Republished: 02/01/2010 (Original Date: 02/02/2010)
James Riswick, Automotive Editor
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the 2010 Bentley Continental GTC Speed is a nice automobile, as the Bentley name doesn't get slapped to just any old thing. But just how much nice are you getting for the price of a large home in Lansing, Michigan? Is this Bentley that much better than drastically cheaper luxury convertibles, and is the GTC Speed's extra performance chutzpah worth the extra $14,200 on top of the regular Continental convertible?
In Bentley-speak, GTC refers to the convertible version of the Continental GT coupe. The Speed bit signifies that this Bentley is "Born of the same heart as the GTC, but with a different soul. Darker. Sportier. Tauter." Makes it sound like Catwoman. But while the Speed may have bigger wheels, bigger brakes, a more powerful version of the twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W12 and improved handling dynamics, don't assume that it's some sort of hard-core BMW M-style sports machine. Instead, the GTC Speed retains every drop of Bentley civility -- it even ups the ante -- while doing a more adept job of helping 5,600 pounds of stately British motor car contend with the laws of physics.
Overall, we'd have to say the 2010 GTC Speed is worth the extra cash over the "regular old" GTC. You're already paying more than $250 large, so 14 additional Clevelands aren't going to break the bank. As for whether it's worth, say, $137,000 more than a Jaguar XKR convertible? Read on and decide for yourself.
The "W" in the Continental's 6.0-liter W12 isn't an errant keystroke. Rather than placing two banks of six cylinders in a V formation (hence V12), every Bentley Continental utilizes a pair of narrow-angle V6 engines joined together with four banks of three cylinders each, placed in a W formation. It's the same basic design philosophy utilized in other Volkswagen Group products, including the W16-powered Bugatti Veyron.
Bentley's W12 also benefits from twin turbochargers, and the GTC Speed gets a tweaked version good for 600 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque (versus 552 and 479). The boost wasn't simply turned up to "11" in order to achieve this power bump; rather, all engine internals were reengineered to reduce mass, including the pistons, the connecting rods and even the timing chain.
It all adds up to a colossus of power that motivates this all-wheel-drive convertible from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, even though the 5,562-pound GTC Speed weighs as much as a Chevy Tahoe. Just imagine what this thing could do if Bentley sent it to fat camp. The same comment could be made about the astounding carbon-ceramic braking system (a $16,500 option), which includes discs that are larger than the steering wheel and stop the Speed from 60 mph in 105 feet. That's about the same as an Audi R8.
In the real world, this translates into a car that handles its outsized proportions remarkably well. The rear-biased all-wheel drive and adjustable suspension settings allow for more enthusiastic driving than you'd ever think possible. However, the GTC Speed never inspires you to treat it as anything other than an incredibly fast touring car.
The steering is on the light side and not as communicative as that of an Aston Martin DBS, let alone a Ferrari California or some other Italian exotic. The GTC Speed never lets you forget that you're piloting an enormous craft, and substantial bumps will reveal some cowl shake and a less-than-ironclad structure. But if you limit yourself to sun-washed stretches of coast you'll find that few conveyances match the GTC Speed for top-down motoring.
Lower the beautifully lined soft top, erect the folding wind deflector over the backseat, raise the windows and marvel at how little noise and air infiltrate the Bentley's cabin. At 75 mph, you'll find your hair fussed no more than if the air-conditioning were turned to max. Because wind noise is so limited, you'll find yourself noticing road noise more than in other convertibles. With the top up, you'll be hard-pressed to find a quieter soft-top convertible.
The adjustable self-leveling air suspension constantly monitors ride height and damping depending on road conditions to provide the best ride possible. There are four driver-selectable programs that vary firmness for sportier driving, but the difference between them is minimal and none provide the sort of jarring, track-ready ride experienced in more dedicated sport-tuned adjustable suspensions (Porsches, for example). While the adjustable suspension improves handling, it doesn't do so at the expense of ride comfort.
Given the Continental's imposing dimensions, it's no surprise that it has one of the most spacious convertible interiors. Still, taller drivers will need to scoot their seat forward in order to accommodate folks in the otherwise comfortable backseat. Those in front likely won't mind much, as their beautifully shaped seats provide adjustable thigh extension, multilevel heating and an optional massage function. There's no seat cooling, perhaps because that would've required punching air holes in the buttery-soft leather.
In grand British tradition, the Continental GTC Speed is ergonomically challenged, although it's actually the Germans' fault this time. The antiquated electronics interface sourced from parent company Volkswagen features an LCD screen mostly controlled by two flawed interfaces: the adjacent buttons that line up with screen icons (which you'll want to press directly, but can't) and a large control knob with limited function that you'll wish would do more (like BMW's iDrive).
The navigation system is almost unusable due to its dial-up processing speed, ancient graphics and cumbersome controls. On the upside, the iPod interface is quite good and substantially better than the useless one that sullied earlier Continentals. It shouldn't be optional, as even a Scion tC (which costs about as much as the GTC Speed's optional carbon-ceramic brakes) has one standard.
As convertibles go, the GTC Speed's top-up visibility is good thanks to the large rear side windows. Backing up can be a bit hairy, but the back-up camera assists with this process. Cargo space is excellent for a drop top, with trunk capacity remaining the same whether the top is raised or lowered. A large suitcase and a set of golf clubs will fit, but you'll have to remove your woods.
Interior storage is decent for this sort of car, with large side pockets, but the cupholders are awkwardly located underneath the twin center armrests, which some may find to be mounted too high. If you have a child seat, put it in one of your more spacious cars, since the limited rear-seat space and the effort required to install it isn't worth the hassle.
Design/Fit and Finish
In our test car, supple diamond-quilted leather seats in Burnt Oak brown were accented with optional Magnolia tan border stitching. The doors and dash had leather trim to match. Burr Walnut veneer is in ample supply on the twin-cowl dash. The color scheme in your Bentley's cabin will likely differ from ours (there are almost infinite options, including two-tone), but the quality remains the same.
The control knobs and gearshifter are accented with a finely textured metal trim that certainly adds a few pounds to the curb weight. The multilayered soft top features a microfiber liner available in a variety of different colors (ours was Beluga). It's all put together with the impressive craftsmanship and precision we would expect from this high-end Audi/Volkswagen division.
The exterior is an attractive blend of modern influences and classic Bentley design cues, including quad headlights, a radiatorlike grille and broad rear fenders. It's stately and attractive, yet it doesn't draw involuntary gawks from passersby, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your priorities.
Who should consider this vehicle
Someone with pallets of money to spare who desires the finest, fattest and most luxurious boulevard-cruising convertible short of a Rolls-Royce.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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