Bentley Ragtop, at $208K, Is Quick, Heavy, Like Sumo Wrestler

Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) — Driving to Rhode Island for a late- summer beach weekend, I’m stuck on I-95. For hours, the twin joys of my Bentley Continental GTC convertible have been foiled. It’s raining, so we can’t put the top down, and there’s license- plate to license-plate traffic, so no opening up that stupendous twin-turbo W-12.

The humongous seats are swathed in acres of baby-bottom- soft custom red leather, and they have the best massage function I’ve ever experienced. I also marvel at how low they sit in the frame: The convertible could fit anybody from Charles Barkley to Paris Hilton (who’s driven one; there a hilarious video of her running out of gas in a GTC and sending a paparazzi trotting after a can of fuel).

Even a $208,415 car with trick seats can’t make traffic fun, though, and I’m seriously grumpy. Then I see a glimmer of hope. An open fast lane — except for the SUV in front of me, doggedly driving 15 miles less than the speed limit.

There’s no missile launcher installed however — what do you get these days for 200 grand? — so I’m looking for a gap between the SUV and the semi on the right. One opens, just a bit, and I lay onto the gas, summoning all 552 horses. An engine like this is magic: Conjure the thought, and you’re there.

With power worthy of a tsunami, we zip through and are free.

The GTC is gorgeous, quick and grossly overweight — imagine, say, a sprinting sumo in a tuxedo. Once I have it opened up, I’m fearlessly splashing through pools of standing rain. In a straight line, nothing is going to influence the trajectory of this car.

Physics Lesson

The problem with such heavy cars is that turning sharply can be a wrestling match with physics. Even with all-wheel- drive, there’s simply no disguising the GTC’s nearly 5,500 pounds, heavier even than its coupe brother. This is an athlete with a massive beer gut (or maybe a belly full of foie gras).

Bentley has a long, storied history, from its beginnings as an English company in 1919, to a number of ensuing wins at Le Mans, eventual ownership by Rolls-Royce and, today, by Volkswagen AG.

The Continental GTC is aggressively modern and solid. It looks as if it were carved from a big beautiful piece of Carrara marble.

The exterior of my tester is anthracite black, an imposing hue, with a maroon ragtop crafted by German coachbuilder Wilhelm Karmann. The body of the car has plenty of muscle yet is molded to complement otherwise graceful lines. The massive grill is the most visually arresting part of the car — a show of brilliant, gorgeous mesh, bisected by a simple straight wire.

Macho Dashboard

My test car’s interior is masculine to the extreme, with a black dashboard so shiny that my girlfriend said she could use it to put on makeup (I assume many female passengers in this car would — the car gets looks). The center clock is a Breitling, a nice touch.

Top down (a bit slow, at 25 seconds), you still feel encased by metal, and the company says you could attain 190 mph with the top down. I tend to believe them, though I’m still looking for that mystery road where such speeds can be accomplished.

When we reach our slightly seedy beach motel, I can’t help thinking the car is worth as much as the property itself. The base price is $189,990, and one would expect a lot for such a hefty price tag. My girlfriend asks what is the difference between the Bentley and, say, the $140,000 Mercedes-Benz AMG we had driven weeks before?

Handmade in England

The answer isn’t performance or amenities, rather that much of the Bentley is handmade at the Crewe, England, factory.

Does it get you a better car? The trim and fit are phenomenal, for sure, yet I experience a few niggling issues that just don’t square up with the price.

For instance, the steering-column-mounted gearshift paddles that you can use to manually control the six-speed automatic transmission are poorly designed: They stick out like Dumbo’s ears. My left hand keeps mistaking it for the blinker control.

My tester’s windshield wipers are irritably squeaky at slower increments, and the GPS navigation system is just OK: It uses simple logic like many a cheaper car.

Most vexing are the temperature controls. Though it has separate settings for the driver and passenger, we never make it work correctly. Mine blew hot when I wanted it cold and vice versa for my passenger.

The Bentley’s killer app, though, dawns the next day, along with a sunny, blue sky. We peel out of the parking lot and down to the beautiful houses and yacht-lined marina of Watch Hill. The top’s down, I’m happy and I’m feeling, well, pretty kingly. I could be the owner of any of those grand mansions. Never mind that seedy motel.

The Bentley Continental GTC at a Glance

Engine: Twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12, with 552 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission.

Speed: 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds.

Price as tested: $208,415.

Best features: Perfectly finished interior; feeling of absolute stability.

Worst features: Its weight; those oddly designed paddle shifters.

Target buyer: The sun lover aiming for luxury lineage in a modern package.

(Jason Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)