Part sports car, part luxury car, all Bentley
Woolf Barnato would have loved the 2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible. Heir to a South African diamond fortune and savior of financially troubled Bentley in 1925, Barnato spent the 1920s racing hard and partying harder. And one of W.O. Bentley’s fast and muscular machines was never too far away, be it on the track at Le Mans, or on the driveway of his country home, Ardenrun Place in leafy Surrey, England. The new Continental GT Convertible is Barnato’s kind of Bentley, combining raffish soft-top elegance with continent crushing power and speed.
The $236,100 USD Convertible is, of course, the inevitable encore to the $214,600 USD Continental GT Coupe we recently tested in W-12 form; an encore that, ironically, has arrived even before Americans have had the opportunity to sample the first act. The folks at Bentley don’t talk much about it, but the shift to the all-new MSB platform has clearly stretched to the limit the capabilities of the 1000-strong engineering and development team at Crewe. That, and last-minute changes to emissions regulations that have forced a comprehensive test and certification program, mean deliveries to North American customers of both versions of the new Conti are not likely to start until the second half of this year.
But, as with the Coupe, the Convertible, which is expected to account for 70 percent of Continental GT sales in North America, is worth the wait.
The Continental GT Convertible shares powertrain, suspension, and brakes with the Coupe. That means the new 626-hp W-12 under the hood driving all four wheels via the Porsche-designed eight-speed twin-clutch transmission, along with three-chamber air suspension, 48V active anti-roll system, and the world’s biggest steel brakes—16.5 inch rotors up front, clamped by massive 10-piston calipers.
In terms of design, the aluminum front panels and doors, and lush, leather-lined interior are identical with those of the Coupe. At the rear are new quarter panels and a new deck that swallows a soft-top in just 19 seconds at speeds of up to 30 mph (48 km/h). Unseen is the extra bracing to compensate for the lack of a roof, and the powered Z-fold mechanism for the soft-top, both of which account for a 372-pound (169-kg) increase in weight over the Coupe. Even so, Bentley claims the 5,322-pound (2,414-kg) Convertible has the same top speed as the Coupe, though its extra mass means it’s a tenth of a second slower to 60 mph. Just think about that for a moment: The Continental GT Convertible does 207 mph (333 km/h), and 0-60 in a Bentley-estimated 3.7 seconds (though a 12-cylinder coupe tester hit 60 in 3.3 seconds). We are talking about a luxury boulevardier that’s as fast as a Porsche Carrera GT. Extraordinary…
Credit goes to that herculean, twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12 under the hood, designed, developed, and hand-built in Crewe. In addition to its 626 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, its peak torque of 664 lb-ft arrives at just 1,350 rpm, and is maintained all the way to 4,500 rpm. Punching the gas pedal in the Continental GT Convertible is like opening the floodgates on the Hoover Dam, unleashing a relentless surge of thrust, the twin-clutch transmission’s lightning quick shifts scarcely interrupting the rush to the far horizon. The Bentley feels indomitably quick on the open road, crushing hills and compressing passing zones with insouciant ease.
It feels remarkably adept for a car of its size and mass in the corners, too. The steering doesn’t quite have the communicative delicacy of the closely related Porsche Panamera—you get the sense it’s masked by artificial inertia dialed into the system to give it old-school Bentley meatiness. But there is much more initial front-end grip than in the previous-generation Conti, and it remains more responsive to steering inputs through the corner. The 48V active roll system, which utilizes e-motors capable of generating almost 960 lb-ft of torque to twist the front and rear anti-roll bars against the cornering forces, keeps the big Bentley astonishingly composed through the corners, regardless of whether the car is set in the Comfort, Bentley, or Sport drive modes.
As you’d expect, Sport mode switches the spring and damper rates to their stiffest settings, adds more meat to the steering feel, and amps up the exhaust rumble. But it also allows no more than 20 percent of the torque to be sent to the front wheels to give the chassis a sportier balance. In Comfort and Bentley modes (Bentley mode so named because it’s the default mode, and the one Bentley engineers believe best represents the optimal setup for the car) not only are the spring rates softer, and steering efforts lighter, but the active all-wheel drive will channel almost 40 percent of the torque to the front wheels when needed.
If you don’t like any of those configurations, there’s Custom mode. After a bit of experimentation on the superb roads through the hills between Marbella and Seville in Spain, we programmed Custom mode to keep the powertrain in Sport mode for optimal throttle response and chassis balance, the suspension in Bentley mode for the best all-round ride and handling compromise, and the steering in Comfort mode to take as much of the weight out of the system as possible. Thus configured, and with the transmission in manual mode to allow precise control via the paddles on the steering wheel, the Continental GT Convertible is strikingly fast and confidence-inspiring on roads that would get your pulse racing in a Porsche 911.
Everywhere else, just leave it in Bentley mode, and let the transmission do the thinking. With power and torque to spare, the Continental GT Convertible delivers effortless performance on demand, whether cruising around town, or hustling BMWs out of the fast lane on a German autobahn.
Roof up? Or roof down? It doesn’t matter. An effective wind-blocker and a discreet vent under the front seat headrests that can direct warm air to the back of your neck, plus a heated steering wheel and heated armrests, mean you ride comfortably unruffled even when that gorgeously executed interior is open to the elements. When raised, the new soft-top, available in black, blue, claret, and gray, as well a beige that is a contemporary interpretation of traditional British tweed fabric, cuts noise levels by 3 dB compared with that of the previous car, making the new Convertible as quiet at speed, says Bentley, as the previous generation Coupe.
If a recent 500-mile (805-km) round trip that saw the new Continental GT Coupe better 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km) is any guide, the Convertible not only has the manners, but also the range of a proper grand tourer. The W-12’s cylinder deactivation system means it runs on six cylinders while cruising on light throttle, and a smart coasting feature shuts down the engine and declutches the transmission when you lift off the gas. Hit the brakes, and coasting is immediately cancelled to ensure you get the benefit of engine braking. It’s clever, effective, and utterly seamless—the only way you can tell what’s happening is to check the tach.
Weaknesses? Our tester was fitted with the optional 22-inch wheel/tire combo that’s part of the $12,755 USD Mulliner Driving Specification, and although the Bentley-spec Pirelli P Zeros—275/35 R22 front and 315/30 ZR22 rear—feature noise reduction technology, they still roar on coarse tarmac and patter over broken surfaces. Like the Coupe, Continental GT Convertible is smoother, quieter, more refined on the standard 21-inch wheels and tires. Save the money and stick with those.
Bentley is also still struggling to make the transmission feel as smooth as a regular automatic under light throttle loads, especially from standstill. The Convertible’s reprogrammed transmission shifted more consistently than those of the early-build Coupes we’ve driven, but the car still doesn’t quite ooze away from the lights like you’d expect a Bentley should, and occasionally stumbles over rapid on/off throttle inputs at low speeds. Transmission tuning is, engineers concede, a work in progress.
The 2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible artfully bridges the gap between the harder, edgier Aston Martin DB11 Volante and the softer, more serene Rolls-Royce Dawn. It’s stupendously fast when you want it to be, and supremely relaxed when you need it to be, elegant muscular swagger wrapped in discreetly extrovert luxury. It’s Woolf Barnato’s sort of Bentley.