Bentley’s staple and modus operandi has always been big engines coupled with interiors that offer the height of luxury, so when Bentley announced that V8 engines would run alongside the company’s tried and tested 12-cylinder W12, eyebrows were raised.
Thankfully the V8 offering not only complements the W12 in terms of performance, it’s arguably a better purchase. With the warm weather quickly coming to an end, we jumped behind the wheel of the more powerful Bentley Continental GT Convertible V8 S.
Finished in Candy Red, our Continental GT Convertible V8 S looked the part, carving a sleek line in traffic. While Bentleys of any derivation turn heads, a convertible GT in summer takes this to the next level.
Pricing starts at $402,600 for the Continental GT V8. That figure jumps to $471,200 for the Continental GT Convertible V8 S, but expect to pay north of $500,000 if you’d like the option boxes ticked. This test vehicle had over $60,000 worth of options, which included the circa $30,000 carbon-ceramic brakes, $5000 sports exhaust, the $11,000 paint job and $5000 adaptive cruise control.
Chrome highlights at the front and around the roof sill help to add a high level of prestige, while the standard 20-inch alloy wheels deliver a refreshing change from the low-profile 21-inch wheels fitted to some Bentleys.
While hand washing the car, I realised just how impressive and detailed the lines and bulges were. The emphatic rear wheel arch bulges protrude confidently, while the sill line that rises from the front corner cuts a line directly to the rear via the door handles.
In fact, this sill line can be expertly hand painted with a coach line by the Mulliner team to help personalise your Continental GT Convertible. Additionally, buyers can option a number of bespoke features and paint colours to ensure their Bentley is one of a kind.
Inside the cabin there is a rich aroma of leather. It smells like the first week of a leather sofa ownership. Every surface you interact with feels premium, from the leather-topped dashboard to the metal and knurled knobs. My favourite part is the cold and serrated feel to the top of the gear selector, which features a prominent ‘B’ emblem.
The seats are soft to the touch and extremely comfortable. They wrap around you and offer an almost infinite amount of adjustment (14 way electric adjustment to be precise) along with a massage function. The front seats also come with a neck heater that blows warm air onto the driver and front passenger’s necks on those chilly days. Driver and front passenger seats also feature seat heating and cooling ducts. Strangely, both can be operated at the same time, which we discovered by accident.
This is one of the few four-seat convertibles that will actually seat adults in the rear seats. The space on offer is commodious and a comfortable place to be. When you don’t have rear seat passengers, you can erect the wind deflector to reduce cabin turbulence — more on this later.
Boot capacity sits at 260 litres, which isn’t amazing, but the reason it’s so small is due to the space required to store the folding soft top.
The centre infotainment cluster and LCD screen in the gauge cluster will look familiar to Volkswagen owners. The RNS system is similar to the one used in the Volkswagen Touareg and features a touchscreen with digital radio, and separate screens for height and adjustment of suspension firmness, along with satellite navigation.
It’s easy to use, but feels old and dated in comparison to the rest of the car. This extends to the pairing of Bluetooth devices, which occurs using the steering wheel and LCD cluster between the speedometer and tachometer — it’s quite convoluted and really should be a brief operation on the main screen.
That actually sets the tone for the rest of the vehicle’s technology and equipment. The rest of the Bentley's competitors have left behind the Continental GT Convertible, as it misses out on autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and many other modern safety features.
The optional adaptive cruise control worked well and was sensible in the way it applied throttle and brakes when vehicles merged into your lane. A lot of adaptive cruise control systems will delay throttle application when changing lanes away from slower vehicles, whereas this one worked promptly and effectively.
Hit the starter button and the hearty V8 engine fires into life with a brief bark. Under the bonnet is a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine that produces 389kW of power and 680Nm of torque, which is sent through an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Before we get to the noise, we have to discuss the torque delivery. Stand on the throttle and the 680Nm slab of torque hits like a freight train from just 1700rpm. It shoves you in the back and propels the car from standstill to 100km/h an hour in just 4.7 seconds. That’s despite the fact it weighs a little over 2400kg.
Then there’s that noise. The quad exhaust outlets emit a menacing bellow from standstill that rapidly rises to a muscle-car-esque snarl close to the engine’s top end. It’s teamed with crackles and pops on the overrun that almost seem uncharacteristic for a classy convertible like this.
Cogs can be swapped using static paddle shifters attached to the steering column, and in general they work well with the eight-speed automatic gearbox. It could be a bit quicker during sporty driving, but it’s only a minor complaint.
On the open road, the Continental GT Convertible feels big. It’s a wide car, at just under two metres in width, but visibility is generally good as long as you keep in mind that it’s just over 4.8-metres long.
Surprisingly, there is little scuttle shake from the body. Scuttle shake occurs when the body flexes over and reverberates over uneven road surfaces at speed. Big cars like this are normally prone to this trait given how much structural support the roof normally provides in the coupe equivalent.
This lack of scuttle shake means it’s quite rewarding to punt the Continental GTC through corners. The added surety of all-wheel drive and a rigid chassis means that the direct and aptly weighted steering offers an enjoyable drive.
There’s no forgetting the car’s considerable weight, but it is surprising just how much fun you can have close to the car’s limits. The giant carbon-ceramic brakes offer immense stopping power and are the perfect option for drivers that expect to stretch the legs of their vehicle on occasions.
We did experience some brake shudder from the carbon-ceramic brakes at low speeds, which we put down to the car being virtually brand new. These brakes can take some time to bed in, so it’s not uncommon to experience this trait.
At speed with the windows up, it’s remarkable how little wind turbulence effects the cabin. There is mild buffeting, but even without the wind deflector installed it’s not anywhere near the levels of most big convertibles.
From a standing start, there is a small amount of noticeable turbocharger lag, but the latent torque on offer from the 4.0-litre V8 engine more than compensates for it. On the move the gearbox works well in unison with the engine to provide smooth gear shifts and sharp throttle response.
But I have to come back to that exhaust note. It sounds absolutely awesome and with the convertible it can be sampled far more regularly. Tunnels amplify this sound to supercar levels and make it a truly enjoyable experience.
Official fuel consumption figures sit at 11.1L/100km on the combined cycle, and we were surprised to be sitting at around 14L/100km with predominantly city driving. It’s an incredibly efficient engine when the weight of the car and its performance-oriented nature is taken into account.
The Continental GT Convertible V8 S rides on air suspension with adjustable dampers. Damper firmness can be adjusted through several stages between Comfort and Sport settings, and the height of the car is also adjusted at the push of a button to suit steep driveways.
Through the city, the Comfort mode offers a perfect balance between plushness and stability, while the Sport mode takes this up several levels, firming up the ride and offering a near flat cornering experience.
As a package, the Bentley Continental GT Convertible V8 S offers a perfect compromise between luxury motoring and sporty performance. Sure, it's let down somewhat by subpar technology, but makes up for it with style, substance and appeal.
Alborz recently said in his review of the hard top Bentley Continental GT V8 S that without a W12 it doesn't feel like a real Bentley. I disagree — the V8 S engine beautifully complements this package and gives it a new level of appeal.
This is the car you should buy if you want to make a statement and enjoy the occasional mountain blast. It will leave you smiling from ear to ear.
Click on the Photos tab to see more images of the Bentley Continental GT Convertible V8 S by Tom Fraser.