Bentley kicks off its centenary year with the launch of the Continental GT Convertible. We brave a chilly spring day in Andalusia to savour roofless driving at its excessive best.
In winter the shores of the Med beckon for the launch of any European vehicle, with the guarantee of constant dry weather. As Simon Blake, the director of body and trim engineering at Bentley explained, “So long as it’s not raining, you’re going to want to drive the Continental GT Convertible top down, right?”
Only he probably hadn’t counted on howling zero degree winds at the top of the fabled Road to Ronda. We’d gone topless, like the others in our entourage, setting out from Marbella on a 500km “Grand Tour” across Andalusia, ending in Seville, a city steeped in history. It can’t have been more than 10 degrees as we headed away from the coast but with windows up and neck warmers on full, seats simmering away it was almost toasty on our ascent to Ronda.
Until a brief photo stop at the top where it was blowing a gale – we literally hadn’t noticed on the drive up – and convinced us to put the hood back in place for a bit. Nineteen seconds later, and we’re once again cocooned from the elements.
So it wasn’t raining or snowing but it felt like a polar vortex up there. New for the third-gen GTC is a fresh roof, still a soft top because a folding hard top would have added too much weight and eaten further into boot space. The design, the so-called Z-roof on account of the manner in which it folds away, limits the weight increase over the Coupe to 150kg, though there’s no additional luggage space, despite a slight increase in the rear overhang.
So 235L might not sound a whole lot but it’s evidently enough to fit a bag of golf clubs without having to remove the driver. Sometimes it helps to be over 2m in width, though crawling through a multilane traffic snarl up outside of Seville with big rigs either side does rather emphasise the beam of this almighty convertible. It means you’re constantly having to monitor where you’re positioned in your lane; this isn’t the GTC’s happy hunting ground. Top up, the new GTC rejects the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
It’s so quiet within, as hushed as the previous hardtop Coupe, that you can hear noises that shouldn’t be there, like a minor window seal issue in our pre-production car. So we spent some time checking out the stupendous B&O sound system though didn’t dwell on that for too long, not when there’s audio of the 12-cylinder mechanical variety to take in.
Roads in Andalusia are busier than ever, especially the picturesque Road to Ronda speeds regulated by the traffic ahead rather than the constantly changing speed limits. But after the slow ascent and passing through Ronda, the wind is less penetrating and the sun comes out.
Some of the Europeans who’d forgotten to apply sunscreen are soon glowing red. Glad I’d remembered to pack the old cheese cutter. Top down again, and with the windsock in place there’s simply not a skerrick of breeze in the cabin. Lots of wind tunnel testing pays off here, helping the GTC cut through the wind.
And how. We’d also remembered to throw in some timing gear. Needn’t have bothered though because Bentley claims of it being 0.1sec adrift of the Coupe were precisely on the money. We saw figures of 3.55sec for the 0-100 run and 2.15sec for the overtake, almost preposterous for a car of this size and weight. It’s primarily down to the eight-speed twin-clutch transmission. While they’re typically hesitant off the line this isn’t. And the acceleration is epic.
After a brief stop for photography, we’re into more open country, and hook in behind some of the faster locals. Cruising at 140km/h the W12 engine is pulling a laughable 1750rpm. Even in Sport mode where the engine bellows like a bull and bangs like a bren gun on a dead throttle, the ride is only ever gentle and caressing. Heading past Seville and westwards towards the border with Portugal we arrive at roads which the Bentley crew promised would put the Grand in our Tour.
They weren’t wrong. Kilometres of smooth roads snaking through the Andalusian hillscape remind of the Ascari track we’d passed by earlier in the day. These were duly dispatched by the GTC, in as much as a big dog can twist and turn a bit less than a terrier, but it still displayed composure and balance, all its active systems keeping the action seemly.
A stomp on those oversized brakes sets the speed into the myriad right angle corners, and you climb back into the throttle, the active AWD system shuffling torque front to rear and side to side, sorting the exits. Occasional requests for second gear were ignored but we soon learnt that low-down torque in third gear is more than adequate for a hasty exit onto the connecting straights.
All the while the noise bouncing off the hills is breathtaking, the beautifully damped paddles a joy to operate. Engine speeds between 2500 and 4500rpm are sufficient here, short shifting bringing the engine back into the meat of its considerable torque band. This is vastly fast and gets gone in a way you’d not suspect from something so substantial (almost 5m in length and 2m in width).
Easing onto the freeway heading back into Seville we chase the quicker German machinery and the countryside disappears beneath the enormous 22-inch wheels with which the car can optionally be shod. Back out of Sport and into ‘Bentley’ mode, the GTC devours the more open and flowing corners with utter disdain, its active damping and sway bars keeping the body evenly poised, the ride fluid.
As with the Coupe, this comes with almost every conceivable comfort, convenience and safety item, though a few of the latter are consigned to City and Touring packages, both of which you’d want to specify atop the $395,000 price tag.
In its centenary year Bentley is in fine fettle, posting record numbers. The Bentayga is its best seller while the Continental GT is a close second. GTC, which has few real rivals, will undoubtedly bolster Continental sales.
If the W12 seems excessive, you can expect a V8 version within a short while and the hybrid powertrain of the Bentayga is also likely to find its way into the Continental GT line-up imminently. Pure EVs are still a while away but the company is saying they’re definitely part of its post-Brexit future.