It may be named Continental, but the new Bentley is unapologetically British.
The 1920s were a golden decade for Bentley. Ettore Bugatti, his greatest competitor at the time, whose lightweight, elegant, but fragile creations contrasted with the Bentley’s rugged reliability and durability, was so annoyed by Bentley’s repeated successes that he referred to them as “the world’s fastest lorries.” W.O’s reply is not recorded, and probably couldn’t have been printed anyway.The W12 GTC is also a bit of a bruiser: 2500kg of motor car, made with precision and from the finest materials; broad of haunch, elegant in its muscularity, and able to cleave the air at truly improbable speeds.
Bentley, and the famous Bentley Boys (Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin, Wolf Barnato, “Sammy” Davis, and thirteen other wealthy enthusiasts) won Le Mans in 1924, ‘27, ‘28, ‘29(1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th), and ‘30. Bentleys (4½, 4½ Blowers, and Speed 6s) were big bruisers, nearly 4.5m long and close to 2000kg, with a full load of fuel, driver and mechanic/co-driver on board. They were fast too; the Blower and the Speed Six were both capable of over 130 mph. On cart spring suspension, with rudimentary drum brakes, fitted with a Weymann fabric body offering the all crash protection of a paper bag; el Bentley Boys debe haber tenido las bolas de acero!
From the time that Rolls Royce bought Bentley’s company in 1931, Bentley was subsumed and subject to badge engineering of the worst kind. The 1952 Continental was a great ray of light, and the development of the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo, during the 1980s, did redress the balance somewhat. All that changed in 1998, when Volkswagen AG acquired Bentley Motor cars, and started proper brand resurrection strategies.
The W12 GTC is also a bit of a bruiser: 2500kg of motor car, made with precision and from the finest materials; broad of haunch, elegant in its muscularity, and able to cleave the air at truly improbable speeds. The W12 engine is a masterpiece of automotive engineering, using just two cylinder heads to cover all twelve cylinders, possible only because of the very low angle (15º) between the two crankcases. This quad-cam engine, twin turbo-charged and fuel injected is, therefore, relatively short and lightweight, producing not only 567bhp, but an astonishing 700nm of torque, enough to hurl this Crewe-built beauty to 60mph in only 4.5 seconds, and then onto a terminal velocity of 195mph, open topped if you want. Ally this performance to a six-speed auto-box (with beautifully made metal paddle-shifts that caress your finger tips) and permanent four-wheel drive, and you can have a slightly surreal battle taking place between momentum and moments of inertia. It can be placed in corners with surprising accuracy, courtesy of the wonderfully weighted steering, and an electronically adjustable air suspension system; hard-charging motoring is entirely possible, though the rear axle will step out if too large a dollop of torque is fed into the equation. With 275/35/R20 tyres, it has to be some dollop. Stopping all this requires something special; this Bentley is fitted with the largest disc brakes of any production car in the world – 405mm at the front
The test car had dark sapphire paintwork, with a shine about a foot deep, and a glorious contrasting leather-clad interior, with beautifully matched slabs of Tamo Ash finishing the mix. Visual delights abound; Fabergé would have approved of the veneered and leather-lined spectacle case; the quality of the stitching on the seats and steering wheel is peerless; the air vents with their organ-stop flow controllers show how it should be done, and the brake pedal is in the form of the ‘B’ from the centre of the badge. It’s almost sacrilegious to apply one’s shoe leather to the pedal. The open-top cabin is the stiffest of any convertible built (anywhere), and this translates to squeak, groan and rattle-free driving over even the most pavé of roads. The folding hood, with its wonderful mechanical ballet sequence when opening or closing, is barely noticeable in either position. When open, it stows below leather-trimmed panels that blend with the car’s lines; when closed, the car is just as cosy and quiet as the hard top.So, what’s it like to drive? Shockingly fast, if you really want it to be, but that’s to miss the point.
Bentley has blessed the GTC with a modern navigation system that includes Google Maps and an easy-to-use touch-screen interface, though changing the language, time-zone and map from Spain to the UK involved some mental gymnastics along the way. It doesn’t take up too much space on the dash either.
The Naim sound system, a £5250 option, specifically designed to fit each of the different Bentley cars, produces a ‘voice’, unparalleled in any other motor car, without exception. The system for the GTC boasts ten bespoke speakers, strategically placed around the cabin, über-cool Digital Sound Processing, and an 1100w amplifier located against the rear bulkhead of the boot. Whether it’s Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy soundtrack, or Mozart’s Ein Musikalischer Spass, the results will astound the listener. For the audiophile, it’s an automotive heaven.
Seats, you would imagine, are to sit on. Bentleys have something more in store. Seats that massage your back; seats that blow warm air around your neck; seats that can roast your rear end, that can be adjusted, electrically of course, in any one of eight directions. To satisfy the most fastidious posterior-placer. Seat-shaped sybaritism.
So, what’s it like to drive? Shockingly fast, if you really want it to be, but that’s to miss the point. The GTC is more about (very) fast, comfortable cruising; an early breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, and a late dinner at a chateau in the Burgundy region would be no problem. It handles all surfaces with aplomb, is unruffled by weather, and is possibly the most civilised place to sit that any driver will ever find.