Road Test: Bentley Continental GTC W12
Sector: Luxury convertible Price: £149,350 Fuel: 19mpg CO2: 347g/km
Times may still be challenging, and our economy continually hanging in the balance, but not for iconic British carmakers such as Bentley, which is riding on a wave of demand from the UK as well as overseas markets.
Last year, the Crewe-based brand reported record global sales, up 19%, to 10,120 cars, on the back of the introductions of its new Continental GT Speed Convertible and the Flying Spur. The increase came against a backdrop of an estimated 6% contraction in the luxury car market as a whole and marked the fourth consecutive year of double-digit growth for the brand.
US sales were particularly high, with a rise of 28%, but demand dipped in China. Meanwhile in Bentley’s ‘home’ market of the UK, its third largest market after the US and China, sales rose by a quarter to 1,381 cars.
And now the brand is planning to invest around £800m and create 400 jobs in Crewe as it develops its first SUV, which goes on sale from 2016.
So what’s driving demand for the brand? Well, you can’t ignore the halo effect of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge plumping for a Flying Spur. And perhaps they’re the key to the brand’s USP – taking the best of British heritage without being stuck in the past.
From the moment you step into the Continental GTC, its iconic Britishness is apparent, from the sumptuous leather to the Breitling analogue clock, although there are clear signs of the 21st century is such as the 30GB infotainment system with touchscreen. But it’s the over-riding feel of its bespoke craftsmanship that impresses most. Forget about kicking back and relaxing when you get home from the office, this is a car to actually savour, even in traffic jams – with or without the soft top down.
And that’s without even driving it. Fire up the 567bhp W12 married up with permanent all-wheel drive and you’re left amazed by its prodigious power and finesse in equal measure – though UK roads seldom give the former any chance of showing its true limits. Meanwhile there’s a six-speed Quickshift transmission that more than lives up its name.
The GTC’s refinement is also impressive. There’s a whisper of noise from the roof and… that’s it. Bentley promises coupe-like comfort and it’s not lying. As well as using acoustic materials for improved sound insulation, there’s no sacrifices made from the soft top roof itself, which features a multi-layered design for noise isolation whilst offering a heated glass rear window and reading light in the liner. And when the roof is down, the heating/ventilation system automatically adjusts air distribution and volume accordingly.
Essentially a GT at heart, this may not be a car that you’d choose over competitors for its sports car credentials but you’d have to be a puritan to pick fault. Ride can be a little fidgety at times – but its dimensions and 2,495kg kerb weight should be figured in here. There’s the option to change between four electronic chassis settings too, ranging from Comfort to Sport.
Actually perhaps the biggest competition to the GTC W12 comes within its own ranks from the 500bhp V8 version, which is some £13k cheaper whilst delivering improved figures of 254g/km and 25.9mpg, with only a slight increase in the 0-62mph time from 4.7s to 5.0s – rather compelling arguments to check it out, much as I’d miss the sheer delight of popping the bonnet and gazing entranced at the W12.
And if you’re looking for something a little more economical, then a plug-in hybrid version of the SUV is likely to arrive in 2017, a year after its launch. And, in yet more evidence that it’s a brand that moves with the times, Bentley has said that hybrid versions of all its models are on the cards…
Stunning to look at with mighty performance and surprisingly practical – there’s more boot space than you’d expect and coupe-like refinement. Beware the optional extras though, which added over £28k to our test model including the super-fast carbon ceramic brakes (£10,405).