will notice, if they rest their hand on the top of the windscreen as you’re driving along. No big deal. Either way this is still a tremendous car in which to do distance – the ride is smooth, seats comfortable and interior quiet and opulent. Proper Bentley.

All-wheel drive and a smooth, quick-shifting eight-speed, double-clutch gearbox (which it doesn’t really need, because all the torque is there from just 1,300rpm) means despite the weight, the Continental GTC is hugely fast. 0-100kph only takes 3.7 seconds, while the top speed is way beyond 320kph. And of course it’s incredibly refined, so…

On the inside

… You’ll not notice you’re doing multiples of the speed limit until you’ve been pulled over and thrown in prison, which is mildly irritating. Bentley claim the cabin is as quiet as the old Coupe’s, and we believe them. There are so-called ‘luxury’ cars with proper, non-folding roofs with louder cabins than the GTC’s. And when you’ve got the roof down (and windows and wind-break up), there’s basically no turbulence to speak of. Your hair will survive the journey intact. The light breeze might even give it a bit more volume. Keeping you warm with the roof down are a pair of air vents that blow hot air on the back of your neck, heated seats and heated armrests.

The GTC’s interior is very good indeed – techier and better made than a DB11’s, and more opulent than a Ferrari Portofino’s. Everything that looks like metal is metal, everything that looks like leather is leather, and everything that looks like wood is wood. All the stalks and buttons (there are loads) are beautifully damped. Its party piece is the optional rotating infotainment screen, which lets you hide the 12.3in display behind either a plain piece of veneer, or a collection of analogue clocks (a compass, temperature gauge and stopwatch). The instrument cluster is a version of VW/Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, and there’s a superb HUD too.  

The infotainment system itself looks like it borrows the basics of its interface from the Porsche Panamera/Cayenne, with a vertical menu down the side for switching between media/climate/nav and so-on. CarPlay and Android Auto are present and accounted for. The base stereo is a 10-speaker, 650 watt setup by Bentley itself. But you’ll want to upgrade to either the 16-speaker, 1500 watt system by B&O or the 18-speaker, 2,200 watt system by Naim. You really, really will.

Seating is for four, though you won’t use the rear two (it’s either carry three passengers and sacrifice your hairdo, or pick your favourite and keep the wind-break) and while it’s obviously not as spacious as the coupe, there’s still space enough for everyone’s luggage. The boot remains the same size – roof up or down.

Verdict

Just like the coupe, this is a massively more dynamic car than the one it replaces. All the drive systems give it an athleticism that a car of this size, type and mass ought not to have. And of course it’s hugely fast in a straight line. So fast and so refined, you never feel as though you’re going as fast as you really are. It’s a licence loser, that’s for sure, with an uncanny ability to carry speed cross country without getting all out of shape. 

Good convertible too – while it’s plainly not as stiff as the coupe, the Continental GTC doesn’t shudder or shake like big, luxury convertibles of even just a generation or two ago, and with all the wind brakes in place there’s virtually no turbulence in the cabin. Which will please potential customers no-end. A deeply satisfying car in which to cover lots and lots of miles, and we suspect own. At a price. 

Original source: Bentley Continental GTC

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