The Bentley GTC V8 was presented in a dazzling shade of Aztec Sun paint. Whilst I liked the car, the colour was at odds with my middle-aged character. But, I had never driven a V8 powered Continental GT or GTC at this point, hence I felt compelled to select the flamboyantly tinctured model.
Over the years I have had the good fortune to drive a few Bentleys, albeit sadly I have never had the absolute joy of ownership. There has always been the killjoy, at the end of pleasing passage behind the wheel, who has demanded the return of the car keys.
Once you have driven a Bentley, there is a realisation that the car you drive every day is rather everyday by comparison.
I have recently been provided the opportunity to immerse myself in the fantasy of purchasing a luxurious car with a six-figure price tag.
There is a genuine pleasure in seeking a new car these days. As you enter the retailing mecca of a prestigious car showroom, you won’t see a smattering of oil on the floor. No painted concrete underfoot as typically found yesteryear, but Italian marble kissing the Vero Cuoio Italiano of your moccasins.
Lighting accentuates lines, emulating the warmth of a Tuscan sun, despite the hostile, rainy skies lurking outside. The sales personnel are highly intelligent, multi-skilled professionals. They psychologically profile the customer in a few brief seconds, appraising their character. They are sartorially astute. There is no trace of oil stained palms, nails are meticulously manicured.
I enjoy the hours of research. Sipping a perfectly served ristretto as I match swatches of exterior colours with different swathes of contrasting leather draped from the walls of my local dealership.
My index finger traverses the page in vertical downward strokes, appraising the “must haves” mentioned on a vast options list.
There is no room for error. I fear the concept of “cognitive dissonance” post-purchase, due to omitting a vital gadget which would negate the bothersome.
Purchasing a car is an endurance sport for some. However, I would liken it to visiting a fine restaurant and liaising with the sommelier, matching the wine to each course. It can be educational and enjoyable. The results can be spectacular.
With Bentley the purchasing process takes on an ethereal level usurping any car buying process I have ever witnessed.
Selecting my car
A cold morning in October adjacent the Wetherby Race Course was the destination for my driving experience behind the wheel of an open-topped Continental.
There were two open-roofed options to choose from. A Continental GTC 6.0 litre W12, tastefully restrained in Granite paintwork. It immediately found favour with me due to the colour combination of the exterior hue and the Linen and Porpoise interior.
The neighbouring GTC V8 was presented in a dazzling shade of Aztec Sun paint. Whilst I liked the car, the colour was at odds with my middle-aged character. But, I had never driven a V8 powered Continental GT or GTC at this point, hence I felt compelled to select the flamboyantly tinctured model.
V8 power plant
Many journalists have extolled the virtues of the new V8 and after only a few minutes behind the wheel, their passion for the eight piston variant soon became justified.
Whilst the V8 shares many of the same body panels with the W12 variant, save for some subtle differences around the front apron area, it has a wholly different persona. Not necessarily better nor worse, just different.
I turned the key and there was an audible and distinctive V8 warble. It quickly settled down to a deep baritone tickover. It sounded potent, yet relaxed.
Driving away from the race course, I could sense the power waiting to be released although it did not feel intimidating.
The engine does not have the on-off character I have experienced with some performance cars. At first this on-off nature can be fun, but after about 20 minutes with the resultant back-pain and neck strain beginning to take their toll, you soon grow bored. The Bentley is not like this.
It delivers power in a seamless, linear way. Expedience is provided when required but not in an unseemly crude or crass way. This approach to performance is perfectly judged. As I pressed on hard, the engine note was intoxicating and characterful. This car made me feel alive.
Despite its immense mass, with a kerb weight of 2470 Kg, it felt decidedly lithesome as I threaded the car through a series of twisty bends.
My test vehicle had the “Neck Warmer”. Some may question whether this is necessary. But, drive your GTC on an autumn day in Yorkshire for 10 minutes and you will soon realise that there is a rationale for ticking this option box. This is not to say that you are buffeted by wind entering the cockpit. No, quite the reverse.
This was probably the most refined open top motor experience I have ever enjoyed. There was a distinct absence of wind entering the passenger cockpit, despite the increasing pressure my leaden foot applied to the right pedal. The car did have the factory fit “Wind Deflector”, hence this may have been helpful to the cause.
The seats were cosseting and comfortable. They struck the perfect balance between being supportive whilst clipping apexes, yet allowing the vertebrae to relax enough not to necessitate osteopathy afterwards. Other manufacturers should take note, those of us blessed with larger frames appreciate the uninterrupted blood flow found with Bentley chairs.
Performance and sleek, sporty lines did not mean that Bentley have eschewed creature comforts. My feet sank into deep pile rugs bettering anything I have in my home. The bulls-eye air vents and organ-stop ventilation levers paid due reverence to Bentleys of old and rightly so.
I have owned several German executive cars, but nothing compares with the towering tactility of the neatly sewn hide. In the case of my test car, it had comely contrasting stitching and diamond quilted seats which perfectly conferred prestige with every pore of their pleasing form.
The steering wheel was beautifully hand stitched. It apparently takes an artisan in Crewe 4.1 hours to stitch the 3-spoke, hide steering wheel.
The wood is unlike any other car I have seen. It has a depth and a lustre, reminiscent of the finest enamelling practised by Parisian based Huguenots in the early part of the 16th century. It is the product of patient craft. Grains mirror each other. All aspects coalesce in pleasing accord.
There was a time when I would have chosen Piano Black veneer, but now I have learnt that there is a beautiful grain beneath, hidden from view. It somehow feels sacrilege to select this finish, betraying the skilled craftsman at Crewe their opportunity to exploit every nuance of the grain to its maximum potential. Tamo Ash is now my personal favourite.
A practical proposition
This car has a combined fuel consumption of 25.9 mpg, despite its top speed 187 mph, which is remarkable.
It has a sizeable boot of 260 litres meaning a weekend sojourn to a European destination with cases packed with couture dresses and Louboutin shoes is viable.
The passenger compartment is spacious, courtesy of the recently revised cobra-head seats.
This is a car you can live with and use everyday. There is no need to garage it for extended periods and only take it out on a few rare occasions. This is a useable passenger car of matchless refinement.
Today, if you look at the first generation of Bentley Continental models launched in 2003, the satellite navigation system looks relatively archaic. But, then computers and mobile phones dating back to this period are seldom used.
The benefit of being part of the Volkswagen Group is Bentleys access to immense resources. The latest generation of Continental models has a state of the art Infotainment system. This is cutting-edge and features an impressive audio system as standard, real-time display of tyre pressures and hands-free operation of your mobile phone.
My test car had the “Naim for Bentley Premium Audio” option. The timbre of the notes presented was incredible. Sounds had the clarity of distilled water. An indulgence maybe, but a peerless sound quality I will never forget.
Specifying your new Bentley
I recently toured the factory in Crewe.
Within the grounds of Crewe, there is a room referred to as the “Living Room”. It resembles an exclusive gentleman’s club and provides those fortunate enough to be invited, the chance to select their specification with the assistance of experts.
The choice of 130 exterior colours provides a bewildering choice. This number includes optional variants but if the customer cannot find the ideal shade, then bespoke paint is available on request.
Seventeen shades of luxurious hides, invite fondling by admiring hands.
Eight types of wood veneer are available including my preferred Tamo Ash.
For those who seek further personalisation, Mulliner can pander to their needs with endless options.
There are few open top cars which have made me wax-lyrical for days after handing back the keys. The Bentley Continental GTC V8 is a rare exception.
This car is a remarkable exemplar of British craftsmanship. It harnesses a compendium of talents delivered in an eminently graceful form.
The choice of options, exterior colours, hides and veneers will bamboozle the inexperienced. But, it is a dilemma that many, myself included, would dearly wish to experience.
This is a purchasing process par excellence. I dream of the day I sit in the Living Room in Crewe and handle the gallet shaped paint samples and smell the intoxicating swatches of leather with its haptic allure.
I long for the day I am a Bentley Continental customer.