The New Bentley Continental GT Convertible Is Our Kind of Mobility
I’ve decided that I love the new Bentley Continental GT convertible. For many, many reasons. Here are just some: You can’t plug it in. You can rotate the 12.3-inch touchscreen out of sight to reveal a gorgeously simple and quiet veneer panel. It has a 6.0-liter W-12 engine with direct and port injection that produces 626 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque. And, most important, during the launch of this elegant, brutally fast GT car, not once did Bentley mention “mobility” nor present a clever app to facilitate our crazy new lifestyles that make owning cars so inconvenient. The Continental GT Convertible is, well, a car. A car you’d love to own and drive. A simple, old-school concept executed with artistry, engineering excellence, and a bit of cheeky humor, too.
To demonstrate its talents, we went on a mini grand tour of our own, from Marbella on the Costa del Sol to sparkling Seville, the capital of the Andalusia region, via some of the most beautiful roads you can imagine. It would be a fun journey even in a wheezy rental car and is clearly designed to get us all swooning over the romance of striding across Europe in an expensive—it costs $ 236,100 before destination or gas-guzzler tax, or roughly $ 22K more than the Continental GT coupe—and aristocratic machine dripping with opulence. It works. However, even when you put aside the scenery, the sunshine, and the lavish lunch, the car delivers. It’s not perfect, but it is unique, and as quantifiably a Bentley as the 812 Superfast is a Ferrari or the DBS Superleggera is an Aston Martin.
I can hear the Bentley traditionalists cries of “but, but, but . . . but it’s based on a Porsche Panamera platform!” Well, it is, although Bentley would say it had considerable input into the MSB platform. Me? I simply say, “Who cares?” What counts is that the new Continental GT convertible is lighter, stiffer, and considerably better balanced than the old car (weight distribution improves from 57/43 percent front to rear to 55/45) and has a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. In steady-state driving, the GTC is effectively rear-drive, with a maximum of 38 percent of torque being directed to the front wheels when necessary in Comfort and Bentley modes, and just 17 percent in the more aggressive Sport setting.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. This is still no lightweight. In fact, it weighs a whopping 5300 pounds. No wonder the GTC needs 16.5-inch front discs—the largest brakes ever fitted to a road car—to stop it from its 207-mph top speed. The brakes also need the capacity to handle the new torque-vectoring system that aims to reduce understeer by slowing the inside rear wheel on turn-in, and to improve traction by doing the same to the inside front wheel on corner exit. In combination with active anti-roll bars powered by a 48-volt electrical system, Bentley promises unprecedented agility for a GTC, which of course it would promise.
The first miles pushing out of Marbella play to other strengths. The ride quality feels supple and the structure is clearly extremely rigid. There’s no nasty flex in the steering column and the car rarely shudders with convertible-betraying cowl shake. Our car has the Mulliner Driving Package with 22-inch wheels, which emit maybe a shade more road noise than you’d expect and can make the car feel a little over-wheeled, but with the roof still in place it’s a pretty hushed and unquestionably sumptuous place to be. Special mention should go to the tuning for the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Recreating the effortless smoothness of a conventional automatic gearbox with a dual-clutch setup has been extremely difficult, but Bentley’s engineers have done a great job. I’d say a torque-converter auto would be better still, but the benefits of this dual-clutch unit will emerge as we head out of town.
The roof itself can be stowed in 19 seconds at speeds of up to 30 mph, and Bentley claim a three-decibel improvement in sound insulation. You can even get the lid in a tweed finish if you want to go full English gent. Is that the four-letter word? Maybe. Anyway, it’s an elegant solution and at speeds over 100 mph it remains effective at keeping out wind noise. The coupe is even quieter, of course. Fold away the tweed and you get just enough swirl to feel exposed but not so much that you emerge looking undignified and wind-beaten.
So, the Continental GT convertible does the luxury stuff extremely well. Dynamically it’s well-resolved and wonderfully polished. The interior is beautiful, is easy to use, and feels like it’ll last a lifetime. Our preproduction cars had a couple of rattles but I suspect they’ll be eradicated before customers receive their examples in the second half of 2019. But what about that agility? Well, the roads around Zufre, north of Seville, are a fine test.
It’s worth talking about the new-generation 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W-12 engine. The old unit was immensely powerful but not exactly an acoustic delight or particularly laden with character. The new engine, which is said to be some 66 pounds lighter, is much more exciting. The torque peak starts way down at 1,350 rpm but the W-12 is keen to rev, too. Its performance is simply relentless, and that combines with the clean, sharp gearchanges of the dual-clutch automatic to make for a seriously rapid car and one that always seems to be in its sweet spot. Talk about breadth of capability.
The chassis is extremely proficient at harnessing what’s on offer. Traction is almost unbreakable; particularly in Sport mode this heavy beast rarely feels like it’s slipping into the clutches of understeer. It’s certainly a more neutral, more enjoyable car to hustle along than the old Conti. You might even feel the rear wheels start to spin out of tighter corners and this monster GT take on a little bit of tail-out attitude. The only problem is that Sport mode feels slightly too harsh for a Bentley. The new air springs have 60 percent more volume to play with, which allowed Bentley to finally create driving modes that feel distinctly different—the shift from Comfort to Sport is a huge one—but the convertible does feel pretty busy in Sport mode and the aggression asks more questions of the structure. Suddenly, you can feel this is an open-topped car through the seat of your pants as well as from the sun beating down on your forehead.
The middle-ground Bentley mode is better. There’s more body movement but those active anti-roll bars do a great job of ensuring the fluidity doesn’t dissolve into messy body roll. They’re a powerful tool, the electric actuators that work the roll bars capable of delivering 959 lb-ft of force, and Bentley mode is where you can appreciate how they allowed the engineers to balance ride comfort with body control. It’s just a shame that the all-wheel-drive system is setup more for stability here than the agility and adjustability of Sport mode.
I arrive in Seville firmly under the spell of the Continental GT convertible. I think it’s fair to say that, ultimately, the Panamera Turbo is the better sporty model spun from these underpinnings. It corners flatter, steers with more clarity, and has an incredible balance at its absolute limits. However, this is a different car. The Bentley makes you feel special at walking pace, the materials and interior design are gorgeous, and it eats miles with a calmness derived from its effortlessly muscular motor. Yet when the road gets interesting the Conti can up its game and really get stuck in. Hauling across Europe at high speed in this thing? That’s mobility anyone could appreciate.
2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible Specifications
|BASE PRICE||$ 241,000 (est)|
|ENGINE||6.0L DOHC 48-valve twin-turbocharged W-12; 626 hp @ 6,000rpm, 664 lb-ft @ 1,350 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD convertible|
|L x W x H||190.9 x 86.1 x 55.1 in|
|0–60 MPH||3.7 sec|
|TOP SPEED||207 mph|