The GTC Speed is a souped-up version of the Continental GTC, which is the convertible version of the Continental GT coupe. The 2010 GTC Speed rolled into my stewardship with its Midnight Emerald green paint, a barely audible 12-cylinder rumble, an aromatic hidebound dashboard and an as-tested price that was discomfitingly familiar. After the $2,595 destination charge, a $3,700 gas-guzzler tax and a slew of optional features, the GTC Speed had swelled from its $231,400 base price to 270,795 American dollars. I've driven cars costing considerably more, so why was this figure sticking in my head? One long-distance call later I had my answer: My childhood home, which had sold just three weeks earlier, would have been an even trade ... if my folks had left the refrigerator stocked ... with bearer bonds.
Of course, I'm confident that just a year ago the same property would have been good for a Bentley Azure or even a Brooklands, but now the housing market is depressed (as is anyone trying to sell a house).
What Makes it Worth So Much?
Just to get this out of the way, I'll address the question I heard repeatedly during my time with the GTC: "What makes a car worth that much money?" The stock answer: a buyer willing to pay it. If no one will pay that much, it ain't worth it. End of story.
What gives a high-priced luxury car a chance of coaxing buyers usually depends on a balance of performance, quality and exclusivity. The more you get of each, the higher the price. More than ever, luxury and ultraluxury cars attempt to do everything — and usually succeed. Even regular luxury-brand flagships like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class are large and luxurious yet quick and agile. The only real tradeoff other than price is gas mileage, and the ultraluxury class takes both to a new level — the price higher and the mileage lower. Ultraluxury buyers aren't too concerned about gas consumption, regardless of the price per gallon. As we've established: If you can trade a four-bedroom for a two-door, you're not normal.
It's hard to argue with the GTC Speed's performance. For one thing, it's impressively rigid for a large convertible, and that's rare. Without the structural support of a fixed roof, convertibles can flex and shudder, especially with age. Typically, droptop versions of existing models are reinforced in other areas to prevent this, which adds weight. In the GTC, it adds a few hundred pounds over the GT coupe. For the GTC Speed's roughly 5,500-pound curb weight (or kerb, as the Brits spell it) a few hundred pounds is either not terribly bad, or the straw that broke the Clydesdale's back, depending on your perspective.
All of the Continentals overcome their own heft through the use of a twin-turbocharged W-12 engine developed by Volkswagen, Bentley's owner, that's now built exclusively at Bentley's factory in Crewe, England. Good for 552 horsepower in the GTC, it's tweaked for 600 hp in the Speed version, which shaves the zero-to-60 mph time down from 4.8 seconds to 4.5 seconds. In case you lack perspective on such sprints, 4.5 seconds is really, really quick. The new Chevy Camaro V-8 does it in 4.7 seconds, and that's impressive in itself. Just imagine how quick the GTC would be if it were lighter....
For a car of its weight, though, the GTC Speed is admirably athletic and well-managed. Thanks to its many cylinders and peak torque of 553 pounds-feet — that comes quickly, at 1,750 rpm — the Speed wastes no time bolting from a standing start. Standard all-wheel drive prevents wasteful wheelspin and ensures that all the power gets to the road. It also helps keep the car planted despite a feeling of nose-heaviness. The adaptive suspension keeps body roll, braking dive and acceleration squat under control. Bentley kindly provides four firmness settings, too, the softest of which makes the ride more than livable, despite more sport-oriented tuning than the regular GTC has. Unfortunately, the control is accessed through the LCD screen, so you can't always adjust it quickly enough when you see rough pavement or a beckoning serpentine ahead. A knob would be much better.
A button to raise and lower the entire car on its air springs, however, is right where you can reach it — not a bad feature, given the Speed variant's 10-mm-lower ride height versus the GTC; pump it up and you're good for snow, badly rutted roads and ease getting in and out.
In terms of exclusivity, if your car says "Bentley" on it, you're already ahead of the game. Bentley has a greater presence in the market than it did just five years ago, but you're not likely to see many of them at the grocery store parking lot — unless it's an abnormal one, like Whole Foods. The British brands have found that the exclusivity of spellings like kerb, tyre and colour — and replacing words like sedan, hood and trunk with saloon, bonnet and boot — are good for an incremental markup. If the navigation system speaks with a Brit accent? Cha-ching! (Sadly, the GTC's did not.)
Your exclusivity factor isn't bad if you have a Continental, the brand's best-seller, but it's better if you have the convertible GTC, of which Bentley expects to sell 750 in North America this year. And the Speed variant is that much more exclusive ... or is it? The company says the Speed could make up half of the GTC allocation. Half? If it's half, obviously the exclusivity argument begins to slip out the double-pane, sound-resistant window.
There are differences, though. The Speed version has a smoked-chrome grille, which I find a big improvement over the too-cheap-looking non-Speed's bright chrome. The standard wheels are 20-inchers, and the car rides lower. A spoiler is incorporated into the trunklid's trailing edge, and the twin tailpipes are wider.
The interior is based on a regular GTC outfitted with the Mulliner option package, which adds diamond-quilt seats with "Bentley" embroidered on the backrests, a three- (arguably four-) spoke steering wheel, and a terrific knurled-metal gear selector knob. There are also "Speed"-engraved sill plates and drilled alloy pedals. There's not much I can criticize about the interior quality. A few elements are familiar from Audi, like the LCD display between the gauges, but it's not inherently low-quality; it's just similar. Like styling, though, interior quality is in the eye of the beholder. The inside of this beholder's family home never looked anything like this, so perhaps I'm easily impressed.
About the Cha-Ching Thing...
Contemplating the entire GTC Speed's value is difficult, but it gets a lot easier when Bentley prices features for you. The options are where some of the cha-chinging gets out of hand. Here are a few of my favorites:
Contrast stitching: Don't get me wrong; it's lovely. The Saffron color? Great choice. There's a lot of it — and it's hand-stitched. But it's thread, and it's $1,000.
Carbon-ceramic brakes: Claimed to be the largest carbon-ceramic brakes available on a production car, this option improves stopping power and resistance to heat buildup and brake fade. That's not too out of the ordinary, but the car already comes with brakes that do what you need brakes to do, and for the price of this option you could have a Volkswagen Rabbit. It's true; for $16,500, you could buy a Rabbit to use whenever the GTC Speed is being detailed. The optional binders work very well, but for $16,500, I don't want to stop fast; I'm going to need to go back in time. If any potential GTC buyer out there wants to pass on the brake option and put the money toward a Rabbit for me, I'll vow to follow you around on weekends with a tow-hook and a parachute.
Naim for Bentley premium stereo: I've seen car stereo option prices climb toward — and occasionally into — the five-figure range, but they usually come in a package full of other features and with a distinguished brand name, not one with which most Americans are familiar. You'd think the esoteric audiophile brands would be running out, considering how many have been snatched up by automakers, but there are more than you can imagine, and Bentley found one: Naim is a respected, decades-old British maker of high-end audio gear, but this $6,900 system just isn't good enough, with dodgy spatial rendition and not enough clean, distortion-free output for a convertible, despite more than a kilowatt of multichannel amplifier power. (In a previous life I covered home and car audio, and my reward for having suffered many car stereo sound-off competitions — where people try to out-tweak each other — is that I get to make authoritative pronouncements about stuff like this. Let me have this; without it, I'm just a geek.)
Alloy fuel filler cap: The problem isn't the ornamental nature of the alloy cap, the likes of which has been seen on other cars, or its $290 option price. The problem is that it sits under a fuel-filler door and is thus invisible to anyone but the owner or a gas jockey. Almost $300 for the guy manning the pump? I think he'd prefer a tip. This option isn't just abnormal; it's pathological.
Perhaps it's petty, but I feel duty bound to point out what's clearly wrong with this Bentley — in an attempt to make myself and other normal people feel better about ourselves. High on my list are the headlights, which are effective xenon types, but they don't swivel in the direction of a turn. I enjoyed that feature on a 2010 Mazda3, which costs little more than the GTC Speed's brakes. Likewise, the front seats are heated but not cooled, even though that feature comes in many modest premium and luxury cars.
The navigation system has a backup camera, which the last GTC I drove did not. Good to see, but the ergonomics remain way outdated, with soft keys flanking the LCD rather than a touch-screen. The low-res map graphics are sub-par, with too few street labels and screen-loading speed that a CD-ROM drive would laugh at. Did I mention the six-CD changer is in the glove compartment?
A W-12 certainly sounds exotic — a W instead of a V — but I'm going to shoot that down, too. V-8 engines are so called because their cylinders come in two rows whose configuration forms a V shape. Each side is topped by a discrete cylinder head. Technically, a W-12 has three rows and three heads. The Bentley W-12 doesn't. It's a joining of two of what Volkswagen calls VR6 engines — basically inline-six engines in which alternating cylinders are staggered 15 degrees from each other, allowing the whole line to be shorter in length. These engines each have a single head. Two of them are joined to form a W-12, which therefore has two heads. It makes for an admirably compact engine whose performance can't be faulted. Still, I'm going to call a technical foul in the name of rationalization. It's "just" a V-12 with slapdash cylinder arrangement. Nothing to see here; please move on.
Continental GTC Speed in the Market
This is where I usually crumble and admit I want the outrageously expensive car despite my failure to justify it. Not this time. To paraphrase David St. Hubbins at Elvis' gravesite in "This is Spinal Tap," the house/car juxtaposition was "too much perspective." Apart from that, I think Bentley's going overboard with the versions. First came the Speed version, which includes a lot of the Mulliner options you could pick and choose for a regular GTC. Now there's a Continental Supersports coming too, with incrementally more power (621 hp) and other upgrades. I'm on to you, Bentley.
I wouldn't mind being a little less normal, but I don't think I'd use the abnormality to buy a GTC Speed. I'd probably go with the house. I have some fond memories of that house. There's reason to believe it will appreciate again someday. And I wouldn't have to worry about it getting dinged by a shopping cart.
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