x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Touring car champion

Bentley's ubiquitous Continental GT has lost its roof. Again. Victoria Macmillan Bell tries it for size.

Bentley has developed a car that is both extremely comfortable and fast, despite weighing a colossal 2.5 tonnes.
Bentley has developed a car that is both extremely comfortable and fast, despite weighing a colossal 2.5 tonnes.

"Welcome.

"Your selection of hotel classifies you among those who strive towards the very best, who have truly refined tastes and seek absolute perfection.

"By combining all of the valuable qualities of our destination in a special way, we have created an environment of uncompromising quality that offers superb services and aims to reach new standards of perfection, assuring your personal satisfaction."

This was, in fact, the welcome screen in my hotel in Rovinj and not the welcome screen inside the Bentley, which I am here to drive; sentiments shared nonetheless.

I've been trying to get out to Croatia for some time; friends have sailed the waters around the coast and reported great things. I may not be seeing the land from a boat, but better still I'm taking it all in from the comfort of Bentley's latest GT car in convertible form.

So following the launch of the GT coupé and inevitably similar in revision, Bentley claims this is the most "emotional" car in its line-up. At first glance, it looks somewhat smaller - a more sculpted version of its predecessor, and that's just what the designers would like you to notice. In actual fact, it's a fraction longer.

Super-formed aluminium front wings now hug the contours just that little bit more and eliminate the need for seams, while the now-ubiquitous LED daytime running lights have become part of the new jewelled headlamps.

Another new update is that 20in wheels are now standard, with 21in rims available as an option in four styles and a good handful of finishes. Underneath, the suspension has been modified to compliment the new wheel sizes, along with wider tracks both front and rear.

Not that it needed it, but the car is also faster, and that's (in part) down to a good dose of weight loss - the seats alone lost a massive 20kg each. But these Continental seats are full of all sorts of electrical wires and buttons (not to mention seatbelt anchorages), so how do you go about losing a few kilos on a seat? You take the seatbelt and aluminium arm, along with all the components from the seat itself as they were presented to you automatically beside your shoulder in the outgoing model and you reposition them just behind the door, neatly tucked into the side panel and still handed to you as you enter.

The seats themselves have had a stunning revision. Think "Cobra". That's what the design team had in its collective head when it created the new chairs. Now slimmer and lighter, there is more knee room for rear passengers and, for those up front, concave "scalloping" has been used in the redesign of the underside of the dashboard, allowing more space.

Yes, OK, Mercedes-Benz may have been there first, but on board here and now is a neck-warmer air-flow system which, as you will appreciate, is obviously a must in the UAE. One can never be too hot.

No? This might be better appreciated: a 10-cell massage function that "kneads" your back (sections of the seat inflate and deflate in sequence) to ease your day.

It's possible, of course, to go all-out with your additional options and there's a menu for that just waiting to be perused. The thing is, the GTC is already pretty special, with no fewer than 17 different hide colour choices and infinite attention to detail on the stitching and the quilting of the leather, the drilled aluminium pedals and, something I particularly like, the push and pull action of the air vents. It's beautifully smooth.

And before I leave the interior and redesign overall, Brian Gush, Bentley's director of chassis/powertrain engineering and motorsport, takes me around the already-brilliant audio system produced by Naim, only it's been bettered. "Balanced mode radiator technology" addresses all frequencies without resorting to tweeters and woofers. Add to this some digitally enhanced sound processing and all occupants will hear the same delivery regardless of where they're sitting.

Navigation has been heightened care of Google Maps - compatibility is still market specific - sand dunes are now numbered. I jest, of course.

And finally to the hood. As with many convertibles, now the roof can be raised or lowered while driving (up to 32kph) and it takes just 25 seconds to do so. Top speed with the roof up is 314kph and roof down you're likely to lose approximately 8kph but your hairstyle won't suffer.

At 235kph with the wind deflector in place, not a ruffle of the follicles - even when crossing a bridge over a valley, with the expanse of the Adriatic on our right - not a hair flinched.

Collapsing the wind deflector is a case of pushing buttons and folding it like a napkin. It's then stored in a zip-up bag in the boot that isn't itself secured but I heard no banging and crashing as I continued my tour of the Istrian peninsula later that morning.

Anyway, the wonderful noise from the GTC's colossal engine would put paid to any bumping sounds of loose objects in the boot.

Talking of which, as I mentioned earlier, the GTC is now faster thanks to a few changes under the bonnet. The twin-turbocharged 6.0L W12 engine's power has been increased from 560hp to 575 and it now hits 100kph in just 4.8 seconds.

The six-speed gearbox can execute faster shifts thanks to a new QuickShift transmission that jumps two ratios instead of one, if required by way of a double-pull on the paddles behind the steering wheel. Handling has been bettered, too. Developed from the Supersport's four-wheel drive system, its 40:60 rear torque bias replaces the original 50:50 set-up and lessens understeer during cornering, giving much more control to the driver which, I'm sure you'll agree, is what driving fun is all about.

So let's seek out some fun on this emerald-shaped peninsula that drops down from the northern tip of Croatia, bordering Slovenia.

We start in the town of Rovinj, right on the Adriatic Sea, which looks like an old Venetian city (Venice itself is across the water) before heading south to Pula. It is a weekend and the roads are delightfully empty, which allows me the chance to open up the cylinders to almost full glory. How much fun is it to watch the car in your rearview mirror reduced to the size of a pinhead? And they'll be having the same view through their windscreen. This is speed on an epic scale.

Despite the weight loss clinic, the GTC is no featherweight and some hefty crosswinds notwithstanding through a valley, its considerable might hunkers down an all-thwarting force against mother nature. You are invincible at this point, and then the sheer mass of the car is brought home under heavy breaking, this is when you feel it most, all 2.5 tonnes of it.

Damper settings can be adjusted via the touch screen and a tug of the arm down to Sport livens things up even more. There's no doubt the turn-in is sharper and there's more "play" in the drive - are they really thinking about going into Formula One? I ask that with relish and encouragement.

A mention of the all-important exhaust note would be appropriate at this juncture, for it crackles and pops on gearchanges nicely. It's better than before but it's the sheer depth of the noise that is the head-turner. Suffice it to say, Pula was very sleepy when we arrived, not so much now.

Getting out of the lovely, warm Bentley, roof-down into the wind chill of the day is hard, which just proves what a comfortable place it is. Pula is the largest town on the Istrian peninsula and it is filled with Roman history, including a vast amphitheatre, the acoustics of which are still impressive.

It's too cold to stand about for long so we take some very rich coffee in the main square before unleashing the after-effects on the road to Plomin, a hilltop town with some fantastically slippery cobblestones. The GTC copes just fine but I'm morphed into a brittle-boned relic from the Natural History Museum, clinging on for dear life.

The roads are superb and the views, well, you can't look really as things tend to happen rather quickly in the GTC. That said, the power and thrust is so constant and smooth that even when things do happen, they seem to unravel so gracefully.

Nothing actually happens, but when you're steaming around an apex with a 100m drop to your right, and you catch sight of this almost ethereal scene of the Adriatic stretching out for miles hugged by vertiginous mountains, your focus drifts, swiftly followed by the car.

Soon we roll into Opatija, playground of the Hapsburgs Empire. In its day, this was the Austrian Riviera for the well-heeled and I see similarities with Monaco. It's experiencing a new flush now with Austrians flocking to buy houses and land on this stunning stretch of coastline. There's money here again - possibly enough for a few of these glorious Dh965,900 cars.