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Bentley's GTC

 

As the small seaplane circled over the restaurant jetty, the light breeze fluttering sun umbrellas and sparking a thousand points of light from the wavelets below, it was easy to believe I was part of the Bentley lifestyle.

Or at least an extra in some James Bond fantasy - the (handsome, young) valet waiting to present me with my keys. For I'd already spotted my chariot, its baby-blue paint nicely set off by the rich cream leather interior.

My task for the day - or rather, for the rest of the afternoon - was to work off an excellent lunch by driving up the coast, via a few beach resorts and a bit of challenging country road.

Occasionally I'd exchange the convertible for a beefed up Bentley Arnage T.

It's a hard life, isn't it?

But back to work. The GTC looks both familiar - that nose and bonnet apparently identical to the coupe's - and, at the same time, very different.
The coupe rear has gone, and in the process the car has taken on the long, low yet chunky lines of, well, I hesitate to say a classic hot rod, but there are hints of that there, even with the roof up.

You don't see the steel reinforcements for the sills, the cross-bracing beneath the cabin or the strengthened A-pillars and windscreen surround.
Indeed you're not aware of the roof unless you unfold it.

Press a button and it unfolds with the elegance you'd expect from a Bentley, the triple layers, the seven bows, the rear glass firmly in place within 25 seconds.

Naturally, such changes don't come without a penalty; in this case a bit more weight - about 110kg - taking the total to a distinctly porky 2495kg.
Yet Bentley says the car can reach 100km/h from standstill in 5.1 seconds.
Not bad at all, thanks to the unflappable 6.0-litre W12 engine with its pair of Borg-Warner turbochargers.

In line with such a car's persona, power and torque delivery feel remarkably relaxed - perhaps because the 650Nm of torque peaks at a rather low 1600rpm.

Roof down, the GTC's interior is open to the full glare of public scrutiny. And it's worth scrutinising, for though the Continental model may be the "poor (wo)man's Bentley", it's hardly had the cut-price treatment.
Real wood veneers and buttery leather are set off by gleaming chrome and glass. But the real appreciation comes when you turn the key, the engine fires, and that rich, rolling thrum enters the cabin. Bentley has had a bit of fun with the note pulsing from the twin mufflers, and a valve opens at idle - and under hard acceleration - to give you the best of the soundtrack on offer.

Effortless thrust might be on the menu but not here, not now. My foot caresses the throttle and we waft out, under the noses of a few society matrons having their summer stroll; construction workers turning to stare, the six-speed ZF auto transmission gliding through the gears.

My reverie is rudely broken by the squawk of tortured tyres as the Arnage ahead lights up and runs. Stomp on the throttle and the GTC gets up quite creditably. Rely on four-wheel drive to keep the tyres on the tarmac, tap the four-way adjustable damper settings to sport and she still swallows the bumps and lumps of the country road. The body's remarkably stiff, the handling astonishingly agile considering the convertible's size. Certainly, it's a lot more agile than the Arnage, which is wallowing around in front like a supertanker in a heavy sea.

Time to prod the brake pedal - the massive discs more than adequate for the job - and leave the GTC's glamour for the staider Arnage - if any car producing 1000Nm of torque can be said to be staid.
The Arnage has had a tweak or two, mainly engine tuning and two more cogs taking the automatic gearbox to six speeds. There's 11 percent more power and 14 percent more torque than the outgoing car. Visual changes? If there are any, you'd need to be a Bentley anorak to spot them.

It remains a massive - 5.4-metre, 2585kg - monument to aristocratic motoring. But arguably the only monument to hit 100 from rest in under six seconds, thanks to the massive grunt on tap.
The Arnage T will embarrass most cars in a straight line, but it just doesn't do tight corners.

Is it an anachronism? Perhaps, but it still makes up 10 percent of Bentley sales in New Zealand, with 35 percent to the GT and 55 to the Flying Spur.
There are no plans to replace it - indeed it forms the basis of the upcoming Azure. And why would you?

Anyone wanting Blenheim Palace on wheels won't complain about the car's handling. Indeed, they'll only use a fraction of the phenomenal torque.
Bentley buyers wanting bigger thrills have got the GT - gilded by glamour in the droptop cars.

Yes, they're thirsty. But at $450,000 if you buy a Bentley GTC, do you care? You might care that the GTC's rear seats aren't as capacious as the fronts. But if you pay the bill, you'll be in the front anyway. And you'll be smiling.


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