A few years back, there was a Guinness ad on TV that ended with the tagline “Perfection just takes a little longer.” This phrase came back to me as I drove the latest Bentley GTC along some of the most challenging country roads in Croatia.
I’ve always considered the original Bentley GT and its al fresco GTC sister to be a work in progress. At launch in 2004, the GT felt 90 percent right, with a few annoying flaws that would not take much to eradicate. Bentley has progressively improved the car along the way, but the new GT, which made its debut at the beginning of this year, was a quantum leap forward from the previous model.
The makeover entailed keeping the overall look of the car more or less the same while changing every single body panel. As with the GT, the GTC’s new body panels have wrung a significant transformation to the car’s appearance.
It is important that a car of this class has a purposeful stance on the road. Where 19-inch wheels were the entry-level footwear before, one-piece 20-inch five-spoke alloys with Pirelli P Zero tires are now standard. Our test car was fitted with the optional two-piece 9.5x21 wheels shod with 275/35ZR21 tires. One of four new designs offered, they look terrific and help to fill out the wheel arches to their brims. The brakes are still the massive 405mm and 335mm vented discs front and rear, and you can have even larger but lighter 420mm and 356mm cross-drilled and vented carbon silicon carbide discs with matching pads as an option.
The new GTC’s dynamics are as much of a revelation as its looks. The GT and GTC always felt heavy because they are. But handling and feel are all about weight management and the transparency of controls. The first-generation cars always felt compromised by minor flaws in the steering and suspension elements that placed a veil in front of the inherent excellence of the all-wheel-drive chassis.
On the move, the revised steering is now more communicative and perfectly at one with the chassis. The stiffer bodyshell undoubtedly helps the case, creating a stable platform for the suspension to work its magic. Boasting a torsional rigidity of 22,500 Nm per degree of static twist, the GTC is the stiffest open car in the world.
Along with the retuned suspension and steering, stability and handling have also been enhanced by the tracks being widened 48 mm front and 41 mm rear. The final tweak is a recalibration of the ESC stability system so that experienced drivers can “play” with the handling more on demanding roads or even on track.
While there is no escaping the GTC’s massive 5,500-pound weight, the new performance orientated 40/60 front/rear torque bias gives the car a keener turn-in and better balance in to and out of bends than the original 50/50 power split could manage.
The result is that you can now almost think this big, heavy convertible around corners with a high level of precision because it is a far more intuitive drive than before. Because of this, you no longer feel you have to manage the car’s significant weight so carefully when pressing on through the bends, although as always smoothness translates into speed.
The ride has also improved beyond recognition. Where the original seemed to stiff, the new Continuous Damper Control (CDC) suspension settings have been improved to make full use of the new lower friction air suspension valving. Whether in Normal or Sport mode, this delivers improved suppleness to the GTC’s secondary ride. The greater overall composure as the car moves down the road is quite clear. Even in its Sport setting, the suspension noticeably breathes better over short, sharp undulations. While the Comfort setting is fine for wafting along the beachfront, it lacks finite rebound control when you pick up the pace. I left the adjustable damping set in the middle. This delivers a fine balance between comfort and handling that perfectly suits the GTC’s inherent nature.
The build quality, always good, is even better now and importantly, it looks like it has a touch more craftsmanship in its finish rather than being just perfect in a machine-made sort of way. The new seats are lighter and 25 mm slimmer, to the benefit of rear seat knee room. They also have a Neck Warmer airflow system that can blow warm air onto your neck in open-top driving. The GTC is now a genuine four-seater so long as the rear seat occupants are under six feet tall.
Too much power is just enough, and the uprated W12 now makes 567 hp at 6000 rpm, up from the previous 552. However, the emphasis is on improved torque, which is up by 37 lb-ft to 516 at 1700 rpm. The objective difference in straight-line speed from this modest increase is marginal and requires a stopwatch to measure. However, combined with the 150-pound weight reduction, you can subjectively feel a slightly snappier response and greater mid-range urge.
Thanks to the all-wheel-drive system, which ensures a clean launch and perfect distribution of power to the tarmac, the GTC will rocket to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and takes just 10.9 seconds for the 100-mph sprint. Its 195 mph top speed makes it the world’s fastest production four-seater convertible.
The 5,500-pound curb weight means that you are never going to feel supercar levels of tarmac scorching in this car. The GTC is not the sort of car that screams off the line leaving four black lines on the tarmac. Even if it could, that would be unseemly behavior for a Bentley of any description. Instead it just squats down and goes with a deep growl and a strong and constant thrust that pushes you relentlessly towards the horizon.
On the fly, the improved W12 motor and its six-speed automatic partner are like an Olympic-grade ice skating duet. With the Quickshift system from the Continental Supersports now standard and able to deliver 200-millisecond upshifts, the engine and gearbox work quickly and seamlessly in perfect unison. Floor the throttle at speed and the super-smooth kickdown brings the most appropriate of the six forward ratios into play instantly. The transmission will even double-downshift to deliver warp factor levels of drama-free acceleration. It is the epitome of the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove.
Where the original GT and GTC may have been desirable to many buyers for their image rather than just their technical and dynamic prowess, the latest cars exceeded my expectations on all levels. To paraphrase a well-known stockbrokers’ saying, this car is a definite buy. To which I would add: and enjoy!
2012 Bentley Continental GTC
Engine 6.0-liter W12, dohc, 48-valve. Twin-turbocharged
Six-speed automatic with Quickshift
Self-leveling air suspension, four-link double wishbone (f), trapezoidal multi-link (r), antiroll bars
15.9-inch (f), 13.2-inch (r) ventilated rotors
Length/Width/Height (in.): 189.2/76.5/55.2
Curb Weight: 5,501 lb
MSRP: 225,000 (est.)
Peak Power: 567 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 1700 rpm
0-62 mph: 4.5 sec.
Top Speed: 195 mph