For many, the third generation Bentley Continental GT Convertible will be the ultimate expression of convertible motoring. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Looking for the ultimate convertible car? The third generation Bentley Continental GT Convertible can't be too far from it, a seductive combination of power, style and craftsmanship. Bentley has been making iconic open tourers for around a century, some built to achieve success at Le Mans and Brooklands, others to convey their glamorous owners to the resorts of Monte Carlo and Cannes. All have been memorable but in truth, none has been truly sporting in the supercar sense. Until now perhaps.
Has the market ever been offered a proper four-seat luxury convertible supercar? I'd argue not. Yes, there are supercar drop-tops with cramped rear seats good for little but designer shopping bags. And, at the other extreme, huge leather-lined four-seater cabrios with lumbering luxury powerplants. But nothing that really combines that Ferrari feeling with space enough to share it en famille. In its first two generations of life, this car, the Bentley Continental GT Convertible, arguably got the closest to achieving this, but at heart, it was still more a Grand Tourer than a great sports car. Here though, we're going to look at the MK3 model, an open-topped Bentley that, we're told, now has the drive to delight Ferrari folk, yet manages to combine that with the space and rare refinement of an open-topped Rolls Royce. It promises a blend of trans-continental pace, dynamic drive and luxurious comfort that very few other vehicles can match. In prospect then, a very special car indeed.
As with the Coupe version of this car, there's a choice of either 542bhp 4.0-litre V8 power or a 626bhp 6.0-litre W12 TSI engine and either way, we're promised that the refinement served up on the move in this GT Convertible will be virtually the same as in the fixed-top model. 62mph from rest in the W12 takes just 3.7s, with the V8 just a couple of tenths behind. Of course, the under-bonnet engineering's the same as in the fixed top too. So instead of the old-school-style automatic gearbox fitted to the previous generation GTC, you get a modern twin clutch PDK transmission borrowed from Porsche's Panamera. In fact, much about this car is shared with the Panamera, including the new lighter, stiffer, stronger MSB platform, though in this case, it's 200mm shorter in keeping with this model's gentleman's sportscar remit. This chassis, Bentley hopes, will play a major part in making this second generation Conti GTC the rewarding driving machine its predecessor never truly was. That's not only because it's torsionally stiffer - though that obviously helps - but mainly because it supports an engineering format that sees the wheels pushed further forward and the engine moved rearward, so considerably improving weight distribution. Another key change lies with the introduction of a new all-wheel drive system. The old set-up featured a fixed 40:60 split between front and rear wheels and left the car understeering rather easily when you tried to push it along. In contrast, the new Active All-Wheel-Drive' package can constantly vary front-to-rear torque split depending on the driving situation and deliberately leaves the car using rear wheel drive as much as possible. As before, there's air suspension, now a three-chamber system that works in conjunction with the clever 48V electro-mechanical anti-roll bars first seen on the Bentayga. Suspension feel is one of the things you can influence via three provided driving modes - 'Sport', 'Comfort' and 'Bentley'. Steering feel and throttle response also get tweaked with the settings.
Unmistakably a Bentley, the third generation Continental GT Convertible retains the elegance and style of its forebears. More sculpted and sharply defined, the sleeker body and more opulent materials used in its construction combine to create a truly beautiful car - roof up or down. This third generation Convertible model's profile is longer and lower than its predecessor due to the positioning of the front wheels 135mm further forward. This has allowed the bonnet to be extended and the nose to be lowered. The key signature power lines of its coupe sibling still dominate, flowing back towards the muscular rear haunches. The tailored convertible roof can be deployed or stowed in just 19 seconds, with the car travelling at speeds of up to 30mph. This transforms the Continental GT Convertible from a luxurious coupe into an open-top Grand Tourer at the touch of a button. Seven different fabric hood colours are available, including an authentic tweed finish for the first time. A newly designed neckwarmer (which is both warmer and quieter than in the previous generation model), is seamlessly integrated into the heated Comfort Seats, optimising efficiency and airflow around the electrically adjustable headrests. The styling highlight of the neckwarmer is a chrome centre vane that stretches the full width of the duct, echoing Bentley's famous 'bullseye' vents. Combined with a heated steering wheel, seat heaters and new heated armrests, these sophisticated comfort features aim to create a more luxurious driving experience all the year round. As with the Coupe model, there's proper room for a couple of adults in the back too.
Of course, Bentley craftsmanship will never be inexpensive and, sure enough, you'll still be looking at around £176,000 for this Continental GT Convertible model in W12 form. Still, you get a very special experience in return. Take the 20-way adjustable front seats for example, which are said to set new industry standards for comfort and refinement. Smooth centre panels allow maximum efficiency for the cooling, heating and massage functions, while the bolsters retain the signature Bentley quilting. As an option, an event more exclusive 'diamond in diamond'-style quilting finish is available which gives the effect of a 'floating' quilted surface in a sea of leather. Buyers get a choice of three audio systems; the standard 10-speaker 650-watt set-up, a Bang & Olufsen 1,500-watt 16-speaker system and a thumping Naim 2,200-watt 18-speaker package. Customers will need to spend even longer considering the wider portfolio of exterior paint colours. Inside, you can complement that with a choice of natural leather and wood trim that includes 'Koa', Bentley's newest veneer. What else? Well the headlights use the latest self-adjusting 'Matrix' technology borrowed from Audi. And the wheels come in a huge 21-inch size as standard, with lightweight forged 22-inch rims available as an option.
The fuel consumption of the W12 is slightly improved from the earlier model, but don't get your hopes up too high. Based on the WLTP cycle, Bentley quotes a combined figure of 20.0mpg and 317g/km of CO2. Helping in this regard is the usual engine stop-start system and a coasting feature that sees the engine disconnected from the drivetrain and 'resting' at cruising speeds. In addition, Bentley's Variable Displacement system shuts down half the engine under low to mid-throttle driving conditions so that most of the time when commuting, your W12-engined Continental GT Convertible will actually be running as a V6. Electric power steering also helps with efficiency, drawing from the car only when steering lock is used. At the end of the day though, all of this can only make so much of a difference to a car of this weight and capacity. Though the brand has trimmed 100kgs from the GT's kerb weight this time round, this car still weighs well over two tonnes. If you feel the need to do better, then you'll want to talk to your dealer about the alternative V8 engine - but that's not massively more efficient.
This Continental GT Convertible remains a wonderful achievement. It isn't too taxing to create a supercar capable of lapping racetracks at outlandish speeds but to create something that can do almost the same while cosseting you in an atmosphere akin to an exclusive gentleman's club is a rare feat indeed. Owning one of these is like having your own private jet - in fact, it's better than that because it's so much more usable and roof-down, you can enjoy the journey so much more. This was always the world's most beautifully engineered luxury open-topped conveyance. Now, with its extra sporting brio, it's even more desirable. Is it the proper four-seater supercar convertible we were promised? Specified correctly, you could argue that. What's more important though, is that this remains a gloriously unique way to travel, in every way a true convertible. A Bentley convertible.
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