As day follows dawn, I'll get e-mails this morning to this effect:
"Dear worthless shill, how can you justify writing about a quarter-million-dollar convertible that gets single-digit gas mileage when the economy is in ruins, the poles are melting and both are worsened by this nation's obsession with oil? At long last, have you left no sense of decency? You should be selling pencils, not pushing them. Love, Mom."
First, a bit of insight into the process: Typically, I write about cars that are new to the market, given that they are, well, news. The Bentley Continental GTC Speed is fresh off the diamond cutter's bench and so it qualifies.
I also try to write about cars that are significant, and the GTC Speed is remarkable in that it returns positively the worst gas mileage I have ever observed in any car that didn't have a roll cage and parachute on the back. This, the high-performance version of the Continental GTC -- powered by a 6.0-liter, 12-cylinder engine producing 600 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque -- is a woeful and desolate killing field of hydrocarbons, the wailing wall of dead dinosaurs. In typical, around-town, stop-and-go driving, this exquisite British convertible gets about 5 to 7 miles per gallon, and during hard acceleration 3 mpg.
Such a wretched superlative begs a story.
It's not simply a matter of the 30-score ponies under the hood. Several cars on the market -- for instance, the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 -- have more output. It's that the Bentley's force is obliged to move the Bentley's gracious, galling, mind-bending mass, all 5,660 pounds of it (400 pounds more than the similarly equipped GT Speed coupe). That's about what a Porsche Cayenne Turbo SUV weighs and also your average Hipo-Suiza. Just typing those numbers gives my fingers a hernia.
And then there's the not-inconsiderable matter of aerodynamic efficiency. With its vast open cabin (with the canvas top down), big wheels and tires, and bluff, upright frontal shape, the GTC Speed is about as aero sleek and slippery as the mountain on its way to visit Muhammad.
Why write about the GTC Speed then? Joseph Conrad called it the "fascination with the abomination."
That said, this is an astonishing automobile for an astonishing price. Bentley's command of sensory gratification is nearly erotic. For example, when you downshift the big car using the manual paddle shifters on the steering wheel and you roll out of the throttle as you set up for a corner, the sound of the decelerating engine, what car guys call overrun, is stunning -- a warm, breathy thunder, full of impending threat, like you're being passed on the right by a Kansas rainstorm.
Every tactile detail -- the knurl on the alloy gearshift, the diamond-quilt leather upholstery, the dazzling "engine-turned" aluminum fascia on the dash and door -- provokes a heady rush of spiraling appetite and heart-pounding materialism. To the Bentley driver, Gandhi is just some old guy in a diaper.
There is one more sensation worth noting: exquisite silence. The Bentley has got to be the quietest ragtop ever built.
The GTC Speed is the fourth and final iteration of the Continental GT, which debuted in 2003 and reintroduced Bentley Motors Ltd., under new owner Volkswagen, to the world. The Crewe, England-based company, battered by declining rich-dude sales, recently announced that it would accelerate development of the car's replacement, now due in 2010. So the GTC Speed is the Continental's swan song. If you listen closely, you can hear the bells tolling for this kind of mega-horsepower. More on that in a moment.
The Speed designation indicates one of the company's low-volume, high-performance variants. In addition to the GTC Speed's more powerful engine (torque is up 15% to 553 pound-feet at a whispering 1,750 revolutions per minute), it gets a tighter and lower suspension, more aggressive stability control calibration, a sport steering wheel, aluminum foot pedals and spectacular 20-inch wheels, inside of which are even more spectacular optional carbon-ceramic discs measuring 16.5 inches in the front. These are the biggest brakes available on any production car in the world. These things can practically stop time.
The resulting car can feel downright giddy and surreal, as you experience life at the fulcrum between irresistible force and immovable mass. Nail the throttle and it seems as if the car -- and a good portion of the Earth's mantle with it -- is lightly gathered up and sent plunging forward, as if it were falling horizontally. As if the laws of gravity were temporarily overturned by the Supreme Court. As if inertia were made of velvet. Words fail me. Zero to 60 mph clicks by in 4.5 seconds and then, less than a minute later, the car noses up against its aero-limited top speed of 200-plus mph. Anywhere between 0 and 200 mph, the car offers huge, fulminating, overscale torque and now-you-see-me-now-you-don't acceleration with just the jab of a toe. B for Bentley, B for bonkers.
The GTC Speed is by no means perfect. Bentley's navigation system is, by now, fairly outdated and clumsy. The awesome-looking 20-inch wheels and tires give the car a choppier ride than necessary, considering the negligible benefit in lateral grip. To canyon-carve with the GTC Speed feels rather like trying to water-ski behind an aircraft carrier. But no kidding and no hyperbole: This is a fabulous car.
And probably one of the last of its kind. Here's another reason to write about this car: To say goodbye. I do not see how, between the federal and California greenhouse gas restrictions to come, cars like these survive in the next decade.
The horsepower bubble -- the exuberance of displacement and power predicated on cheap oil and bad public policy -- is officially burst. The good news is that there is nothing of the Bentley's performance or its elan that can't be translated to a more efficient machine.
Nothing but the sound. That wondrous sound.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Cars.com Staff||Cars.com National||January 15, 2009|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||April 24, 2009|
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