It has long been said that the British buy more convertibles than any other European nation. While the French, Spanish and Italians prefer to keep out of the sun, the British positively embrace it. Perhaps it’s because a beautiful summer’s day is far from something we can ever take for granted, the novelty of retracting the roof of one’s car still a novelty impossible to resist.
I’m beginning here because my time with the convertible version of the Bentley Continental GT Speed was organized while the sun shone bright, but eventually occurred across a weekend that included gusting winds, rain, a bit of sunshine, and even a downpour of snow and hail. Welcome to England in the early springtime. Pack your suitcase for every eventuality.
So, while the roof only came down for two brief occasions, this was enough for the Bentley to win me over. Not that it needed to try particularly hard, given how I’d fallen hopelessly for the hard-top GT Speed at the end of last year.
Whatever the roof is made from, this is one of the finest cars on sale today. From the muscular but classical exterior design, to the sumptuous interior, faultless ride quality and – particularly in Speed guise – monumental performance. It’s a wonderful thing, and being able to enjoy the wind in your hair (and the W12 engine in your ears) makes it all the more special.
Bentley says the cabin of this car with the roof up is as quiet as the hard-topped version of the previous-generation Continental GT, and I believe them. It’s entirely possible to forget you are even driving a convertible, as the usual increase in volume caused by a fabric roof simply isn’t there. Neither is the scuttle shackle or general lack of composure often exhibited by convertibles; Bentley says it developed both the coupe and convertible at the same time, instead of taking an angle grinder to the former then hoping for the best, and it really shows.
Buffeting is kept to a minimum when driving below highway speeds, even without the optional wind brake that stows in the trunk and mounts across the rear seats.
The roof is operated with a button on the center console and takes 19 seconds to be stowed or erected, but does rob a fair amount of space in the trunk. And because it folds up into a hard-sided compartment, the trunk size doesn’t depend on the position of the roof. A carry-on suitcase will fit, but height-wise it’s a bit of a squeeze.
Space in the cabin is the same as before, with the rear seats suitable for children and shorter adults. At 5’6, I fit and could certainly tolerate sitting behind a similarly-sized driver for short journeys.
Also unchanged is the 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W12 engine up front, producing 659 horsepower and 663 pound-feet of torque. It’s a muscular thing that gives the big Bentley an equally massive turn of speed. The sprint to 60 mph is slightly behind that of the coupe, but a time of 3.6 seconds is still mighty impressive, and so too is the 208 mph top speed. It sounds pretty good too, a sonorous soundtrack that pleases without being obnoxious, and which is of course enhanced when you put the roof down. Also pleasant are the air scarfs, which blow warm air at your neck from vents at the base of the front-seat headrests. It may sound like overkill, but my exposed ears were thankful on a chilly April day.
I took the Bentley out of London and to the picturesque Cotswolds for a weekend away. Pottering through villages, storming past acres of farmland and visiting idyllic farm shops, it felt very much at home. Rear-wheel steering helps with parking and low-speed maneuverability, while all-round visibility is good and triple-chamber air suspension with adaptive damping and active anti-roll bars make for a comfortable, composed ride. Everything you’d expect, really.
Roof up, the cabin is a wonderfully calming place to be. The mix of leather and suede is pleasing to both the eyes and hands, while the optional Naim sound system fitted to this car is the best I’ve ever experienced – but then so it should be, at over $8,000. Closing the door truly is to shut away the outside world. Start the engine, cue up a playlist, pick your favorite from the seat massage menu, and relax.
I was about to say how hundreds of miles disappear without you realizing – and indeed they do, just so long as you don’t look at the fuel gauge. It’s a thirsty thing, with an EPA combined figure of just 14 MPG, increasing to 18 on the highway. I don’t suppose Bentley buyers are too concerned about running costs, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the fuel gauge to avoid being caught short in unexpected traffic.
The Bentley is just what I’d hoped it would be. But if it were my signature on the check, I’d go for the regular GT convertible instead of the extra performance of the Speed. For me, the extra $50,000 demanded by opting for Speed specification makes most sense on the hard-topped coupe, while the soft top is better-suited to the more relaxed nature of the regular GT Mulliner W12, or the entry-level V8.