The Bentley Continental GTC is probably the best car on sale right now
We live in this slightly strange world where petrolheads seem to share a belief that driving nirvana is only found in the most basic of cars. It seems to be the case that fun only occurs at the end of an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, above a perfectly blipped downshift shunted through a manual gearbox to a pair of driven rear wheels.
It’s a recipe that leads us to believe our perfect cars are things like the original Porsche Cayman GT4, the Caterham 7 and the Lotus Elise.
But have you ever driven one of those cars? The reality is that they give you a big silly grin for the first 45 minutes, quickly followed by the nagging feeling that there’s more to modern-day driving than having enough steering feel to work out if that was a grey or red squirrel you just ran over.
The Blackline specification replaces all the chrome brightwork with surly black bits. Looks alright, doesn't it?
So-called ‘normal’ modern cars – your SUVs, estates, saloons and hatchbacks – are much more relevant. They’re not going to annoy you on the way to the supermarket, nor will they fail at the surprisingly frequent need to carry more than two people. Like computer graphics in films, these cars are good because you don’t notice them.
There is, of course, a part of the car world missing from this slightly grim take on things.
The special car. Not just ‘oh that’s nice’ special, like a BMW M5, but rather the sort of machine that makes you redefine what a car should be. It sounds completely poncey, of course, but that’s exactly how I felt after a long weekend driving a Bentley Continental GTC. And it’s pretty close to driving Nirvana. Except it doesn’t give you back ache. Far from it.
What’s so special about the Continental GTC?
When you’re a boring motoring journalist your friends and family very rapidly lose any interest in the nice cars you turn up in. My Dad, who is – like all the best people in this world – far more into motorbikes than cars, only ever got really excited about Honda Civic Type Rs. Even a visit in a Ferrari 488 barely saw a twitch from the curtains.
Sitting here for long journeys is one of life's great pleasures. We'll take our back massage in wave mode, please
But as soon as he slumped into the Conti GTC’s sumptuous cream leather seats, I could tell he was a bit smitten. Before he retired he was a Design & Technology teacher, with a specialism in woodwork. My early years were a blur of wooden rocking horses, toys and eventually hand-made chess sets, all chiselled out by him after school hours. He knows his stuff when it comes to quality, then.
And he was just blown away by the Continental’s interior. From the crispness of the wooden dashboard inlays, to the way the chrome strip embedded in it runs around into the doors as well – and the way everything just looked so seamless. The attention to detail is simply on another level compared to anything this side of a Rolls-Royce. And even then the Bentley feels much further apart from other Volkswagen Group products than a Rolls does from some BMWs…
Although the Continental GTC feels posh at a standstill, it’s once you start moving that you realise just how exquisitely engineered it is. With the convertible roof up it’s incredibly quiet inside. Acres of soundproofing must contribute to the car’s 2,414kg weight, and the double-glazed window glass gives you an uncanny sense that the world has simply stopped existing when you roll them up.
The air suspension and seats are so comfortable that you feel as if you’re floating. Comfort is just beyond reproach – unless you fit a baby seat to one of the tiny back seats, then your passenger will need their chair all the way forward, leaving them less than ideal amounts of legroom. But the recently released four-door Flying Spur is more of a family Bentley.
You will fondle this. I'm sorry but you will
The Conti’s indicator stalks have tips machined from metal, and they’re so wonderfully tactile you end up fondling them as you sit in traffic. I found myself running my forearm against the ice-cold door handles which feel like golf-club heads machined out of billet.
If the door handle feels a bit too cold then rejoice in the fact that the part of the door card that you rest your arm on is heated, as is the central cubbyhole lid. The three-way twirling centre screen is a thing to behold, swivelling between a blank wood veneer that tucks everything neatly away when the car’s locked, a trio of analogue dials, or the infotainment screen – which does a great job of not feeling like a rebadged Audi unit, while simultaneously appearing sharp, feeling quick to use and generally looking bang up to date.
See those two chrome stalks behind the gear selector? They're the organ stop controls for the vents and they give you a funny feeling in your tummy when you use the
What tips the Bentley from simply being a luxury car to being something a bit otherworldly, however, are the air vent controls. They look like organ stops – the things a church musician presses and pulls to make the organ mimic different instruments.
They’re bulbous stalks of solid metal, and they push in and out with such treacly resistance you can’t help but smile at how sodding expensive they feel – if you’re a bit sad you can pretend you’re opening the throttles on a Riva speedboat as you turn off the airflow over your arms.
But does it feel special to drive?
You’re probably not expecting a car that packs as much luxury as Buckingham Palace to cope with twisty roads. But, again, the Bentley defies all preconceptions – and the laws of physics to a certain extent. Although it looks like a car that harks back to a bygone era, it’s packed with tech to make it handle better than you’d expect.
The unseen star of the Conti’s handling show is the 48-volt system that powers the active anti-roll bars – geeky things that stiffen and slacken in an instant to keep your passenger’s G&T level even when you’re driving as if your third mansion’s on fire and you forgot to insure your latest Rembrandt.
A trio of air springs at each corner means comfort mode leaves you feeling as if your vertebrae have been replaced with tiny helium balloons, while B (for Bentley) mode and Sport mode let you lean impressively hard on the tyres in corners. In its sportiest modes, this genuinely feels more like an 1,800kg car than a 2,414kg one – and the only way you’ve ever going to get a real sense of the car’s mass is if you overcome the mighty mechanical and assisted grip. And if you ever reach that limit on the road you’re probably the one starting those fires in the first place.
Under the bonnet
The final stroke on the Continental’s gloriously smooth oil painting comes courtesy of its engine. In this car it’s the 6.0-litre W12. A twin-turbocharged behemoth that turns air and super unleaded into 632hp and 900Nm of torque, fired to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
When the Earth is on its very last legs I propose everyone be given one of these to play with and we can go out in style
The engine itself sounds like a muted V12 – you’re aware of a very complex, luxurious sounding powerplant somewhere in front of you. With the roof down you’re treated to some outrageous sucking noises as the turbos drag in air, and once they’re spooled up you’re fired at the horizon like an F35 from an aircraft carrier’s steam catapult. There’s something simply elemental in the way the W12 accelerates, because there’s not an outrageous and unseemly cacophony as you’re hammered back into the seats. There’s a pleasant noise from under the bonnet, but it’s not loud enough to upset the locals.
Truth be told, the Conti’s mass blunts outright acceleration a little from a standstill, which means it perhaps ‘only’ feels as fast as something like an RS6 off the line. It’s once the speed creeps into three figures that the Conti’s W12 really fills its lungs and just buggers off at an incredible rate. Simple back-road overtakes hammer absolutely obscene numbers onto the digital dashboard. The second of three digits will turn into a 4 and a 5 sooner than you think possible. All while you’re having your back massaged by some of the best seats ever put into a car.
A word on fuel economy and options…
Each of the Continental GTC’s luxury facets should work against each other. Speed and weight don’t tend to go hand in hand. And that amount of luxury leather, wood and metal means adding weight is unavoidable. So by producing a fast, heavy car, the Continental GTC is going to be thirsty. And it is, to an extent. I averaged 21mpg over 400 miles of mixed driving. I saw an average of 26mpg over 130 miles of motorways, cruising along somewhere a bit north of 70mph.
Double glazing is standard, my lady
But these aren’t absolutely horrific numbers given everything going on, and if you can afford the £175,000 to buy the car then it’s unlikely to concern you. What’s a little more worrying is how quickly that £175,000 becomes the £230,000 of our test car.
One absolutely vital option is the £6,500 Naim 2,200 Watt sound system, which is unarguably the best stereo I’ve ever heard in a car. You feel the bass through your seat, and the clarity and volume are just unrivalled in the automotive world.
Good enough to sit in the car on the driveway just listening to your favourite tunes. Unbelievably good, in fact
This car also had the ‘First Edition’ option pack, which in turn gives you loads of other option packs, including that rotating display, the quilted leather doors and seats, shagpile carpets and welcome lights. It also includes the touring pack, which includes driver assist stuff that should probably be included as standard in a car costing this much. So it gives you lane assist, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display and a night vision system that displays a black and white enhanced camera view in the virtual cockpit. It’s a bit gimmicky, but it does highlight pedestrians far before you can see them with your eyes.
The diamond stitches are part of the Mulliner Driving specification pack. The window switches feel hefty too
The city pack then adds on top-down parking views, automatic emergency braking and a whole bunch of other bits that should also really be standard.
In fact, the only real fly in the Bentley’s ointment is that for the first 15 minutes my other half was cooing over many optional tech features which I had to gently point out are standard on DriveTribe’s long-term Skoda Kodiaq vRS.
You’re probably getting the sense we quite like the Continental GTC
Yes, it was raining the entire weekend I had the GTC and I forgot to take any good photos of its bum. So here it is, in a Norfolk forest with a reversing Gen 1 Qashqai. I spoil you
Forget your preconceptions about Bentley being chintzy badged-up Audis sold to footballers. They’re now nothing of the sort.
The new Conti GTC is hands-down an all-time great. It’s redefined what a car can do. It is incredibly well thought out and engineered, and it relaxes driver and passengers like few other cars. It’s sporty enough to put a fair-sized smile on your face too. It feels like the most complete car on the market for two people.
You can get out of a similarly priced Ferrari or McLaren and conclude that your money’s gone on the engine and not a lot more.
But the Conti GTC just has so few compromises that it becomes dangerously close to perfection. And should you ever have the fortune to live with one for a little while it’ll likely redefine what a car should do and make you feel.