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2012 Bentley Continental GTC: First Drive

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Croatia doesn't sound like anything familiar to Americans, but Europeans have been calling it the "new Tuscany" since they turned their timeshare-building, economy-hyperinflating attentions away from the last "new Tuscany" in southern Spain.

We're still puzzled about what was wrong with the old Tuscany, but forget that. Croatia has it all.

Artfully shambolic stone shacks ripe for conversions into pied-a-terres. Catholic churches by the score, some mere hours from becoming stock-photography bestsellers. Olives and grapes obscure and delicious enough to please the pickiest locavores through one or two fashionable seasons. The attraction goes well, well beyond the orthographic orgy of the letters J, V, and Z.

We lawn-darted over fusty old Germany into Pula, an old Roman garrison with a spectacularly preserved arena at its heart, and steered north up the Adriatic coast for the resort playpen of Rovinj. It's "Rovigno" in Italy just 30 miles away, and Rovinj was in fact part of Italy until 1945--after it spent most of the 19th century snuggled up to the Hapsburg empire and was smothered through the fun half of the 20th century by the concrete embrace of Tito's Yugoslavia.

From Rovinj we launched into a sort of One Lap of Istria in the 2012 Bentley Continental GTC, the ragtop four-seat from Crewe. Buckled into a Silk White convertible with a lewd red leather interior, we lived on the duck side of the foie-gras regimen for a day, and figured out why people want to be obscenely wealthy.

It's toys like this one. The GTC may not be perfectly new, but it's distinctly different from the four-seat convertible that made its debut in 2006. Bentley's taken a steam iron to the GTC and its Conti GT coupe kin this year, and both are witness to the same careful clarifying that's been going on all over the Volkswagen AG portfolio. Look at the old Cayenne and Touareg and the new: adjusted proportions and better detailing give new life to those designs, and though the GTC didn't need to hit game reset like those SUVs, it's prettier and more interesting after its mid-cycle revamp.

It's all sharpened a pixel or two, even in the colors that don't read as cleanly, muted blues and dark greys. The fenders have more detail pressed into them; Bentley credits a hot-formed stamping process for the more precise folds and smoother draping over the front end. The rear panels have more crouch penned in. The U-shaped insets on the front and rear end cuts down the Conti's substantial visual mass, something we can't see as easily on the Audi lineup, for example, with its floor-to-ceiling grilles.

The Continental's starker details can still look a little unfinished. A massive chrome honeycomb separates them, and still it's canny how the oval headlamps command attention. Luxury-car eyes usually wear some sort of metallic brow or plastic shadow, but the Continental lets them meet body color bluntly. It's clever in a kind of passive-aggressive way: being unadorned is the adornment.  The buoyant Bentley details erupt in other places: the B pressed into the brake pedal and cast as the hood ornament, the right-sized Breitling clock studded in the dash.

Blindfolded, you'd know you were in a British car by touch and smell alone, and it's absurdly true in the Continental's cabin. The dash cap is covered in soft leather, the dash and console trimmed in a range of woods that come to the factory looking like thick brown sheets of nori. The carpeting is as woolly as any Speedo-wearing Turk, but soft as an easy chair. Everything that looks like metal is metal. Even the door handles are cold on first touch, and so are the gimbaled vents and the pull levers that control their air flow.

It's a ridiculous fin-de-siecle level of quality commanded by the price tag--and it's left up to choice, from 17 leathers, six combinations of them, and seven types of wood.

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