The new Bentley Continental GTC Speed convertible is one of those cars that makes you wish you were wealthy. It costs $231,400, but doesn't seem overpriced after you spend some time in it.
This 2010 model is fast, luxurious and comfortable. It easily tackled sharply winding roads during a 300-mile round trip from this area near San Francisco north to Mendocino and back during a media preview of the car.
Bentley has been making large, fast cars since the 1920s, when it won the famous 24-hour race at Le Mans, France, numerous times. That was when the automaker was associated with flamboyant, champagne drinking entrepreneurs such as diamond heir Woolf Barnato.. (Bentley also won Le Mans in 2003.)
The 1952-55 hand-built Bentley R-Type Continental two-door fastback coupe was one of the ultimate limited-production luxury cars of that decade. The slick coupe could cruise at 90 mph all day long. The fictional James Bond drove one, years before movie versions of the Bond books put him in an Aston Martin.
The appropriately named Continental GTC Speed is a worthy successor to the great old high-performance Bentleys. It's the most powerful convertible Bentley has ever built. Its twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine generates 600 horsepower and a whopping 553 pound-feet of torque.
Power is transmitted through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature controlled by a console-mounted shifter or paddle shifters near the steering wheel. I manually shifted with the gear selector because I found the paddles rather awkward to use. I left the transmission in its fully automatic "drive" mode most of the time, though, because it shifted smoothly and crisply.
The GTC Speed is large and heavy, which might lead some to feel it's just a big, handsome boulevard cruiser. But it can zoom from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, despite weighing more than 5,000 pounds. Top speed reportedly is 200 mph with the top up and 195 mph with it lowered.
Those top speeds seem realistic, considering the way the car was still accelerating strongly after I had it up to 100 mph on empty rural two-lane roads. The twin exhausts have shapely sports exhaust tailpipe ends. The exhaust system emits a purposeful deep rumble during hard acceleration and subdued burbling sounds during quick deacceleration, especially if a driver puts the car in "sport" mode for very spirited driving.
This Bentley's estimated fuel economy is 10 mpg in the city and 17 on highways. A large fuel tank provides a long cruising range and any grade of fuel can be used. Bentley says there's only about a 2 percent power drop if premium-grade gasoline isn't chosen.
The GTC Speed was rock steady on challenging winding mountain roads. It has a lowered suspension with revised spring, anti-roll bar and damper settings. It also features an electronic stability control system and traction control to help keep it steady, besides all-wheel-drive, which provides tenacious grip.
Also helping provide superb roadability are high-performance Pirelli P-Zero 35-series tires.
The steering is quick and nicely weighted, having the right amount of power assist for such a large, fast car. The ride is smooth, and powerful brakes deftly stop the car from high speeds. The brake pedal is easily modulated for consistently sure stops.
The beautifully built GTC Speed radiates wealth. It has understated, exquisitely sculptured lines, several special dark-tint matrix grilles and big 20-inch multi-spoke alloy sports wheels. But drivers should keep in mind that its front end is rather low to prevent damage.
Long, heavy doors allow easy entry to the comfortable, supportive front seats with elegant stitching in the lush-life interior, which has diamond-quilted upholstery. But the doors are awkward in tight spots and when the car is parked on hills.
Occupants in the front seats sit rather low. Those seats power back slowly to allow easier entry to the rear seats, but it's still rather difficult to get in and out of the back area. There's good room for a tall adult behind the passenger seat, but only kids or shorter adults with a slim build will be comfortable behind the driver.