The kings of One-Upmanship: All-Stars of a different breed.
The exit of a pristine Northern California corner opens into a glorious straightaway, and I floor the accelerator, summoning all 600 horses to the front lines. For a moment, the Bentley Continental GTC Speed utters an ominous bass rumble, like the first slab of an avalanche cracking off a mountain, and then the muffler bypass flaps kick in to unleash the sound track of a World War II dogfight over the English Channel. Birds scatter and OPEC sheiks smile as 5500 pounds of Bentley hurtles down the road with the kind of unrelenting force that only a truly bonkers motor can provide. There’s only one issue: the regular GTC also has a bonkers motor. As near as I can tell, the main difference between the GTC and the GTC Speed is that the former car can reach 195 mph with the top up, while the Speed’s extra power allows it to hit 195 with the top down. Bret Michaels, better fasten your bandana.
So on statistics alone, you might wonder why Bentley even bothered with a Speed version of a car that’s A) already in the top echelon of fast cars on the road, and B) a four-seat convertible, a genre that’s generally optimized for relaxed cruising en route to the congressional bailout hearing. The answer, of course, is that it’s not really about performance. It’s about one-upping.
Every minute I was behind the wheel of the Speed, I was hoping that I’d encounter some poor sap driving the lowly GTC non-Speed so that I could gloat and make condescending comments like, “Hey, that’s a great car! Not everybody has to have the fastest, coolest thing.” Or, “You know, the GTC and the GTC Speed both have the same safety equipment, so I can see where you were coming from with that purchase.”
The Bentley Speed models are classic One-Up cars. One-Up cars are not markedly different from their lesser progenitors, but they’re just a bit faster, meaner, and more expensive. They appeal to people who are compelled to always buy the best available iteration of a given item, regardless of rational thoughts such as, “Maybe 552 horsepower is enough for a car that I will likely drive at parade speeds most of the time.” I’d like to claim that I am deaf to the siren call of the One-Up, but then, I once bought a BMW M3 convertible.
The M3 convertible, like the GTC Speed and the late Audi RS4 cabriolet, is a contradictory package aimed squarely at the incurable One-Upper. The speed merchants at the respective companies endow these cars with hard-core go-fast parts, the stuff track-day dreams are made of – stiff springs, big wheels, and a lusty engine under the hood. Then they undo it all by cutting off the roof. The mere act of putting the top down on a four-place convertible causes a Zen-like serenity to wash over me, and I no longer care where I’m going, much less how fast I get there. It’s all about the ride, brah! That is, until I see a mere Audi A4 2.0T or a BMW 328i, which snaps me from my sun-drenched reverie just long enough to feel superior.
There are actually a lot of cars on the market whose sole reason for existence is to one-up some lesser model. Porsche is the undisputed master of the craft, offering no fewer than fourteen current variations on the 911. Basically, 911 owners can never be satisfied until they have a GT2, at which point they will finally experience a feeling of fulfillment that lasts for the few minutes before they crash backward into a tree at 204 mph.
The Subaru Impreza WRX STI is another One-Upper. It used to be dramatically faster than the WRX, but now, a person who doesn’t suffer my strain of logic deficiency would conclude that the non-STI’s 265 hp for less than $26 grand probably represents the sweet spot on the price/performance continuum. The Range Rover Supercharged and the Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG are both One-Up machines, too, unless you really believe that vehicles with Manute Bol’s center of gravity need to go faster. The Lamborghini Reventón could’ve been named the Lamborghini Murciélago You Just Got One-Upped Edition.
As for Bentley, Continental GT Speed owners are immune from one-upmanship: Their car’s 202-mph top speed makes it the fastest production Bentley in history. That is, until the Continental Supersports hits the street. That one goes 204 mph.