Bentley adds the first of the many derivatives to its latest Continental family, delivering the soft-top Continental GT Convertible - or GTC, in the preferred shorthand. The good news is that this is an exceptional luxury grand tourer.
In the Metal:
Lopping the roof off the Continental GT has hardly hurt the appearance of the GTC. In fact, as it's such a physically big car - 4.85 metres long, nearly 2.2 metres wide, wheelbase out at 2.85 metres - there's an argument to say the convertible is the prettier machine of the two. Certainly, with its acoustic, multi-layered and substantial fabric roof folded away, its flat-shouldered profile is glorious; your eyes focus even more on the sculpted haunches of the Conti than they would do on the Coupe.
Hood up, it's not too bad either, and in general you're not looking at a visual impediment to having the GTC instead of the GT. There is a weight penalty, though, of around 100kg - our test W12 First Edition clocked a hefty 2,414kg at the kerb. Lighter than its convertible predecessor, of course, but still possessing enough mass to have its own gravitational pull.
Inside is magnificent. Obviously, the trend towards customisation and personalisation that has taken place in car interiors in recent years means that, regrettably, we've seen some Bentleys with, erm.... questionable colour combinations within. Loadsamoney is no guarantee of taste, you see. However, our test car featured Portland (light cream) main hide with an Imperial Blue secondary hue, complemented by Liquid Amber over Grand Black wood for the dashboard and door cards, and it was exquisite. No taint of Premier League footballer about it, the sort of solid fixtures and fittings that speak volumes of a hand-built car operating in the rarefied atmosphere of €300,000-plus, and all topped off by the sheer preposterous theatre of that Bentley Rotating Display in the centre stack, which remains one of our favourite features of any car at any price. That you can genuinely seat four adults in the Conti GTC (for short periods, at least) and you get a decent(ish) amount of boot space too only seals the deal here.
The Bentley Continental GTC W12 isn't quite as remarkable to drive nor as brain-meltingly quick as the GT W12. We are talking about very, very, very fine margins, here; margins that are not that easily discernible. But they're there. You'll pick up on it the first time you deploy the full 900Nm of torque by planting your right loafer down to the thick-pile carpets. While the GTC is many leagues away from what you would call 'slow', there's just a hint more hesitation from it, just a scintilla of a sensation that there's a not-inconsiderable amount of vehicle battling the immutable laws of physics and trying to catapult itself at the middle distance.
Oh, it goes, and goes rabidly quick - the insistent pull of acceleration not appreciably tailing off until something like 200km/h has been and gone on the speedo (please, only try this on a race circuit with a long straight - thanks), but it doesn't feel quite as gobsmackingly 'WOW!' as the W12 Coupe. Maybe it's just that we've tried this variant after the fixed-roof model, and if the roles had been reversed we'd have been more shocked by the GTC's power, but we reckon you can feel the 100kg of ballast.
You certainly will in the corners and on the brakes. This is more leaning towards the 'grand tourer' side of its dichotomous character, rather than 'sporty'. Its clever anti-roll systems and air suspension do their best to keep the weighty body in check and, what with its all-wheel drive and big tyres, grip and traction are simply not an issue so the GTC is scandalously quick across ground for what it is. Yet it doesn't feel as rewarding or as poised as the Coupe. It's just that little bit less happy at being hustled than the tin-top, which means keener 'Bentley Boy' drivers will be heading for the GT.
This, though, is not bad news for the GTC, nor for Bentley as a wider marque. First of all, there's now marked differentiation between GT and GTC, a gap which wasn't as clear-cut on the previous generations of modern Continental. And, as luxurious grand tourers go, this Conti GTC has to be right up there with the very finest in the industry - maybe even unsurpassed. Without taxing it, the Bentley is a beautiful thing to drive. The ride and rolling refinement are pretty much faultless, astonishing given the 21-inch alloys at the corners and also the loss of part of its structural integrity. Indeed, hood down, you'll notice no dramatic flex in the superstructure of the GTC nor will you lament not fitting the ungainly fold-out wind deflector behind the front seats as occupant buffeting is kept to the barest minimum at all times, and you can drop/raise that top in 19 seconds - even on the move at 50km/h.
It's a simply lovely thing to travel in but it does have to make some tiny dynamic sacrifices to compensate for its open-air charms. Whether that bothers you or not depends on how hard (theoretically) you'd ever drive a 635hp convertible that costs nigh-on €400,000, we suppose...
What you get for your Money:
Like its hard-topped sibling, the Continental GTC is very expensive as standard and this First Edition spec pushes it beyond €395,000, which is a huge, honking heap of cash. But nothing this high quality is cheap and so the Bentley's price doesn't feel exorbitant, given the way it conducts itself. Also, there are plenty of luxury toys fitted as standard and the option to drop on a few more indulgent items, such as massaging seats, should you feel the need.
There's no doubt these all-new Continentals, be they the Coupe GT or the GTC soft-top as driven here, are a huge step on from their immediate Bentley predecessors. Lighter, more delicately styled and with interiors that are elegance personified, there's little to dislike and much to marvel over. The GTC is an understandably fine addition to the ranks and, even though it doesn't drive quite as sharply as the GT, it's still tremendously rewarding as a form of super-exclusive transportation. We do, however, think it is waiting for that 4.0-litre V8 engine to make it the best it can be - as we'd happily sacrifice some of the W12's on-paper performance power for the superior soundtrack of a bent-eight.
Handily, the V8 GTC is just around the corner. On this stellar evidence, we can't wait to try it.