When it comes to convertibles, it's very hard to get them 100-percent right. This statement becomes a near fait accompli when said convertible springs from a nearly flawless (and flexless) coupe, such at the Bentley Continental GT.
Oh sure, Bentley has pulled off some amazing feats in recent years, such as winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and achieving both record sales and record profits. And with the engineering and financial might of parent company Volkswagen, it's reasonable to assume continued greatness from 21st-century Bentley. But a faultlessly executed drop-top version of the Continental GT coupe — one that maintains the hardtop's ideal balance of performance, luxury and style? Well, that's expecting a lot, even from these guys.
Tops at going topless After 300-plus miles of wringing out the new Continental GTC, much of it along the scenic and twisting byways of California's Napa Valley, it appears we've yet to find the upper limits of Bentley's (or Volkswagen's) design and engineering might. With the GTC, well-heeled sun worshippers can experience the coupe's uncompromised luxury and performance while simultaneously enjoying all the pleasures of open-air motoring. At the press of a button the three-layer power top disappears in just under 25 seconds, and it will operate at speeds up to 20 mph.
By redesigning and relocating the rear suspension, Bentley's engineers also created sufficient storage space for the seven-bow top without adding a "hump" behind the cabin. The result is an exceptionally clean appearance when the top is stowed, a look accentuated by the strip of polished stainless steel that encircles the cabin and runs along the windshield.
In open-air mode the GTC's sumptuous cabin remains calm at speeds up to 50 mph, even with all four windows down. Raise the windows and speeds approaching 80 mph are similarly placid for front passengers who want to converse while soaking up vitamin D. If greater speeds are required, a chrome-and-aluminum windscreen can be erected across the rear seats to settle air currents, though we can't comment on its effectiveness at the Bentley's top speed of 190 mph (195 when the top is up).
Structurally sound Even without cresting triple-digit velocities the GTC's platform integrity was readily surmised and appreciated. Like the coupe, this is a car that drives smaller than its 5,500-pound curb weight would suggest (that's about 200 pounds more than the hardtop).
However, unlike the coupe, the GTC rides on a solid-mounted (versus rubber-mounted) subframe and benefits from structural reinforcements throughout the sills and cross braces surrounding the cabin. Strengthened steel tubing was also utilized around the windshield, and this upgrade works in conjunction with pop-up reinforced steel hoops beneath the rear headrests to provide occupants with effective rollover protection.
Dynamite dynamics How one would ever get the GTC rubber-side up is tough to imagine, as its combination of all-wheel drive, electronic stability control and adjustable air suspension keeps it buttoned down through even the most aggressive driving maneuvers. While snaking over sinuous Northern California mountain passes, many of which were thick with redwood trees crowding the pavement on either side, the Bentley GTC felt more like a Mazda Miata than a super-luxury drop top. Dialing up the stiffest of the suspension's four settings removed nearly all body roll, notably enhancing the Bentley's confidence without upsetting the car's elegant demeanor.
This same balance of performance and refinement is provided by the 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12. While the healthy 552 peak horsepower hits at a heady 6100 rpm, the engine's maximum torque of 479 pound-feet comes on at a relaxed 1600 rpm. This power plant hooks to a ZF six-speed automatic with both a "Sport" mode and full manual shifting via steering-wheel-mounted paddles.
The result is instantaneous throttle response under all driving conditions, as well as an addictive top-end rush for those times when you feel like paying homage to Bentley's Le Mans-winning heritage. Extending the performance pedigree are standard 19-inch alloy wheels (20-inch wheels are optional) wrapped in 275/40 tires. Peer through those five-spoke alloys and you'll see 15.9-inch front brake rotors and 13.2-inch rear rotors, imbuing the GTC with eye-popping stopping power.
Don't forget the kit But if you'd rather not focus on the GTC's performance hardware, there are plenty of premium "software" items to consider when shopping for your Bentley soft top. These would include 15 exterior color choices, 17 interior color options, five convertible top shades and four types of wood trim.
Of course that's before you get into the Mulliner goodies like aluminum exterior trim, embossed "Bentley" seat facings, contrasting seat/door panel stitching and an alloy fuel filler cap. Each of those Mulliner bits adds to the GTC's starting price of $189,990; but with 4,000 customers already submitting deposits for a GTC, we're betting few will balk at paying something extra for some extra kit.
Really, with all that the 2007 Bentley Continental GTC has to offer, it'd be easy to ignore any slight flaws in this convertible's execution. But that's OK, because we now know — Bentley got this one 100-percent right.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.