Car review: Bentley hones its GT Convertible

With a taste for the finer things in life, our motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan takes a spin in the new Bentley Continental GT Convertible.

Here’s a curious one. Mention the £176,000 (excluding Irish VRT and taxes) Bentley Continental GT Convertible to anyone and the first thing they ask is what is it like?

Bentley is a luxury marque within the Volkswagen Group, but it remains a thoroughly British brand that is still built by the same folks over there at Crewe, England with stratospheric list prices to match. And yet, that really is the first question you’ll be asked.

Minute details thrill like the rotating centre screen that morphs the dashboard from a full display screen to three traditional dials or to simply disappear completely behind highly polished wood

People want to know what it feels like to drive, what it smells like inside and can it actually be as good as they ever possibly imagined a Bentley Continental GT Convertible to be. Oh sure, they outwardly scoff at the car’s high price. Particularly as the third generation Continental GT Convertible costs £17,000 more than the Coupe.

Buying one from Charles Hurt in Belfast will push your GT Convertible generously north of €200,000 in the Republic of Ireland after the Government has its greedy mitts on the registration documents. That said, find the same people alone and you’ll get a knowing nod and the silently mouthed question – what’s it really like?

In an effort to stray as far as possible from the verbose Bentley press releases – and my, they do go on a bit – this is my best summation of what the brand new 2019 Bentley Continental GT Convertible feels, smells and drives like.

Luxury on wheels

Front seat of a luxury Bentley convertible car.

Far smaller than a Rolls Royce anything the Continental GT is almost the same length as the new BMW 8 Series Convertible. So it’s not ridiculously out of scale for Ireland’s roads. And exactly there is where the similarity between Bavaria and Crewe comes to a shuddering stop.

Everything from the weight of the Bentley’s door handles to the solid metal controls inside the cabin have a silky heft where nothing ever clicks or clunks into place but silently whizzes and flows as if an invisible army of giggling Minions are collectively operating a delicate counter-weighted movement of buttons inside the car for you.

Now climb into the front seats.

Where before you plopped or sank – depending on how much you paid – into the driver’s seat it’s all different in here. In the Continental GT Convertible you slide over the smooth leather and ease yourself in, just so. And then you experience the £176,000 difference. Sinking into the seat you keep sinking – momentarily, mind – like when you first lie down on a luxury memory foam mattress. No big German luxury car I have tested has managed this deft sleight of hand.

Then there’s the inevitable caressing of the leather. Being a motoring journalist I should be above all this sort of subterfuge. But the interior is like human catnip. Over a few hours driving the car I looked forward to traffic lights when I could glide my hand over the door tops and headlining. I was pretty much at a loss in describing what the car’s cabin fragrance smelt like. The closest the cabin’s aroma smells like is from one of those Bottega Veneta handbags (so I’m told).

Years ago I visited the Bentley factory and saw how they work the leather and wood. How it is nurtured by people working the factory floor for decades and why that heady aroma is no raw material accident and deliberately chosen. The realisation of the interior design by Darren Day is delectable and a big step up for the second-generation car. Minute details thrill like the rotating centre screen that morphs the dashboard from a full display screen to three traditional dials or to simply disappear completely behind highly polished wood.

For the moment the Continental GT Convertible is only available with a W12 engine but the inevitable and sprightlier V8 variant will emerge. Those who have driven the GT Coupe should be pleased to learn both the Coupe and the Cabriolet was engineered from scratch right beside each other. Few GT Coupes come close to the GT’s impressive long-range driving ability and dropping the roof in the GT Convertible without any flexing from the body was impressive.

Bentley has done a solid job in ensuring there are no tremors from the front bulkhead or doors. The Convertible’s extra 150kg gross weight is doubtless due to the lower structural bracing but that’s a small price to pay. The Active Roll software was working overtime as I pushed the Convertible GT through bends and the car remained stable and unflustered. It’s a thundering beast too. Acceleration times defy physics with a 0-100km time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 333 km/h (207 mph).

Accelerate from a standstill with the roof down and you are slowly pushed back into the headrest as a giant roar builds from the engine and exhaust. The rate at which the big Bentley hits the maximum speed limit is an esophagus constricting experience. Bentley claims the W12’s power output reaches 635 hp with 900 Nm torque. Those are massive numbers to consider for any car.

Objectively it’s easy enough to describe what the new Continental GT Convertible is really like. It is an ultra-luxury car infused with such a level of bonniness that it simply disarms you. Even after a short drive it will be the hardest soul out there that remains unimpressed, seduced even, by the loveliness of the experience. It beguiles the cynic in so many ways, making you look forward to every opportunity to just get back in and drive it.

Does it merit the title of world’s best convertible with the likes of Rolls Royce and Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet out there, doing the rounds? I’d wager a cautious yes. The Rolls is objectively too much for today’s everyday world and the Mercedes is nowhere nearly as opulent to be a direct rival. It seems Bentley has hit a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

The 2019 Bentley Continental GT Convertible is well and truly open for business. Nicely done, Bentley.

Published: 25 October 2019