It probably won't have escaped your attention that the new Bentley Continental GT is a bit of a looker. The prior two iterations of the Conti were hit-and-miss in the styling stakes, with a few flabby angles and the occasional lumpy bit meaning that, while they had their fans, they also had plenty of detractors too.
But with this latest model, that ratio of occupants in the two camps has altered, quite considerably in favour of the former if forumites' reactions to our recent road-test of the drop-top Continental GTC are anything to go by. And who can blame them? It's a sublime-looking thing, this new GTC, all low nose and muscular haunches. And inside, it's no different, with an exquisite interior of such understated elegance that it makes the cockpit of an ostensibly swankier Rolls look rather gauche.
To drive, this new Conti is pretty handy, too, disguising its weight in a manner hitherto only explicable through witchcraft. "Drive it briskly on a challenging road and it doesn't appear to be doing anything particularly special," said Nic C in his review, "until you realise just how consistent and easy it is to thread a few bends together in a way that ought not to be possible in a 2.4-tonne car which has been separated from its roof." All this, yet it will also whisk you along in splendid isolation like no other car, thanks to its three-chamber air suspension.
Of course, you wouldn't expect the GTC to be anything but expensive, and it doesn't disappoint. £175,890 is the price of entry to this rather exclusive club. And that makes it a prime candidate for the trade-off treatment: can we find something that feels as opulent, as special and as sublime, for half the price?
Brace yourself, and take a deep breath, because our first candidate is arguably the least popular Ferrari to have come along in recent times. This California won't be at the top of anyone's wish-lists, but hear us out, because at £86,830 it deserves a second look. It has four seats, like the Conti, and its stated aim to be more of a grand tourer than its more illustrious stablemates certainly feels like it's playing to the same crowd, too.
Then there's the retractable hard-top, which gives it all-weather usability. Yet this eight-year-old California will also keep up with the brand-new Bentley, thanks to a 455hp V8 that'll get it to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds. And while it might be a little less lithe than your usual Ferrari, it should be more than a match for the Conti on a back road.
Trouble is... well, you know what the trouble is. Even if its image isn't a problem for you, its rather awkward looks probably will be. Next to the beautiful Bentley, things are even worse. Couple that with the fact that even a comfort-orientated Ferrari can't hold a candle to the Conti in terms of waft factor, and we'll just have to keep looking.
How about this Morgan Aero 8, then? Luxurious, British, hand-crafted... no, we know it isn't quite as opulent as the Bentley, but perhaps it can make up for that in sheer exclusivity? After all, while you'll almost certainly see another Conti GT out and about now and then, chances are you won't clap eyes on another Aero 8 owner. This example is about as British as it gets, too, with its green leather, Old English White paint job and wood dash and door cappings. Were you only in need of two seats, it could be just the job. Trouble is, the Conti comes with four, so if we're trying to find a true alternative, it doesn't quite hit the spot. That said, it's still a tempting left-field alternative.
But this week's trade-off winner, such as it is, is even more alluring: this Aston Martin Virage Volante. Now, the Virage was something of the forgotten sibling of Aston's VH-platform cars, but for our purposes it's ideal, its softer grand touring bent - complete with active dampers with a truly comfortable, er, 'comfort' setting - making it better-suited to its role here as the Bentley's understudy.
This example is one of just 369 Virage Volantes and comes in a delightfully discreet Meteorite Silver - an equal of the Bentley for pure slinkiness, in our eyes, and just as scene-stealing. And while this one might be eight years old, it's covered just 13,000 miles, which means it should still feel and smell like a new car.
This is the only one of our contenders to match the Bentley's cylinder count, too; it even, as near as dammit, matches its capacity. It does lack the two turbos, though, so it can't quite keep pace with the Conti to 62mph - but the Aston will at least have it matched for smoothness and refinement.
So that's twelve pots, six litres, four seats, one fabric roof and a similarly vast quantity of British opulence. Not a bad way to get a pretty similar experience to the Bentley's - not to mention something that looks every bit as glorious - for half the price, then. Indeed, for this Virage, you'll pay £84,950, and that's not only less than half the Bentley's cost, but half of what the Aston would have cost brand new, too. Now, where's that spare £85k we found down the back of the sofa earlier?
SPECIFICATION - BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT CONVERTIBLE
Engine: 5,950cc, twin-turbocharged W12
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 635@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 664@1,350-4,500rpm
Top speed: 207mph
SPECIFICATION - ASTON MARTIN VIRAGE VOLANTE
Engine: 5,935cc naturally-aspirated V12
Transmission: 6-speed torque-converter automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 497@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 420@5,750rpm
Top speed: 183mph