If any auto is worth a $189,900 list price, it's the Bentley Continental GTC convertible. This fast, gorgeous creation radiates wealth as few cars can, with its intoxicating blend of style and performance.
Never mind that the bottom line price of my test GTC convertible was $207,135, because of such options as dazzling $4,090 "Canyon Orange" paint, besides a $3,700 gas guzzler tax and $2,595 freight charge.
What's a few thousand more bucks for a virtually hand-built car that is so spectacular its owner might never bring himself to sell it? It's certainly exclusive -- only about 2,000 GTCs will be sent to America this year, Bentley Motors Inc. spokesman Dave Reuter said.
Bentley says the GTC is the "most distinctive new Bentley. It appeals to people who are tired of driving sports cars that require too much effort [Ferraris? Lamborghinis?], those who want to move up from more standard convertibles [BMW? Mercedes?] and people who want to make a statement about what they drive, yet still own a car they can use daily."
Bentley has a colorful history and impressive racing background going back to the 1920s, besides a solid British heritage. Volkswagen bought it in 1998 because it was too small to compete in the increasingly competitive auto world. It gave Bentley major cash injections, which let it develop outstanding models.
Rolls-Royce -- now owned by BMW -- owned Bentley for decades, but pretty much kept it in the background. The current Rolls has an overdone front end and isn't sporty, whereas the Continental GTC has clean, timeless styling.
Bentley sold only 993 cars in 1993, but worldwide sales rose to 9,386 in 2006 cars because of alluring models and growing affluence in nations such as China and India, which are seeing some of the highest growth in the number of millionaires. Bentley sales in America through August this year totaled 2,809 cars, up from 2,445 in the same year-ago period.
The Continental GTC all-wheel-drive convertible is big, and its long, heavy doors can be awkward in tight parking spots. Despite the car's size, its rear seat is best suited to kids or short adults on brief trips. But there's plenty of room up front in multi-adjustable supportive seats. The triple-layer top electrohydraulically lowers in 25 seconds at the push of a button and provides an ultraquiet interior raised.
When the top is lowered, the interior becomes a showcase with its classic mix of leather hides and wood veneers. However, the dual front cupholders are set too far back on the console, and one must flip up two small armrests to get to them.
The GTC Continental is fairly new, so it's little-changed for 2008. Next year's version gets such things as a rear backup camera and newly designed Breitling clock, but the exquisite Breitling clock in the 2007 model looks plenty good. However, as with the small temperature and fuel gauges, it's hard to read quickly.
The GTC is quite heavy at 5,478 pounds, but its big, twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine gives it the sizzling acceleration of a light sports car. The 48-valve engine with four camshafts and variable valve timing produces a whopping 552 horsepower and an astounding 479 pound-feet of torque at only 1,600 rpm.
The 0-60 mph time thus is just 4.8 seconds, and the GTC can hit 100 mph in 11.6 seconds. Maximum speed is 195 mph with the top up, or 190 mph with the top lowered. I never came close to those speeds, but found the GTC accelerates like a locomotive, with seemingly no end to its forward thrust.
Ironically, despite its high performance, the GTC feels as if it would be most at home cruising top-down at moderate speeds along the French Riviera.
The responsive six-speed automatic transmission has a manual shift feature that works easily.
Fuel economy? With all that weight and horsepower, not much might be expected. But the GTC delivers an estimated, respectable 18 mpg on the highway, although only 11 mpg in the city.
You always can feel the car's weight, but it doesn't prevent the GTC from having very good handling. The all-wheel-drive system helps here, as does an advanced adjustable air suspension.
Steering is precise, and the ride is on the firm side, but supple over broken pavement. The brake pedal has a nice progressive feel and operates massive disc brakes that easily and surely slow the car from high speeds.
Safety features include an advanced rollover protection system beneath the rear headrests. If a computer senses the car is (heaven forbid!) about to roll during an accident, two reinforced steel hoops are deployed in a split second, working with the strong windshield frame to protect occupants.
The GTC is derived from the popular Bentley Continental GT coupe. Introduced for 2004, that fast, glamorous coupe was the first major Bentley hit after Volkswagen bought the automaker, which still produces cars in England.
The GTC looks different from the Continental GT, with its compact soft top and a rear deck designed to accommodate the lowered top. The GTC has a new rear suspension that allows the car's rear design to be as compact as possible while still providing space to stow the top.
The trunk has a rather high opening and doesn't look very roomy, although Bentley says it can hold two golf bags and a good amount of luggage. What looks like a folded-up center rear armrest is a removable leather-covered seat section that hides an access area that lets skis be passed from the trunk. The trunk is called the "boot," in true British fashion, and has a power lid activated by the key fob. To lower it automatically, one presses a "boot close" button on the interior of the lid.
I parked the GTC far from potential door-bangers in parking lots, but always was a bit worried that another car would hit it. However, I saw a $170,000 Bentley Continental Flying Spur sedan parked closely between two cheap Fiat economy cars on a street near Florence, Italy, last summer. It showed the casual, worry-free attitude Bentley owners should have toward their autos.
After all, the GTC is just a car. Isn't it?
2007 BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GTC CONVERTIBLE
LIKES: Posh. Awesome performance. Good handling. An ultimate status symbol.
DISLIKES: Big. Heavy. Low city fuel economy.