– Timeless exterior styling
– Cabin trim and features
– Power, ride and handling
– Too expensive for what it is
– Fuel economy of a bus
– Rear-seat legroom
Ah, the Bentley Continental GT. This is one car that has aged rather gracefully, cruising along unchanged for the better part of a decade before the 2012 facelift came along. And even that “redesign” is so subtle that most people probably can’t even tell the difference.
As seen on our GTC convertible tester, the biggest changes are the new bumpers, the reshaped tail lamps, and the size of the headlights. Maybe the wheels are new as well, but we’re not nerdy enough to remember what they looked like before. But for an elongated 2+2 seater, it still continues to look great, even in cloth-top form.
The cabin is trimmed with leather all over, even down in the footwells, with huge chunks of wood on the dash and doors, and shaggy carpets on the floor. We would’ve preferred padded door inserts and cushier armrests, but the Bentley goes for style over anything else. Even the traditional metal a/c vents are there, sweating with condensation when the roof is down.
The GTC is big on the outside, but no so big on the inside. Sure, there’s more than enough space up front for two passengers in the cosy partially-bolstered bucket seats, but the upright rear buckets can only hold midget kids in comfort. As for storage spaces, there’s a surprising number of cubbies and pockets, thankfully not forgoing practicality like the Porsche Panamera’s fancy centre-console does. Weirdly, the cover for the cup-holders pops off to become a case for your sunglasses. Even the individual centre-armrests can open up to store small stuff in. Even the boot, which isn’t particularly big, has a cargo net to hold down smaller bags.
The tech features have also been updated, at least when compared to the 2008 model we drove before. It continues to feed off Volkswagen tech, with a touchscreen multimedia system straight out of the VW Golf. It does the job though, with integrated stereo, phone and navigation controls, as well as short-cut buttons below for each. There’s a Bluetooth phone handset hidden away in the armrest, for whatever reason. The Naim-branded stereo is excellent, while the dual-zone a/c is merely above-average. Other features include ventilated power seats, powered boot lid, adaptive cruise control, HID headlights with LED running lamps, front-side airbags, smart keyless entry and start, rear camera with sensors, and a manually-attachable wind deflector that takes up space in the boot when not in use.
Our car is powered by Bentley’s trademark “W12” engine, essentially a turbocharged 6.0-litre V12, now making 575 hp at 6000 rpm and a whopping 700 Nm of torque from only 1700 rpm, with an 8-speed automatic feeding the juice to all four wheels. The big motor moved the 2570-kg convertible in 5.6 seconds during our 0-100 kph test in hot August weather. There is effortless accelerative power available at any speed, but it comes at the cost of fuel economy. We managed a burn rate of 19.9 litres/100 km during our time, or about the same as a Toyota Land Cruiser.
The GTC offers great grip around corners, largely feeling flat in terms of body roll thanks to adaptive air suspension. The suspension can be firmed up by fiddling with the computer whenever you feel like speeding up a mountain. There’s always the stability of all-wheel-drive, and while it is easy to overcook the front tyres of this heavy beast on sharper turns, the tail can still be swung out a bit on slippery surfaces. The steering is soft, but offers a bit of feel, while the brakes are pretty good. The paddle-shifters are thin sticks behind the wheel that are a bit of a reach, but get the job done. Selecting “sport” mode makes the throttle response sharper, but it can get too jumpy at low speeds, so the smoother “normal” mode is preferable in city driving.
The car rides a bit firmly, but is still smooth enough on most roads, especially if you set the suspension at the softest setting. For a car that has low-profile 275/35 tyres on massive 21-inch wheels, it still manages to be comfortable. Wind and road noise is admirably kept out by the thick soft-top, although there is a moderate audible “hush” at 120 kph, and passing cars can still be heard on the highway.
Still, we’re more impressed by the GTC than the much-pricier Mulsanne we drove earlier. This “cheaper” Bentley rides almost as well, has a sporting streak, looks a whole lot better, and it isn’t embarrassing to be seen in the driver’s seat. It has the cachet to make hotel valets scurry around to serve you just as equally as the guy who shows up in a Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe that costs twice as much, so why pay more to drive that bus? Just sink your life-savings into the GTC instead. It only costs as much as a small villa.
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