One Rich Ragtop

As the sun sets on Golden Vineyards in Napa Valley, I wind my way through mountain switchbacks and become lost. And I couldn't care less. I'm too enthralled by the power and the glory that is the Bentley Continental GTC. At one point, a road sign warns: ROAD NARROWS AHEAD. And I wonder: how can it get any narrower? But not to worry. No matter how tight and twisty my path becomes, this sleek silver convertible propels me confidently upward into the hills. And I'm in heaven.

Oh, sure, I know what you're thinking. It's easy to adore a $190,000 luxury car. But actually many high-strung thoroughbreds can be downright quirky. A Lamborghini's awkward and aggressive high-tech driver's seat once literally tore the jacket off a friend's back. He had to take the car back to the dealer to extricate his coat. But this Bentley drop-top, like its coupe and four-door siblings, requires no special pampering. In fact, it pampers you, cosseting you in firm leather seats. The burled walnut covering the dash, doors and center console gives off a deliciously spicy scent. The chesty growl of the 12-cylinder engine is soothing, not scary, as the car shifts smoothly through its six-speed automatic transmission. And if you feel those 552 horses under the hood starting to stampede, you can corral them by switching gears with Formula One-style paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel. Press a button, and in 25 seconds you're cocooned beneath the six-layer soft top that envelops the cabin in a churchlike quiet. The overall effect is a perfect blend of man and machine.

Usually when you're in a car in this astronomical price range, it feels as if you're in a perpetual parade. When I drove the $330,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom in May, it actually stopped traffic as other drivers gawked at a majestic motorcar that seems to ride above it all. But the Bentley is a stealth supercar. Its sensual styling is alluring, but not conspicuous. With its four thick tires planted firmly on the ground, it transports you to another automotive dimension in a quietly comforting way.

Put it to the test, though, and this car shows you just how super it is. Merging onto an empty expressway early one Saturday morning, I punched the gas on a GT coupe and quickly found myself going 110mph. I've broken the century mark before (don't tell the cops), but it never felt like this. There was no sense of reckless abandon. Instead, I had the car firmly in hand and it was just getting warmed up. Still, I didn't test out its purported top speed of 195mph. I have a family.

So what's wrong with this Bentley? Well, like most German-engineered luxury cars, its cup holders are inadequately sized and awkwardly placed. The back seat is cramped. And it gulps so much gas (12mpg city, 19 highway), you have to pay a $3,700 gas-guzzler tax on top of its steep sticker price.

But for the swells who shop for cars like this, those annoyances are mere bugs on the windshield. And a Bentley for under 200 grand is considered a bargain. The rest of us can only dream. My dream ride ended when I finally found a straight stretch of blacktop in Napa leading me home. I opened it up and the road filled with rolling thunder, as my Bentley ascended over the horizon.