18 Jun 2014

Bentley Continental GTC W12 Review

Colin Hubbard spends a Day with a Bentley Continental GTC W12

Bentley Continental GTC W12 convertible

When VW bought Bentley they did nothing for a year.  They watched and soaked up what made the brand, what its customers expect and they looked at ways they could retain the heritage but have the ability to make more cars and at a higher quality but without losing the handmade factor and feel which its owners expect.

The first car under the VW ownership was the Continental GT which was released with a rather untraditional W12 engine and four wheel drive, and sought to attract younger buyers. The car has turned Bentley into a global brand and has been a storming success, especially with the football fraternity including both the players and their WAGS.

Bentley Continental GTC W12 convertible

This is the second generation Continental and was released in 201. Rather than being mildly facelifted it was completely remodelled with all new panels. It retained the original Bentley look, featuring a crease from the front wing through the door handle into the rear quarter panel, and two third body with one third window line but with sculptured rear haunches and aggressive body surfacing.

The car still shares a platform with the VW Phaeton but that’s not a bad thing as it’s hidden underneath some gorgeous bodywork and means that it’s properly engineered but can keep the production costs down and the production numbers up.

The colour of the test car was Neptune Blue which was finished with a navy hood and 21 inch ‘Elegant’ alloy wheels. At first I wasn’t so sure the colour worked, it’s not a traditional colour and I would have specced a British Racing Green or Royal Blue.  It reminded me of the colour of an old Mondeo but after a day with it my mind was changed and I agreed with everyone who experienced the car who said it showed off the shape and gave it an air of opulence.

On the inside the ‘Linen’ hide with secondary ‘Imperial Blue’ hide and ‘Burr Walnut’ veneer was again a choice I would not have opted for.  I think a cream leather and body coloured piping would go down a treat but as with the paint colour it grew on me through the day and those who saw it loved it.

One thing that instantly hit me on the inside is the outstanding design language and quality of the materials and installation. Every section of leather was supple and flawless in finish, including the long sections on the doors and every stitch in line with the next - demonstrating that Bentley craftsmanship through the cabin. This may be a mass produced car but the parts that matter which you touch, feel and smell every day are crafted by men's (and women's) bare hands, not some nameless robot.

The W12 engine starts with a metal key, yes one of those things that you have to actually insert into a hole and turn (I trust Bentley didn’t want to alienate the traditionals who like the feel and action of a proper key).

The engine is a W12 which is a development of the VR (narrow angle) V6 units found in various VW products, but it’s two stuck together with a shared crank - hence the W in its title. Add two turbos and you have sufficient power to pull the skin off an acre of rice pudding.
Bentley Continental GTC W12 convertible

Twist the key and the ginormous 6 litre engine rumbles into life and settles to a well insulated beat, quiet enough but you’re still aware it’s there and ready for action. Gears are selected via a standard auto stick which can also be slid to the left and used to manually select the gears or by paddles on the steering column.

Just a tickle of the throttle is all that’s needed to get going and you instantly feel the size of the car when on public roads.

After a 30 minute drive on twisty and narrow country roads I pull over and dropped the hood - well it would be rude not to. It takes 25 seconds to perform the operation which is quite a task as it’s a fair size hood so needs to fold up and over and back on itself to get toward the rear of the car. It’s not helped by the amount of insulation and lining the hood has been stuffed with to keep the cabin not just insulated from road noise but from the elements.

With the hood down I noticed a fair amount of scuttle shake on Cheshire's country roads - the rear view mirror vibrates when the body is subject to torsional road forces.

When the road opens up a little I had my first chance at full throttle and pinned the accelerator deep into the lamb wool overmats.  The gearbox dropped 2 ratios and the big lump instantly exploded, proving it’s capable of serious acceleration.
Bentley Continental GTC W12 convertible interior

The engine is muted whilst tickling the throttle but at full power it’s like nothing I have ever heard before. Being effectively 2 staggered V6s with a shared crank the 12 pistons are firing at different times, directions and angles so it doesn’t have a V8 burble, more a pair of speedboat engines.

The paddles don’t help progress as they are too far from the wheel so I rely on the Bentley brain to pick my cogs from the ZF 8 speed box and found it to be pleasantly judged, topping up gears when acceleration is not needed and in sport mode quickly dropping down to give access to the power at higher revs. Not that it needs to drop down very much as peak torque is developed at just 1700 rpm.

I suspect the paddle positioning is a half hearted affair as the majority of owners won't use them.  They haven’t bought a Bentley to race around in but to waft in lambswool and leather.

Sport mode is selected by pressing the button on top of the gearshift and pulling back.  This prevents sport being selected by accident just the same way that reverse is selected but in the opposite direction. Sport makes the engine edgy, holding onto gears longer and revs to the red line when pushed.  It’s no ballerina but it’s a confident mover which you can hustle along with vigour. This gives the brakes a workout, in this instance carbon ceramic disks with 6 pot front and 4 pot rear callipers.

Theres no doubting the brakes performance, they diminish the speed of the big beast extremely well but the feel is a little binary. An initial application of the left pedal and you can just about feel the friction on the disks but then press some more and there’s sudden massive grip on the disks which is out of character with the car. Be in no doubt there’s zero fade but they can’t compete with steel discs for feel.

Fortunately the chassis shines through.  It's equipped with air springs and magnetorheological dampers as standard so you can cruise in comfort or press the sport button for a more confident set up. With time the chassis inspires confidence, being supple but secure especially when that big 12 is on boost, and even in sport mode speed bumps can be taken at 30mph with no crashiness, you just feel the height of the car change

Part of the suppleness is down to the 21 inch wheels with Pirelli 275/35/21 tyres. These huge tyres ride over bumps easily but as a consequence they are heavy and offer no steering feedback. In the corners, particularly the tighter ones where you throw the car through, it squirms as the weight overwhelms the tyres. Accelerate hard out of a junction and the rear wheels grapple for traction - the drive is split 60% rear and 40% front.

At lunchtime I pick up the wife and in-laws to get an opinion on riding in the back of a 4 seater convertible. There’s sufficient space for adults for a short journey but it's quite blowy with the top down, so a hat's essential. The good news is that the front part of the cabin is spacious and riding with the hood down is a joy and not too blowy.
Bentley Continental GTC W12 convertible rear seats

The front seats are not sporty - with little lateral support - but sufficient for a bit of hooliganism and they look superb with their fixed, padded headrests. The leather is top class.

The burr walnut dash and console are flawless and meld with the 21st century gadgets.  I loved the pulls for the air vents. The steering wheel is hand stitched and a joy to hold with a slightly fatter rim than Bentleys of old.

Sitting in pride of place at the top of the dash is a Breitling timepiece.  The Swiss watchmaker also helped design the technical instruments. Another partner is the high end audio maker Naim and this car was equipped with a 1100 watt amp and 14 speakers. The sound is truly spectacular - there’s no outstanding element, it wasn’t over bassed or screechy high ended, just loud and crystal clear.

As standard the GTC comes well equipped so elements like assisted soft door closing (useful as the doors are massive!) and electric boot opening (both up and down) adds to the Bentleyness. A small feature which is well thought through was a rear courtesy light set in the Alcantara trimmed convertible hood. This is overlooked on every other convertible I have been in.

As VW owns Bentley there’s some shared componentry in order to save costs but the only evidence I saw was the CD changer in the glove which looks identical to the one in my old Golf.

There are two bad points with the car.  The first is a booming noise when you back off the throttle in sport mode when the hood is down. The other one can’t be fixed and that’s jealously from other drivers, which I experienced firsthand.  A taxi pulled out of a junction in front of me, I gave him a flash of the lights to signal my annoyance and was met with every offensive hand signal I know.

The Continental is a true GT car and would be a worthy companion for a trip across France.  It's not a sports car like a Ferrari or Porsche, but set up for cossetting and pampering the occupants and genuinely capable of travelling very very fast. It is capable of reaching 100 miles per hour in 10.3 seconds, which is unheard of for a 2.5 tonnes car, and I found it goads you on, almost willing you to go faster. It makes every journey an event and for every jealous motorist theres a dozen who love it, showing their appreciation with a stare, a finger point or a smile.

It was a big risk for Bentley, making a mass produced car but they struck gold with this.  It’s been an outstanding success and worthy of the Winged B on the head of the bonnet. The craftsmanship shines throughout the cabin with the fit, finish and materials outstanding and representing Bentley down a T.

The Bentley Continental is British Engineering at the top of it’s game.


Price - £153,500 (£181,370 as tested)
Engine - 6 litre, W12 Twin Turbo, petrol
Transmission – 8 speed ZF Auto
0-60mph – 4.4 seconds
Top speed - 195 mph
Power - 567 bhp at 6000rpm
Torque - 516 lb ft at 1700rpm
Economy - 19 mpg combined
CO2 - 347 g/km
Kerb weight - 2495 kg

Review by Colin Hubbard