My Continental GTC revision on Oppositelock.

20w ago

Sometimes I have the sensation that luxury cars are targeted at imaginary people. I have no idea what a focus group of possibly buyers would look like (or if a marketing team could even congregate one) and something tells me the marketing staff themselves don’t either.

The first thing you think about the Continental depends on whether you know about convertibles or not. If you don’t, what seems most striking about it is the beauty of having an open top Bentley. If you do know about cars, what seems most striking is the amount of sacrifices Bentley had to make in order to offer this vehicle as a convertible.

Big, heavy cars suffer as convertibles because an important structure, the roof, is simply not there. As a consequence large convertibles handle sloppily. Additionally, since the floor is the only thing joining the two big ends, some judders and vibrations from the drivetrain are accentuated around the car. Perhaps most noticeably the roof is sometimes shaking, and constantly vibrating.

In the end it’s also challenging when it comes to noise; soft tops don’t keep noise out as well as coupes do and also generate more wind noise. Because of the chassis flex, creaking noises when the roof is up are almost inevitable. ..So, not a very dignified experience for the two-ton runaway train of a machine that the Continental is.

The second thing I noticed was the styling. In pictures the continental looks like a massive barge but in reality it’s not really larger than a 5 series. The shoulderline is not as high and artificially masculine as I thought it would be; in person one can appreciate that it is a very well designed car. This blue paint is particularly enticing thanks to the depth of color and how in the sunlight it glows a greenish tone... it’s remarkable. The gigantic rims are not exactly of my liking, but pair well with the bright black accent lines around the car.

Thinking about design, the way this engine is made (W12 configuration) means it is probably wider than longer and yet, in classic VW fashion, pretty much the entire block hangs out in front of the front strut-towers. It’s no coincidence that the Continental has a rather unencouraging turning radius. Leaving the garage was, to say the least, daunting.

Any luxury car is really about the interior, and the Bentley has an impressive one. As much as I can’t be as impressed as many journalists are about the materials, it’s undeniable that the cabin is impeccable. The leather and stitching might be the highest point of praise. I can’t help but feel that this particular car is worse off for having the piano black decorations, but they look rather nice, specially with the chromed strip dividing them.

If I were to take issue with anything is that the center console doesn’t really make sense; the gear lever still feels quite artificial, misplaced, and way too large, it should really be a stalk. That entire area is covered in piano black buttons on all models which makes it a fingerprint magnet. I also can’t help but feel the touch-screen too far from my reach, but I’m also complaining about the reach of the telescoping steering wheel, so maybe my body is just disproportionate.

As much as the seats are quite comfortable, they don’t offer as much adjustment as I wish they did and the bolstering was not enough for me... Though, keep in mind I’m a skinny, tall guy and most cars don’t have enough bolstering for me anyways. Other seat functions like the massager, the heater, ventilator, and the airscarf are quite impressive. Specially the ventilator which really cools your backside in an instant.

The rear seats are really just for show, however. The front passenger really has to nearly touch the dashboard with their knees for a rear passenger to have a semblance of legroom. Most often those seats just function as coat hoarders.

Nonetheless, I could ride top-down as sunlight receded on an overcast October day comfortably, which means the interior does its job protecting occupants from the elements just fine while letting them experience the convertible. Something that couldn’t be said of my SLK.

Perhaps comparing this car, whose optional rotating display probably costs more than my SLK is worth, to a compact merc is unfair. But the windscreen pillar shake, and the steering column vibration reminded me to the twenty year old merc. Which more than anything goes to show that physics are sometimes inevitable.

Driving the Continental is, however, a completely different experience to the SLK.

The Continental remains a marble of Wolfsburgian stubbornness. Which is to say, absolute overkill. If VW were to design a luxury hunting rifle I really think they’d end up giving customers a fucking grenade launcher. Following that philosophy, this two-and-a-bit ton car has AWD, 626 hp, eight gears, and a leather lined pedalbox.

Not so surprisingly, the car accelerates relentlessly, grips stubbornly, can go up to a top speed of 330 km/h, and stinks of treated-dead-cow-hides.

What surprised me the most about the Continental is that it didn’t disappoint me like the Bentayga did. It is ridiculous in the right sense of the word. You never get to feel the mass of this car, not in corners, not in braking, not in acceleration. The sensation of weight in the controls, the steering and the pedals, does come through in a very tactile and appropriate manner. Those don’t feel artificial at all, nor do they feel unrefined or harsh.

Although I couldn’t put it through its paces, it doesn’t seem like it would understeer a whole lot and the handling feels relatively neutral. The modes (controlling the dampers, accelerator response, and gear control) are very noticeable, and I wouldn’t really drive this car in Comfort mode unless I was on a well-paved highway. In that mode the car wallows around a bit too much. In the tight, sometimes rut infested secondary roads I got to drive it on for a while I got the unsettling sensation that the car was skipping around the lane.

Additionally, it seems like no matter how good the dampers are, the large, wide rims just make it so that the car will inevitably feel slightly harsh, and will be noisy so... if you want a comfortable Continental, maybe consider getting smaller rims.

Sport and Bentley mode were different experiences wholly; in Bentley mode the car felt much more taut while not necessarily stiffer and got rid of the lane skipping that scared me so much. In Sport mode it does feel a bit rougher but I couldn’t find a real reason for it handling wise (given the fancy 48-volt anti-roll bars work all the time) because it pretty much behaved the same way as in Bentley mode. The Sport mode’s configuration for the gearbox and the accelerator pedal are noticeable though, and so is the exhaust sound.

Although tame, in Sport mode the exhaust is much deeper, and you get RS-y crackles and pops on the overrun. The W12 has other delightful noises; upon pressing the engine start button the long winded starter makes you remember you have a twelve cylinder engine under the hood. Another nice sound is that of the turbochargers’ bypass valve which is also long winded, and somehow deeper than in other turbochargers. These turbos, by the way, seem to work from the very beginning. The engine always feel powerful, and always feels ready to pin the occupants to the back of their seats.

The pace of acceleration also varies by mode, and while it always feels like an airliner with the throttles set to Go Around, in Sport mode it does reveal a bit more urgency even in the middle of a corner, or even if it might be slightly unsettling for either occupant. An urgency that seems well hidden in Bentley and Comfort mode.

I realized that the Continental works best at 6/10s rather than pushing it. With the top down, doing five over the posted limit, listening to the exhaust and being hugged by the airscarf’s hot air... This car is rather delightful. If it starts raining, like it can happen, you can slow down to 45 km/h and cover the cabin with the roof.

Then, you can appreciate the noises coming out of the Bang and Olufsen stereo and the seat massager, and even with the huge, wide tyres road noise is not significant enough to be upsetting at 125 km/h. So, still, a delightful experience.

But it isn’t other worldly... not like some people like want it to be. Maybe it’s the consequence of being impressionable, or maybe it’s the consequence of the soft-top roof... which does really detract from the performance significantly.

But as a 5th car, to use on sunny days, caring about the flaws shown in the very extremes is pointless. But it does mean that the Continental, at least in convertible form, is not the swiss-army knife of a car that it is sometimes portrayed as.

Oh, and the fuel economy really, really sucks.

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Comments (1)

  • I always say to complain about the dynamic flaws of a convertible is to miss the point of one, but more to the point I’ll never be able to afford to run a second car, so, while I live in the U.K. at least, it makes no sense for me to own one. The place I always imagine is the correct place to drive top-down in the Bentley is around the Côte d’Azur in the south of France, with its implausible combination of effortless style and over-indulgent opulence. Still, I wouldn’t mind owning one.

      4 months ago