The convertible version of Bentley's Continental GT has always been my other half's favourite car. As a wedding present to ourselves, we hired one for a four-day weekend, and covered a total of 400 miles across a wide range of city, country, motorway, sunny and wet driving.
There really is nothing quite like the GTC, sitting alone in the 3-ton, convertible, four wheel drive luxo-tank category of cars. The first thing that strikes you is its unusual size. It's seven feet wide, sixteen feet long, and has a very high waistline, meaning mass is looming at you from all sorts of unexpected places. And yet the stylists have successfully managed to make it look almost sleek.
The wheels are truly enormous, and the 24" brakes were the biggest ever fitted to a road car at the time. The example we hired showed them off with even larger-than-normal aftermarket alloys. It all adds up to a presence unlike anything I had experienced in a car before. It made the equally priced Porsche 996 that I test drove recently seem like a go-kart.
Most of the appeal of the Bentley is in its astounding cabin. In a way, this car is at its best when sitting absolutely still in traffic. Sitting down on the enormous and very comfortable seats, you never want to leave again. The cabin combines the best of British craftmanship and quirkiness (knurled buttons, push-stop levers) with German sensibility and build quality (everything feels solid and well spaced apart). The centre information unit was a bit unintuitive at first, but I eventually began to understand how it combined physical buttons and generic i-Drive style digital menus.
Starting the engine was a thrill that I will never forget. The starter motor screeches away for a second, and then the deepest, lowest, smoothest W12 roar erupts seemingly from everywhere at once. It sounds like being constantly followed by a pack of Harley-Davidsons.
And now, onto the drive. The GTC is a strange blend of being easy and difficult to drive at the same time. Pro points are the wonderfully politically incorrect engine and gearbox, which keep the revs high and the flywheel spinning quickly at all times, ready for explosive acceleration at any time the driver wants. The 4WD system gave this 3-ton beast incredible grip and sure-footedness. Con points are the sheer size of the thing and the knowledge that a minor traffic ding will probably constitute a $5k repair.
Eventually, I threaded my way out of dense city traffic and was able to open up the throttle on the motorway. Predictably, 600 HP and lots of open space is quite a fun combination. The Conti will take off like the crack of a whip from pretty much any speed and conditions you can imagine, and will not let up until the driver begins to fear for his licence. 200mph is the published top speed, and I don't doubt it.
There was not a whiff of turbo lag, probably due to the engine's aforementioned tendency to keep the revs high at all times. The price you pay for this is that it will get through fuel like you will not believe. 15 MPG is likely in normal driving conditions. Do not buy one of these thinking you can take it easy and save at the pumps - it just doesn't work that way.
I noticed that it became a bit jittery and weavy above 90mph. This was probably due to the aftermarket alloys, which were definitely too big, and didn't leave enough tyre to soak up the road bumps. My advice is to go with the standard alloys.
Country roads were a blast, with the hood down, engine happily supplying all the power you could ever want, and 4WD system masterful in getting it around corners. I could see heads turning as we drove through villages - not really my intention, but it is a very striking looking car. Not one for a man who likes to keep a low profile.
The standard stereo is OK at best. Music aficionados should probably seek out the more expensive sound options - I think Harmon-Kardon can be installed.
In summary - I loved driving it, but am not sure if I would be up to the challenge of owning one for my everyday drive. You would need the heart of a lion and the resources of a Raja. I look forward to test driving a VW Phaeton in the future, which apparently has exactly the same underpinnings with less of the histrionics, and is even available in a sort-of-frugal diesel version.