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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.

It's easy to read the deeply recessed speedometer and tachometer, but difficult to see the odometer during some daytime lighting. Fuel and coolant temperature gauges are tiny, although positioned directly in front of the driver. While small, the Breitling dashboard clock looks elegant.

The sporty three-spoke wheel can be easily grasped, but the driver's door-mounted power window switches are set too closely behind power switches for the gas cap and trunk lid. Front console twin cupholders also are positioned a little too far back. The glove compartment is small, but interior storage space is adequate, with such items as door storage pockets.

The power canvas top goes down and up quickly. It can be raised or lowered when the car is moving at low speeds. It fits tightly and is thickly lined, making the GTC Speed almost seem like a hard top model when up. There's little cockpit wind rush or noise while at freeway speeds with the top down.

Safety features include front side-impact air bags and a rollover protection system. A rearview camera and a front and rear ultrasonic park distance control help keep things safe in close quarters.

The nicely shaped trunk has a wide, but rather high, opening. It provides a decent amount of space with the top up and has a power-operated lid.

Despite its size and weight, the Continental GTC Speed acted like a smaller, lighter car during several hundred miles of driving over challenging roads. It's clear that Bentley knows a thing or two about building a fast, luxurious sports convertible.

Visit DanJedlicka.com for more road tests, interviews, and classic car articles.Visit DanJedlicka.com where veteran auto writer Dan Jedlicka reviews the latest cars and trucks in an easily understood but detailed manner. In addition, Dan's Web site also includes colorful classic and collectible car articles, a letters column and candid interviews with auto-field personalities.

Dan Jedlicka

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Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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