Bentley builds a number of exquisite automobiles, but the Continental series has long been the ultra-luxury marque’s bread and butter product line. Of course, I’m referring to Shepherd Loaf sourdough bread and D’Artagnan white truffle butter (or Echiré if you have a simpler yet still very refined palate) as the GT coupe and convertible models are a solid notch or three above more commonplace sport luxury conveyances.
The Speed edition reviewed here sits at the very top of the pecking order. It stands out from the “base” Bentley Continental GT V8 Convertible with exterior and interior upgrades, but the biggest difference can be found under the hood: An almighty W12 engine replaces the 500-horsepower V8 to make an already explosive 4-passenger cabriolet incomprehensibly fast.
To be clear, I’ve driven faster cars in my life, but off the top of my head I can’t think of one that combines the shockingly immediate response of the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible at takeoff and its blistering pace and poise amid curves and passing manoeuvres with such a sublime “Keep Calm and Carry On” British attitude.
It would be downright anticlimactic if it weren’t so utterly dumbfounding. The 6.0L twin-turbocharged W12’s 633 horsepower and 620 lb-ft of torque manage 0-100 km/h acceleration in a scant 4.3 seconds on the way to a maximum speed of 328 km/h. It can now be manually controlled via bigger, heftier paddle shifters that make the most of the smooth-operating, yet instantly reactive 8-speed Quickshift automatic transmission and rear-biased permanent all-wheel drive system (the default torque split is 40/60, but will vary from 15/85 to 65/35 as conditions require).
All this makes the 2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible the “world’s fastest comfortable convertible,” or so says the company. Since the advent of the Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG Cabriolet-based Brabus 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabrio, the “production” caveat needs to be added to the aforementioned claim. The only faster production 4-seat drop-top I can think of is the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet that sprints to 100 km/h in a mere 3.0 seconds, which is amazing, but only offers a 2km/h top speed advantage at 330 km/h. Besides, its passenger qualification should truly read two adults and two toddlers.
Ultimate performance combined with rarified luxury
Porsches are wonderful, but if we’re choosing to go down the road of comparison it would make more sense to add the 600-horsepower BMW M6 Cabriolet to the conversation. Let’s just leave such competent albeit lower class riffraff alone and remember that those fortunate enough to purchase a Bentley aren’t so easily wooed away to a lesser brand just because some skunkworks engineering department managed to stuff more power behind their less appealing badge (if they were, they’d all be driving Hellcats).
To put things into perspective, Bentley first won the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1924) two years before Mercedes-Benz even came into existence, three years before BMW started building rebadged Austin 7s, 24 years before Porsche sold its first road car, and 52 years before Klaus Brackman and Bodo Buschmann tuned their first official Brabus Mercedes-Benz. The British luxury car manufacturer was founded five years prior in 1919.
Undeniable heritage delivers serious street cred
It’s as if 97 years of performance-oriented luxury heritage were distilled into the very car I was driving, my gorgeous Glacier White tester being one of the most breathtakingly beautiful automobiles I’ve driven in a very long time. I sure didn’t go unnoticed to passersby who inconspicuously lost their cool and stared openly, jaws dropped, sometimes even pointing. Want to feel like a sports hero or a rock star? This is your car. Of course, many of the 16 additional exterior hues will make it pop even more.
Back to earth, what I love about the entire Bentley lineup is their total livability despite exotic classification. Unlike most mid-engine supercars that are mere weekend play toys due to awkward ergonomics and challenging drivability, the 2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible is a car you can comfortably commute in daily, and then while on the way home snag some takeout at a curbside deli, pick up your laundry, grab a cool frappe via drive-thru, all before easily negotiating your penthouse parking garage.
Comfortable, hand-made detailing abounds
Yes, the Continental GT Speed Convertible provides a level of comfort the low-slung variety can’t match, starting with one of the most supportive driver’s seats finished in some of the highest-quality leathers in the industry. Diamond-quilting and bold red and black colouring add a classic touch, while surrounding hides, piano black-lacquered hardwoods, and bright metals immediately remind you that Bentleys are not processed with the usual cost-cutting methods, but instead laboriously hand-crafted to the point where every square inch is a work of art.
Naturally, pretty much every feature one could imagine is integrated within the cabin. Some of the 2016 updates include a handful of new buttons, knobs and toggles, new LED illumination, additional USB ports, and revised infotainment. The electronic interfaces are as good as anything available and better than most, but compared to the majority of premium cars they play more of a secondary role here.
Don’t get me wrong: The automatic climate control system will keep all occupants ideally comfortable, the integrated navigation will get you where you want to go accurately, and the superb audio unit seems almost as powerful as the engine. However, the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible’s finer details are enough to make a person weak at the knees, and that’s just when moving along slowly enough to notice.
Moves so fast you might not notice all the new styling updates
Unless you’ve driven a Bentley, it’s impossible to perceive how 2.5 tonnes (5,500 lbs) can feel so light and nimble. This massive cabriolet defies natural laws in its quest to provide near unflappable cornering control. Push it as hard as you dare, and it quickly becomes evident there’s plenty more to spare.
Again, even at speeds that should ideally be experienced on a track, a calm composure adds confidence, wind buffeting is kept to a minimum, and with the quick-deploying fabric roof in place sound levels are on par with those of a well-insulated hardtop.
In terms of design, the Continental GT Speed Convertible receives a modified grille along with a new front bumper and lower fascia incorporating larger, sportier black mesh intakes, front and rear fenders with more pronounced flair (the former incorporating new B-shaped chromed engine vents), a redesigned composite rear deck lid finalizing in a sharper trailing edge, a reworked rear bumper that wraps a bright metal moulding completely around its backside, and a rear diffuser that’s unique to this model (with integrated twin pipes perfectly matched to the oval-shaped LED lighting elements above. My tester’s absolutely stunning 21” multi-spoke alloy wheels were specific to the Speed, too.
Good value compared to many exotics
If you’re reading this with an intention to buy the 2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible, its $340,000 base price won’t be an issue. The one I tested was further equipped with a heated steering wheel, ventilated and massaging front seats, neck warmers integrated within the front seatbacks, contrast stitching, Wi-Fi, and more for a total that exceeded $350,000.
Compared to other exotic cars, the Continental GT Speed Convertible actually represents very good value, while the respect it earns borders on reverence.