We're not sure exactly how it's done, but the 2012 Bentley Continental GTC actually feels light on its feet at speed. This from a car that weighs 5,501 pounds.
It's not like this big convertible has some overboosted, hopelessly vague steering system. We're actually driving with our fingertips, but we still have a good idea what's going on with the 20-inch wheels and tires down below. It's enough to make the new GTC feel half its size, which is good because if it drove as big as it looks, this Bentley wouldn't be any fun to drive at all.
Having a 12-cylinder, 567-horsepower engine under the hood helps. The computer-controlled air shocks at each corner don't hurt, either. Then there's the chassis — it's as stiff as it gets on a convertible. At least that's what Bentley's Chief Engineer Brian Gush told us.
When all that stuff is working together, the GTC feels remarkable, even a little bit unbelievable, at least until we bend it into a turn. Suddenly, it's not quite so lively. In fact, it suddenly feels big and heavy. We knew it couldn't be that perfect.
The Physics Fighter
There had to be a catch. No amount of sophisticated engineering can turn a nearly 3-ton convertible into a sports car. Not even one that costs almost $213,000 to start.
Sports car performance is not the goal of the Bentley Continental GTC, though — it just happens to come really close. It was like that when it arrived in 2006, and this second-generation model includes various tweaks to heighten the experience.
Changes include slightly wider front and rear tracks (plus 1.6 and 1.9 inches, respectively), stiffer aluminum suspension uprights and an extra 37 pound-feet of torque from the W12 engine. Bentley says the twin-turbocharged, 6.0-liter engine now produces a total of 516 lb-ft of torque in addition to its 567 hp.
The 2012 Bentley Continental GTC also features a new six-speed automatic transmission borrowed from the Continental Supersports coupe. This automatic sifts through the six forward gears much faster than the previous gearbox and does so in a way that better matches our immediate requests. Bentley says shift times are half what they used to be and that two-gear downshifts are now possible.
Quick for a Big Convertible
The updates are noticeable, too. A slight nudge of the gas pedal at 70 mph and the 2012 Bentley Continental GTC quickly drops a gear to get the W12 spinning a little faster. Dig into the pedal a little more and another gear is called up as quickly as the first without the slightest hesitation.
The previous car had more than enough power; it just wasn't quite as quick to dole it out. Now, even when the GTC feels the need to go two gears down, there's minimal delay. It goes a long way toward making this Bentley feel quick instead of just big and fast.
It's fast, too, of course. Bentley says this GTC will top out at 195 mph even with the top down and hit 60 mph from a stop in 4.5 seconds. Seems ludicrous to go nearly 200 mph with no roof, so we're taking Bentley's word on the top speed claim. The 0-60 number feels about right, though.
At highway speeds we carry on a perfectly normal conversation with the top down. Even close to 100 mph, it's still not terrible. There's a collapsible windscreen to reduce turbulence even further, but it hardly seems worth the trouble. If you're going that fast, you probably shouldn't be talking anyway.
Handles Itself Well
The heaviness that sets in when we start tossing the 2012 Bentley Continental GTC through corners is hardly surprising. From the moment we plopped down into the diamond-weave seats, it was clear that this Bentley was designed for more leisurely driving above all else.
Even so, it's capable of controlling its considerable mass quite well. Changing directions takes some time, but once it settles in, there's more grip than you could ever hope to defeat thanks to the permanent all-wheel-drive system and massive 275/40R20 tires.
The steering system adds some heft to the wheel when you're moving quickly, but it never feels completely natural. There's also a dial on the dash that allows you to fine-tune the dampers, but that, too, gives the GTC a wooden, clenched-up feel. Better to just leave it in the standard mode and deal with the modest body roll than try to turn the GTC into something it's not.
Once we assume that mindset, the GTC is a far more enjoyable convertible. The ultra-stiff body structure does away with any cowl flex while allowing for more precise damper tuning. The result is a ride quality on the highway that is firm yet fluid. It doesn't ever float or wobble no matter what kind of road we're headed down. Even the brakes feel perfectly suited to the car, as they're powerful enough to control its weight yet still have a soft pedal that's easy to modulate.
Plenty of Bentley Inside
As sickeningly fast and capable as the 2012 Bentley Continental GTC is for its size, it's the interior that continually grabs our attention. It's the kind of cabin you get when you combine the money of parent company Volkswagen with Bentley's tradition of coach-building.
Everywhere we look there are details that stand out, like heavy metal vents on the dash, hand-stitched leather on the steering wheel and precisely matched wood grain on the doors. Even the folding soft top shows impressive fit and finish as it's barely noticeable under its hard cover when collapsed. There are other cars that boast similar features, but Bentley does a better job of putting them all together in a way that feels unique.
The previous GTC suffered from outdated technology, but Bentley has brought the 2012 Continental GTC into the present with a modern navigation system that includes Google Maps and an easy-to-use touchscreen interface. We're glad to report that it doesn't take up too much space on the dash either, as the design integrity of the Continental interior is intact.
The standard seats are more like two ends of a long couch than your typical sports car buckets. Not that they're uncomfortable; they just feel more open and less restrictive. More aggressive buckets are available on request, of course, along with hundreds of other small details that can be ordered up to suit your particular tastes.
One item that can't be improved upon is the space in the backseat. Bentley did its best this time around to increase knee room for rear passengers — with some success. The rear seat is still a short-haul feature only, though, as no adult would care to spend more than 30 minutes back here. Trunk volume is unchanged at 9 cubic feet.
No, Not Perfect
You've likely noticed that Bentley also took care not to alter the shape of the new GTC very much compared to its predecessor. It's a classic design that deserves to stick around. This GTC does have a few additional creases that you notice when you see it on the road, and we consider most of them improvements. The big convertible also looks a little less awkward with the top up, although we're not really sure why.
The rest of the car is everything it should be. It's over-the-top fast, a cruise missile on the highway and rarely gets rattled no matter how poor the road surface gets. It might lose a little bit of composure if you treat it like a Ferrari, but anything short of that and the 2012 Bentley Continental GTC will shock you with its ability to make 2.5 tons of steel and aluminum move so gracefully.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report, which originally appeared on insideline.com.