x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A cool experience from the top down in Bentley's 2012 Continental GTC

Road Test Chilly Hatta weather only makes Neil Vorano more appreciative of this Bentley convertible's comfort and style.

The pleasure derived from driving the GTC is unsurpassed. However, the car is lacking in features considering its price. Fatima Al Marzouqi / The National
The pleasure derived from driving the GTC is unsurpassed. However, the car is lacking in features considering its price. Fatima Al Marzouqi / The National

Sun, sun and more sun - we sure get it here in the UAE. Just about every morning I pull open the curtains, my retinas are blinded by the blazing light shining through the window. And while that might be great for holidaymakers visiting here from less sunny climes, it tends to get a little boring for those living here. At least, it does for me - and I'm not even talking about those overbearingly hot summers. I yearn for something different. Simply, I yearn for weather.

So last week was like a gift. Clouds, wind, rain, even thunder and lightning - it was blissful. The cold breeze and occasional fall of rain was a lovely change from the norm, and what better way to enjoy it all than in a convertible?

Wait, what? That hardly seems right; convertibles are for sun and warm temperatures, for tinted glasses and short sleeves, aren't they? Well, not for me they're not. At least, not exclusively. There's nothing better than driving top down in crisp air, bundled up in a comfortable jumper, with clouds hiding the sun and an eerie, grey light cast over the open road.

If you're going to experience the change of season for as little as it happens here, then you might as well do it in style. And you can't do it much better than behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental GTC.

This is the latest model, based on the recently revised Continental coupé, and the lovely bluish silver matched the grey skies over Hatta at the weekend, as well as my accompanying mellow mood. The sloped rear window and muscular haunches of the coupé version make it a perfect GT, a classic design for a sport touring car. Unfortunately, the convertible loses that look somewhat because of the fabric roof, but that's relative only compared with its hardtopped brother; it looks more stately than sporty. Plus, the option of dropping the top and experiencing the weather is an undeniably attractive option.

The car comes with a removable folding wind deflector that fits behind the front seats. It's cumbersome and requires you to store it in the boot when it's not in use, but it makes a huge difference to the turbulence within the cabin when the roof is stowed. Without it, your hair is tossed all about and the noise of the rushing air drowns out the stereo. With it, the cabin is calm and passengers can even carry on a conversation in normal tones. With the screen in place and the windows up, it's like driving in a hardtop car with a sunroof open. Plus, there's no need to take it off if you want to put the roof up, so if you rarely have passengers in the back, you can just leave it in place and avoid the work of taking it out and putting it back in.

And when you want some privacy or protection from the elements, the top deploys automatically (of course) in about 20 seconds. The use of a fabric top instead of the recently popular folding metal type is a non-issue here; when closed, the roof is firm and the cabin is quiet save for an almost imperceptible rushing of wind behind the seats.

Everything else about the car is the same as the GT; the cabin is ridiculously opulent, bathed in leather, wood and aluminium, with huge seats that seem to swallow passengers in luxury. Sitting behind that big steering wheel, with the huge bonnet in front, you just feel like this car is different. More so when you start to roll down the road. With such a big car, driving is more of a grand experience than normal.

The suspension is on the softer side and hard braking will dip the front down, but cornering is fairly tight and solid for such a heavy vehicle. The variable-rate steering, which is light at slow speeds, tightens up as the speedometer climbs and, even without its hardtop, the Continental feels solid on these twisty mountain roads in the eastern part of the country. In the cool air, with rocky, moonscape hills looming all around and grey skies above, the open Bentley is in its element. As am I, behind its wheel - I don't even feel like going fast.

But if I did, I certainly could. For me, the reason a Bentley costs upwards of Dh1 million isn't its leather-lined interior, its classic looks or even just that logo on the bonnet. No, it's what's under that big bonnet: 700Nm of torque coming from the big W12, twin-turbocharged engine. Yes, it also has a whopping 567hp, but it's that magnificent torque that makes it all worthwhile, especially as it all comes at just 1,700rpm. It makes driving a Bentley unlike almost any other car on the road. While others may have the same neck-snapping acceleration, their engines are screaming up towards the redline; in this GTC, the W12 barely breaks a sweat as you rocket forward. Even under hard throttle and spirited driving, you'll rarely get it above 3,000rpm, even in the transmission's sport mode. It makes having multiple gears almost superfluous, and keeps the drive - and driver - relaxed and calm. All the while, the exhaust stays relatively quiet - in keeping with the car's more stately purpose - save for a slight but very enjoyable backfire burble as you let off the throttle.

Still, the car isn't perfect. My big quibble with the GTC is with the features, or rather, the lack of them. On many other lesser cars, you have options such as radar-guided cruise control, lane deviation assist systems, cameras all around, blind-spot warnings, etc. Here, you have simple cruise control, electric windows, locks, auto boot lid, an excellent stereo - even automatic arms that bring the seat belts closer to passengers upon entry - but none of the more advanced systems. Is that a bad thing? Sometimes these systems are too intrusive, and there's much to be said for the simplicity of driving. Still, for this price, I'd at least want the option of turning these features on or off.

But with the wind tossing my hair and the heater blowing on my toes as I ascend and descend the hilly backroads of Hatta, that is one of the furthest things from my mind. The GTC will eventually leave my possession, as will the cooler weather soon give way to heat, which makes me appreciate them both all the more.


The Specs

Base price / as tested Dh980,000 / Dh1,080,000

Engine 6.0L, twin-turbo W12

Gearbox Six-speed automatic

Power 567hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque 700Nm @ 1,700rpm

Fuel economy, combined 16.5L/100km