Bentley's paradise on wheels

The expense is hefty, but this convertible is a dream to drive.

By Alex Taylor III, FSB contributor

(FSB Magazine) -- Is any car worth $189,990? On a rational basis, the price on the 2007 Bentley Continental GTC seems impossible to justify. A business owner can easily impress clients with a top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz or BMW for about half that. A nicely equipped Infiniti or Audi runs an even svelter $50,000, give or take.

But the Bentley convertible buyer isn't doing a cost-benefit analysis. For him its exclusivity and superlative features are justification enough. This year fewer than 3,000 customers in the U.S. are expected to reach that conclusion, but that is more than enough for Bentley (bentleymotors.com). The GTC is sold out for the next year.

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Nothing I have driven in my 30 years covering the automotive industry beats this Bentley's blend of exquisite design, superb ergonomics, and stirring performance. The GTC sports vast expanses of buttery-soft, two-tone leather secured by immaculate matching stitches, acres of polished madroña wood veneer, and gleaming organ-stop vent controls. It also hurtles from zero to 60 in less than five seconds - faster than most sports cars. Its performance is even more sensational when you consider that the GTC weighs over 2½ tons. Its six-liter, 12-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers produces 552 horsepower. Mash the throttle, and the change in engine pitch is immediately audible as your body compresses into the seat back. It feels as if you have been launched gently into space.

Bentley's uncompromising approach extends to the configuration of the convertible. Usually there is a price in space and comfort to pay for the pleasure of topless motoring. But the Bentley has room for two adults in the back seat, a trunk that holds several suitcases, and a three-layer canvas top that squelches road noise.

No car is perfect, of course, and a few imperfections are apparent. Cruising over bumps relays vibration through the steering column a common complaint in convertibles. The layout of the instrument panel sacrifices some legibility for heritage and nostalgia. And the pricing of some optional equipment, such as the $290 valet-parking key, borders on absurdity.

Bentley has been enjoying a rebirth under its corporate owner, Volkswagen, which took control in 1998. Despite the use of components designed for the less expensive Audi A-8 and VW Phaeton, Bentleys are still assembled in their ancestral home of Crewe, England, and retain a British character. If you want this ultimate toy in time for summer '08, you'd better order soon.

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.