It’s more than 45 degrees Celsius out there right now but that isn’t going to stop us from conducting a comparison test drive of two of the hottest convertibles on the market. We’re a bit mad like that, you see. So we rub in countless bottles of SPF50, down as much H20 as our bellies will take and head out under the beating sun armed with the 616bhp Bentley GTC Speed 571bhp and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster to see which is best. And we do so without a single baseball cap in sight. Are we brave or stupid? Will the winner hail from Britain or from Germany? And do we suffer sunburn, sunstroke or severe dehydration? It’s all here…
SONY'S CONTINENTAL GTC SPEED
Symmetry, proportion and harmony; if these three attributes of beauty are used to judge the new Bentley Continental GTC Speed, this car is an oversized, ugly duck. But since ancient Greece is not where I belong, and being an advocate of aesthetic relativism, I try my best to find at least a few traits that would somehow magically transform it into a swan, albeit an obese one. There is a huge problem though — beside it is parked the achingly gorgeous Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster, one of the most splendid-looking cars in the world. Even the fact that the Speed had a 10mm lower suspension than the ‘regular’ GTC, distinctive 21in wheels and dark tint grille and air intakes highlighting its wide, low and graceful stance didn’t help.
Looks, however, were never Bentley’s claim to fame, but technology and workmanship are. On that front the GTC Speed is a marvellous feat for the technicians from Crewe. With 616 wild horses let loose by the 6.0-litre W12, the Speed variant successfully distinguishes itself from the V8 and the regular 567bhp 12-cylinder. Finding their way on to the road through all four wheels via the eight-speed ZF, these stallions go on an 800Nm rampage the moment you bury the loud pedal.
The benchmark 0-100kph gallop is done in just 4.4 seconds. While that figure might not seem much, things will fall into perspective when you consider this two-door battleship weighs in at a colossal 2,495kg. The astounding manner in which this car gathers pace on its way to the claimed 325kph top speed is a flagrantly defiant slap in the face of every known theory of motion. Complementing this outlandish performance is the delightful rumble from the quad exhausts that reach spine-tingling heights when you shift the lever into Sport mode.
The VW Phaeton-derived architecture — along with the adjustable air suspension and the carbon ceramic brakes — keeps all the ponies grounded and reined in. Entering corners, the precise steering and the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system lend the GTC Speed a kind of dexterity and litheness that contradicts the car’s immense size and lets it play along with restrained athleticism.
The four-layered fabric top is quite effective at keeping wind and engine noise at bay, but the folding down is a somewhat drawn-out process taking 25 seconds. I learnt this the hard way as I chose the wrong place, a junction, to try it out the first time. With the lights turning green while the roof was halfway up, I was forced by the jealous, honking mortals behind me to drive and it was only after an awkward and embarrassing few hundred metres that I could stop again and complete the procedure (it can be operated only at speeds up to 30kph). But once it’s stowed away neatly, the drive takes on a whole new dimension, one of adrenaline-charged, open-air, high-speed motoring where you and the landscape merge in rapturous union.
The vault-like doors swing open to reveal an interior that’s more than a match for the GTC Speed’s discreet exterior. The hundreds of hours put into handcrafting the intricately built cabin come through, as do the handful of cows that were immortalised in the process. Every soft-touch surface in the cabin is clothed in the most supple and exquisite leather available, with an option to choose from 17 hide colours and single or dual-colour upholstery and contrast stitching. The ‘cobra’ seats hug you tight while coming out of a fast corner, just as they cosset you in comfort on a long cruise.
IMRAN'S SLS AMG ROADSTER
I am so in love with the SLS AMG Roadster that seeing it share these pages with another car makes my right eye twitch. I actually feel sorry for the Bentley and find this comparison a bit unfair. It’s like asking a size-18 model to pose with a size-10. The chubby GTC looks like a beached whale when plonked alongside this svelte beauty from Stuttgart.
The Bentley turns up with a powerful W12, superb ride and lovely interior, but no matter what it does, it falls flat on its fat face when compared to the SLS.
It isn’t the Bentley’s fault; it’s a fab car in its own right, but seeing it next to the SLS, which looks like it’s from another planet, is just wrong. We parked both cars together at wheels HQ and nobody took a blind bit of notice of the Bentley — even though it was impossible to miss, what with that bright citrus paint and the blinging 21in wheels. Everyone gathered around the Benz and you can’t blame them; just look at it.
There’s nothing on the road at the moment as beautiful as this. It’s so classy, sporty and aggressive that you’ll be drooling even with your back turned. There’s something about a long front, short rear and massive V8 that does it for me. The gullwing knocked me for six and just when I was coming round, the Roadster had me seeing stars again.
But I wasn’t a hard-core fan until I put my foot down in it; 571bhp can be very persuasive. Following my second stint behind the wheel, I still find this car as intoxicating as ever. Actually, more so. From the moment it explodes into life, you just know this is something special. That rumble emanating from the exhaust tips will have you panting and even though it was over 45 degrees during this photo shoot, the top remained down just so I could enjoy the raucous note that much more. It was worth the sunburn.
The body is spectacular, as is the beautiful carbon-fibre-trimmed interior, but the 6.2-litre AMG-tuned V8 is what the SLS is all about and it demands total respect. With 650Nm of torque, it can bite very hard. It’s 40kg heavier than the hard-top and weighs in at 1,735kg due to a stiffer aluminium spaceframe and roof mechanism, but the Roadster still flies even with its wings clipped. It hits 0-100kph in 3.8 seconds and goes on to a top speed of 317kph.
It falls short of the Bentley’s top speed, but the Brit is no match for the German’s supermodel looks, awesome performance and incredible soundtrack. With the top down, it transforms into a lower, wider and much more aggressive beast, leaving you weak at the knees.
It simply obliterates corners at ridiculous speeds; the steering offers lots of feedback and there’s no body roll at all.
AMG has made sure the driving dynamics of this car are just like the Coupé — it feels as rigid, sharp and nailed on as the hardtop but now, it’s even more fun to drive. The AMG Ride Control sports suspension soaks up all the road imperfections making this the ideal boulevard cruiser, but push the AMG button on the centre console and it becomes a track-day monster. Twist the AMG drive unit to S+ and the Roadster turns into a wild animal. It takes off with such force that you won’t know what hit you. RS (race start) just makes that massive grin even bigger, while the Speedshift DCT seven-speed automatic swaps cogs in 100-milliseconds — the changes thump you in the back like a wrecking ball when you are really gunning it and my, oh my, the sound of that V8 screaming at 6,800rpm makes anything cower in the corner — the GTC included.
So what did we bring back from a whole day out in the scorching heat? Well, there’s a clear winner.
The Continental GTC Speed is a marvel of engineering that sneers through its awkward face at the laws of physics. But somehow it doesn’t feel any more special than the hard-top GT Speed. But that’s not the case with the Merc. As iconic and extraordinary as the SLS AMG Coupé is, the Roadster manages to stand out from its winged sibling with an individuality and distinctiveness that makes it an icon in its own right.
While the Merc matches the Bentley in workmanship and build quality, it trumps the Brit in looks and driving dynamics, all at a much smaller price tag. And that makes it our winner.