There are two Bentley worlds--old money, embodied by the Arnage and the Azure; and arriviste, represented by the Continental GT family. While the classic rear-wheel-drive cars were conceived at the end of the steam age, the four-wheel-drive models were born soon after Volkswagen took over the winged B in 1998. First out was the Continental GT coupe, followed by the Flying Spur sedan. Now comes the breathtakingly beautiful Continental GTC convertible.
Most convertibles look better with their tops stowed away, but the GTC looks stunning whether the top is up or down. When raised, the three-layer roof turns the GTC into a hushed cocoon. When lowered, the top disappears beneath a leather-trimmed lid, exposing the cabin's plush carpet, generously draped leather, and plentiful wood and chrome. Theoretically, the GTC seats four, but the chairs in back are quite narrow and short. Rear legroom is an extremely precious commodity, and the weather in row two tends to be quite blustery. Because of the short rear side windows and the steeply raked windshield, a wind deflector, which looks somewhat pedestrian in this otherwise grand environment, is necessary.
The GTC weighs a whopping two and a half tons, but with 551 hp on tap, our test car accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in an effortless 4.9 seconds and topped an honest 195 mph. Fuel consumption? The best number we saw on the digital display was 15 mpg, while the worst was 6 mpg. The 6.0-liter W-12 employs two turbochargers to produce 479 lb-ft of torque at a relaxed 1600 rpm. The six-speed manu-matic relays forward thrust to the nineteen-inch wheels, which are great for grip and traction but less good at providing a plush low-speed ride. Since the oomph is split evenly between the axles, you get a little turn-in understeer and a little liftoff oversteer, but in general this ship sails through corners with stoic neutrality. Despite all the mass and weight, there is an unexpected lightness in the controls. The steering is a two-finger job at all speeds, the brakes respond eagerly to the tips of your toes, and the paddleshift transmission juggles ratios in an amazingly efficient fashion.
Drawbacks? Your hat will go flying above 100 mph, and the crisp suspension setup and stiff low-profile tires result in a crash-bang-wallop ride on certain surfaces.
Rich hooligans may be better off with a loud rear-wheel-drive plaything, but the Continental GTC's pragmatic blend of luxury and sport seems destined to hit the bull's-eye with well-to-do aristocrats. It's the perfect excuse to indulge.