2012 Bentley Continental GTC Review
Back in 2005, I worked at New York-based exotic car rental company Gotham Dream Cars. We had a fleet of about 20 exotic cars, mostly Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, and Aston Martin’s, but with two Bentley GT’s thrown into the mix.
The kind of people who normally rent Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s are just like you or me: normal guys who will probably never be able to afford such a car, but can afford a little taste of what it’s like to drive a beautiful Italian exotic for a day or two on some previously scouted and expertly planned canyon roads. They want to hear the wail of the eight, ten, or twelve cylinder engine, feel the mechanical grip offered by the Z-rated tires, and experience the kick of a Gallardo’s single-disc clutch power shifting at redline. Now, I’m not saying I would personally spend up to $2,500 per day of my own money on such an indulgence, but I totally understand those who do.
The people who rented the Bentley’s were not like that. They didn’t care that the GT would go 195 mph. They didn’t care that the all-wheel-drive system was advanced enough that you could enter it, bone stock, in the New York Ice Racing Association and probably win most of the races that year. And they certainly didn’t care that, underneath the sculpted bodylines, the car was heavily based on the Audi A8 / Volkswagen Phaeton architecture. They cared about two things: 1) That it was a Bentley. 2) That they looked rich while driving it.
On more than five occasions during my year-long tenure at Gotham Dream Cars, young, mostly black men would arrive and request the use of the Continental GT for the weekend. The cost for a Friday-to-Monday rental for this vehicle was, at the time, around $4,500. All paid their security deposits, as well as the rental fee, in cash. And none of them could shut up about how they finally got their first record deal with Record Company X and were, “gonna be fly as hell when we roll up to the club in this biaaaaatch!”
Seriously, these guys were spending literally their entire record advance on three days with a Bentley. I’d say that I hope they enjoyed their time with the $180,000 luxo-coupe, but based on what we’d find in the cars afterwards, I know they had a real good time. They would put fewer than 100 miles on the cars, and they would come back reeking of blunt smoke (and sometimes even roaches in the ash tray), with condom wrappers and women’s underwear scattered about the cabin. Come to think of it, they used rented Bentley GT’s the same way I used my mother’s borrowed Mercury Villager in high school.
These are not the kind of people who actually buy Bentley’s. In order to purchase such an automobile, like the 2012 Bentley Continental GTC that is (theoretically) the subject of this review, your net worth should be, for lack of a better word, staggeringly huge. These cars are reserved for titans of industry, their hilariously spoiled, bored third wives, their first wives who took half their money in the divorce, and the hip hop moguls who write the checks to the idiots who spend them on renting the car their new boss drives. You need to be on your 10th album, not your first.
This is a car that says, “I’m as important as it gets, and I want to remind myself of that every time I need to go to the store.”
And remind you it does. Just sitting, parked outside my house, its large and imposing. The belt line is nearly a foot higher than Zack K’s Miata. The 21-inch wheels wearing Pirelli P-Zero tires would fit nicely into the wheel wells of an Escalade, much less a 2+2 convertible. And, it’s sexy. You can’t help but run your fingers along the sharp creases of the superformed aluminum body. The special process used to treat the aluminum allows Bentley to form more complex shapes using single pieces of metal; just check out that rear ¾ panel. We love the evolutionary styling of the new model GT’s, as they are more aggressive and, yes, prettier than the 2004-2011 models.
The GTC’s interior, which will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s driven a previous-generation Continental, is well crafted and lavish, surrounding the passengers in the perfect mix of contrast-stitched leather, real aluminum, and expensive-looking wood, which has better integrated controls and trim than the first-generation car. The front “cobra-style” seats are supportive but not overly bolstered, and feature heating, cooling, and massage functions. When the top is down, they blow hot air on the back of your neck, a surprisingly functional gimmick. The rear seats are not nearly as useful; in order to put people back there, the driver must be the kind of person who is either a) a small woman, or b) a man who clearly bought the GTC to compensate for his Napoleon Complex. (In all fairness, I can name at least 4 people I know personally who fit into option B). For all intents and purposes, the rear seat is just a nicely appointed leather shelf. The new 3-spoke steering wheel, which we first saw last year on the Continental Supersports, fits the GTC much better than the outgoing, bulbous 4-spoke model, and feels wonderful in your hands. There’s a detachable sunglasses case made from the same woodgrain as the dash (pictured above), which would be extremely cool if it was big enough to hold a real pair of sunglasses; but in reality it’s just something else for someone to steal.
This is the glasses case “closed” with my Dillon Optics inside.
It only takes a few minutes of driving to realize why the GTC is the perfect daily driver for Los Angeles’ well-to-do. A tap of the “Start” button, located just left of the shift lever, brings the 567 horsepower W12 engine to life with a subtle bark, before settling into its vibration-free, silent idle. Dropping the top takes 25 seconds, roughly double the length of time it takes for a Ferrari 458 Spider to lose its roof, but that’s OK, because in this town, it’s fashionable to take twice as long to do something as the task normally requires. The good news is that, in the event it rains, the three-layer soft top keeps out water, wind, and noise flawlessly. While most convertibles look silly with their tops up (we’re looking at you, Maserati GranCabrio), the color-matched cloth roof on our test car looks great. The adjustable air suspension soaks up LA’s poorly maintained roads well, and in “High” mode, can clear the driveway at TST headquarters, a feat normally reserved for SUV’s and cars with a very short wheelbase. Switching to “Sport” mode on less-than-perfect roads yields a noticeable tightening of everything, and the ride is firm, though still not “supercar” stiff. Unfortunately, using Sport suspension on bumpy roads did illicit some cowl shakes, which we expect in lower-end convertibles, but were surprised by in a car this heavy, with this high a price tag. We found ourselves using “Comfort” mode for about 90% of our time with the GTC.
LA means traffic lights, and lots of them. Here, the W12’s 516 lb/ft of torque are maximized at just 1700 RPM, so with a light foot, you can still pull away from lights, hard, while never exceeding 2,000 RPM.
This is a good thing, because, to put it bluntly, the W12 engine isn’t exactly brilliant to rev. Sure, the turbochargers build power nicely and putting your foot in it, calling up a lower gear from the ZF 6-speed to make a highway pass is like a commercial jetliner at takeoff, but when an exotic car costs $235,000, I want a sound to match. You see, the W12 engine, at its most basic, is two V6 engines turned sideways and stuck together at the crank. The upside to this configuration is compact packaging, in terms of length. The downside is that it sounds like, well, two V6’s. A V12, on the other hand, sounds like two inline-6’s, and doesn’t just make a sound, it screams with emotion. It’s not that the GTC sounds bad, far from it. It’s just that it sounds bland compared to how it looks, or its price tag. For this reason, (plus weight savings, economy improvements, and a lower price), we’d have to say that the new twin-turbo V8 model is really the one to have.
Another downside is the transmission. Though it works well left to its own devices during normal daily use, and it always chose the right gear when left in “Sport Auto,” full manual mode unfortunately disappoints. The paddle shifters, mounted to the steering column, are right out of the Lamborghini Gallardo, but unlike the ($40,000 cheaper) Lamborghini, the Bentley’s transmission doesn’t rev match on downshifts, even in “Sport” mode.
The GTC has separate “Sport” modes for engine/transmission and suspension, and a day in the Malibu canyons meant turning both modes on. The transmission holds gears longer, the throttle response is improved, and the suspension is at it firmest. At 5,501 lbs, the Bentley is a full 1,300 lbs heavier than the Dodge Challenger SRT8, so you wouldn’t expect tight corners to be its forte, but with great gearing, all-wheel-drive, communicative steering, and torque coming on so low, it truly feels 1,000 lbs lighter than it actually is. There is noticeable understeer while braking hard into a corner, but the traction control does actually allow left-foot-braking at corner exit to keep the front end under control.
It’s at this juncture that we realize how much we’re kidding ourselves, and we return to the original point: who buys these cars? The list of customers doesn’t include “weekend canyon carvers.” It doesn’t include “track warriors,” and if it did, they would most likely have a dedicated track car whose grille would be adorned with something besides a Flying B. The Bentley GTC is still the king of the exotic daily drivers. It’s a top-tier commuter car, a cruise-up-the-PCH-with-your-lady car, and, as our rental customers frequently pointed out, a roll-up-to-the-club car. And, if you live in the north and have an extra $2,000 for snow tires, it will drive great all year long. No one is ever going to buy a Bentley and push its air suspension, its brakes, or its engine to the limit on the track. They don’t actually need it to go 195 mph. They just need to know it can.
We truly enjoyed our time with the new Bentley GTC. It’s beautiful, powerful, and lavish, and even if the driver isn’t actually that important, like, say, a lowly auto journalist who’s just writing about it, or a rapper who hasn’t even dropped their first single and is foolishly spending their advance renting one, it certainly makes you feel like a million bucks, for just over a quarter of that.