"I can smell it from here," said the motorcyclist straddling a Kawasaki in the traffic-choked lane adjacent to us. Odd outburst, yes, but the guy wasn't being lewd – he was just noting the expensive aroma drifting from the interior of this new drop-top Bentley Continental GTC, courtesy of the dozen or so hand-tanned hides cladding its coach-built interior.
This most esteemed and remarkable motorcoach we had the wheel of, dear sirs, is a proper new iteration of the ragtop convertible the British marque first premiered in 2006, now more tightened and teched-out. It arrives in the States just in time for a select few of the moneyed masses to jockey it on summer Fridays on the journey from Wall Street to Southampton.
We, on the other hand, took it out to Brooklyn. And found that by driving top-down in a car that's as rare as a convertible Bentley, you get all manner of comments. Comments you wouldn't hear in a hardtop. Occasionally: "Can I have a ride?" and once, "Why isn't the backseat filled with chicks?" ("They just left" was our answer.)
Even on the pockmarked streets of Kings County, the new GTC offers a singular driving experience. For one, it doesn't sound like anything else on the road: Press the gas pedal, and you get a subdued, deep, and menacing gurgle instead of a throaty shout. Speed, experienced in the GTC, is a unique thrill as well. Open up the throttle and its ZF-sourced six-speed automatic transmission shifts so quickly and seamlessly that, combined with the tidal wave of torque coming from the GTC's massive, 567 bhp-producing 6-liter W12, the car's acceleration feels stunningly smooth and Millennium Falcon-ish – as if you should see stars becoming lines in your eye's periphery.
It's a stunningly fast car, if you want it to be, but by driving the GTC near its top speed of 195 mph, you'd only be distracted from soaking up the hoity-toity vibes of its ultra-clubby interior. You sit low, in "cobra-style" sport seats that coddle your shoulders, surrounded by tastefully neutral-polished wood veneers up to your chest, thanks to a beltline that Bentley's designers have heightened. Meanwhile, a 10-speaker sound system by British hi-fi specialist Naim (an impressive $7,000 upgrade) bombards with crisp, measured sonics, surely precise enough to soothe even a soul scarred by a devastating day of weathering the market.
While the GTC exudes a punishing amount of power, even its sophisticated rear-biased all-wheel drive setup, stiffer body, and revised suspension aren't enough to negate its 5,500-pound curb weight. In the twisties, you can tell it's a heavy car. A lighter V-8 version, also out this summer, should improve on the W12 model's fuel economy of 12 mpg city, 19 highway.
Regardless, the GTC's rarified level of polish and power make it a supremely covetable ride. Now that we've driven one, we'll be less likely to shout something strange at one's driver – and more likely to just ask for a ride. [From $220,000, bentleymotors.com]