No matter the car, the transition from hard-top to convertible has always required some degree of compromise. In the case of performance machines, the trade-off lies in the additional stiffening - and therefore weight - necessitated by the loss of a load-bearing ceiling. When it comes to grand tourers, there's the reduction in refinement that a fabric roof compels designers to consider. And in order to enjoy an occasional day of open air motoring, occupants of convertible SUVs are, of course, forced to look utterly ridiculous at all times.
Bentley doesn't like to talk about compromise. It says it developed the latest GTC alongside the coupe, and claims the multi-layer soft top is not only lighter than a retractable hard-top, but also capable of the same level of sound deadening as an owner of a previous generation GT would have enjoyed. It gets the same 635hp, twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 as the coupe, too, and despite being 100kg heavier, sacrifices just one-tenth of a second on its way to 62mph. The 207mph top speed is identical.
On the journey down the M4 to South Wales the GTC is as quiet, comfortable and refined as you'd hope - for the most part. The cloth roof may do a laudable job when it comes to isolating the cabin, but over rougher tarmac the same can't be said of the Continental's huge tyres, which produce sufficient vibration as to dislodge some unseen component behind the dash. A component which begins to reverberate at such a high-pitched frequency that even the superb Naim stereo can't drown it out. In tandem with seat belts which tighten to a ridiculous extent under even the mildest of acceleration, and a rear quarter window which often only closed 90 per cent of the way, it did ask some early questions of Bentley build quality - something you'd expect to be impeccable at the GTC's asking price.
Nevertheless, it only needs 19 seconds to complete its party piece. Shedding the roof can be done at speeds of up to 30mph - giving you roughly the length of a short slip road to transform the convertible. It may not be precisely agile, but there's something about the combination of a topless Bentley - especially a BRG one - on a B-road which just feels inherently right. The elegant yet imposing proportions which seem to bulldoze their way through the opposing air; the wallowy yet composed dynamics which drag it unerringly around bends; and the sound. What a sound.
The very notion of a Bentley, particularly a Continental, may seem flashy, but the GTC is actually remarkably subtle in the way it goes about its business. Even compared to much of AMG's output, but especially in contrast to more direct rivals like the Aston Martin DBS, the Bentley seems the more understated option. The engine doesn't scream or howl, it purrs - even when it's responsible for delivering ridiculous speeds. Of course there are no gratuitous pops or bangs to accompanying it, just the rumble of distant thunder.
Despite being an entirely different proposition in every conceivable way, with the roof down the GTC pulls off the enviable trick of connecting its driver with the spirit of its automotive ancestors; its extravagant, devil-may-care Blower lineage imbued in the driving experience in a way it just isn't in the Coupe, for all that car's quality and ability. It really is quite the experience.
Plant your right foot and the effortless surge of power is accompanied by the squeal of the turbos sucking in air, but that's about it for theatrics. Those are saved for the cabin which retains the coupe's rotating nav-screen, quilted leather, and heating, cooling and massaging seats. The latter gain an air scarf - now quieter in its operation than ever before - which, combined with the car's other coddling temperature tech, and the windscreen's superb ability to minimising buffeting, turns even a late night blast home from dinner into a roof down experience. And a better one for it.
For those in the front, at least. The back seats are often an afterthought in four-seat convertibles but that seems particularly true in the Bentley's case. For starters the roof impedes on the rear while opening and closing, folding right down in front of the headrests and clunking any unsuspecting occupants on the back of the head. Having been called upon to carry everyone from my 5ft 4" wife to a friend's six-foot father during my time with the car, its design seems almost inexplicable. There's no legroom, of course, with the front seats even being too close to the floor to fit a pair of feet under, yet the contours and lumbar support of the seatbacks seem intended for the same powerfully built director types as in the front. This meant that while my wife did fit in the back, she was uncomfortable, and while the friend's father didn't, he found the seat more pleasant. All of which leads to the conclusion that the rear is designed for large-torsoed people with no legs - which must be a niche market at this price point.
Back to the front then, where, in the wet weather which accompanies my final days with the car, the soft top seems to absorb the pitter-patter of the rain, making it perhaps even quieter than a metal roof. So refined, in fact, is the driving experience and so mild is the climate within the cabin, that at anything below motorway speeds you feel at times to be simply watching proceedings on a gigantic television. The rain on the windscreen, spray from the preceding car and wind in the trees all being transmitted from some distant location, far away from the altogether calmer and more pleasant one in which you find yourself.
In other words, a product of Crewe at its best: a five-star hotel room to watch the world from when the skies turn grey. And when they are blue, the GTC enhances your surroundings like a polariser lens. On this first experience of the car in Britain, it presents a few notable flaws - and ultimately it may not be the consummate grand tourer the coupe can claim to be. But is it perhaps a better and more enjoyable Bentley? Absolutely.
SPECIFICATION - BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GTC
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
Photos: Dafydd Wood