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Bentley Continental GTC first drive

Team OD  /
09 May 2013 16:11:41 IST

Vlad the Impaler - Dracula to the rest of us - might be the most famous vampire in history, but he's not the first as the vampire-themed bar in the little village of Kringa in the Istrian peninsula of Croatia attests. This was the home town of Jure Grando, the first classical vampire to be officially documented, a peasant who died in 1656 but returned as a vampire to terrorise his village for 16 years until his decapitation. Yet the village still seems under a spell for there is nobody; literally and spookily nobody. As we crunch through the narrow streets we clock an odd old man ducking into what, in any European village, would be a street side cafe. Yet here there aren't any street side cafes. Or people. Or traffic for that matter.

Why look a gift horse in the mouth though, especially when the lack of traffic means very little likelihood for finding a cop pointing a speed gun at you. And so we stir up the mega W12 engine, watch the prow rise in response, and aim for the next village (home of the world's largest truffle - we'll get to that) in the new Bentley Continental GTC.

New I say, but it requires a long hard look to see what's new. This is the drop-top version of the Continental GT (C for convertible) that was comprehensively revised last year yet carrying styling that remains conservatively aligned to the first Continental, the car that I must remind you turned around the company's fortunes. Look closely though and the exquisite detailing takes centre stage: the smaller diameter off-set running lamps a-la Mulsanne; the superformed aluminium panels (an aerospace inspired technology) that allows for the complex convex and concave surfacing of the single-piece front fenders (the old fenders were in two halves, splitting the headlamps - not that you'd notice but that just tells you the level of detailing Bentley goes into); the crisply defined haunches over the rear wheels (my favourite line on the car) that has a sharper 3mm radii, down from 6.5mm (insane!); the larger 20-inch (standard) and 21-inch (optional) wheels. All of which are shared with the GT. Taking the roof off however has toned down the aggressive stance of the GT giving it more elegance and class.

Bentley toyed with the idea of a folding hardtop but the packaging constraints forced engineers to stick with the fabric roof that also allows for a perfectly usable boot. The roof stows behind a hard leather covered shelf that rather than messing with the lines, compliments it. The fabric roof has three layers and with it up offers coupe-like insulation, Bentley in fact claiming it is three decibels quieter than the hard-top when cruising. I had no reason to doubt their claims and couldn't notice even a wee bit of fabric flutter for the short period that I had the roof down.

I'd be mad after all to drive the GTC with its top up and it being bright and sunny there was no danger of bats flying in and sucking the blood out of our necks. The roof stows away in 25 seconds, the neck warmers are turned on (a 1000 US dollar option), tunes are cranked up on the 1000-watt custom-made Naim audio system and we head off the mountains around the little-known sea-side town of Pula. A perfect set of roads to sample what Bentley claims is the best 2+2 convertible in the world.

The most opulent, that I have no doubt about. 10 different hides are used to swathe the cabin, seven different book-matched wood veneers including oak, ash and walnut are used on the furnishings, deep wool for the carpets, the new touchscreen multimedia systems is a big, and much needed, step forward and whatever looks and feels like metal is metal. This again is unchanged from the coupe but with the cabin now open for the whole world to see that decadence ratio gets cranked up to the max. So much so that when we pull into Livade people actually venture out of their homes and gather around the car.

The Bentley awakens naughty ideas as I floor the throttle exiting the roundabout outside Livade (which has a bronze bust of Zigante's truffle), the tail squirms a bit before straightening out, the horizon beckons and 575 horsepower makes haste. The twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 engine carries over but power goes up by 16PS, weight goes down by 70kg and 100kmph takes 4.5 seconds. Top speed is an all-mighty 312kmph, best explored with the roof up.

What's really impressive though is the thunderous torque - 700Nm of it - whose primary purpose seems to be to make countries feel smaller. Croatia definitely shrinks around the accelerator. This engine doesn't feel like a petrol engine, it's like a steam engine. There's just so much torque waiting to uproot tree stumps that it takes a mere tickle on the accelerator pedal to send this hefty two and a half tonne automobile hurtling across the mountains and into Italy. Performance is of course incredible but the manner in which it is served up, with torque peaking at just 1700rpm and propelling it along effortlessly as if the hand of god were pushing it towards the horizon, is what makes the GTC so special and so keeping with its elegance and opulence.

The ZF 6-speed Quickshift gearbox is carried over from the Continental Super Sports in which shift times are halved to a mere 200 milliseconds though truth be told with so much torque on tap the GTC would be perfectly happy with only the even gears. The underpinnings, whose roots can be traced to the VW Phaeton, are updated and the air suspension allows for variable ride heights and spring rates to suit the occasion. In comfort it is, well, as comfortable and gentlemanly as you'd expect a luxury car to be but with the slider moved to sport mode the GTC showcases an amazing dexterity for its size and weight. The Super Sports' 40:60 torque split for the torsen-based all-wheel-drive drivetrain is also carried over which dials out a bit of the fun-killing understeer but this is still a nose heavy grand tourer. Fortunately these roads are full of fast flowing sweepers which the GTC absolutely revels in, entering corners with a crisp turn-in and tightly controlled body movements and exiting gracefully yet forcefully enough to make your passengers scream.

A scream of joy, laced with a tinge of fear. The full-bodied blood-curdling scream that would have announced Jure Grando's presence - that'll be reserved for when you see the price, around Rs 2.2 crore in India (the GT is 1.9 crore) plus the shed load of taxes our dear government sucks out of you.

But if you want to cruise in style, money no object, this is the best 2+2 convertible in the world.

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