Bentley does craftsmanship very well. In fact, the British luxury car brand has been making an elegant presence on the world's roads since 1919, and this year the company is celebrating 100 years.
We had the opportunity to drive the new 2019 Bentley Continental GT Convertible through Spain’s Andalusian countryside to experience the best of what this grand tourer can do.
Details of this car were released late last year, and with a price tag of $462,240.50 before on-road costs, it puts the Convertible $39,640 more than the Coupe. You could buy a Mini Cooper Convertible for that price difference, but let’s be honest, that sort of money is a drop in the ocean when you look at the overall price.
There are many improvements on the 2019 model, including the 6.0-litre W12 TSI engine, a reduction in cabin noise, it is lighter and stiffer, and the front axle has been moved forward for a more sporting look.
The Convertible still holds that iconic muscular stance and rear haunches, and with thanks to the roof folding low, it retains its visual appeal. At 19 seconds, the Z-fold convertible roof system isn’t the quickest on the planet (Ford Mustang Convertible at seven seconds wins gold), but it can operate at speeds of up to 50km/h.
A new addition for 2019 is a British tweed option for the roof, adding to the seven exterior colour options and eight interior roof lining colours.
One of the top-selling countries for this model is the UK, which is astounding considering its mundane weather, but Bentley has catered for those drivers who always believe a convertible should be driven topless no matter the weather.
Newly designed neck warmers are quieter and warmer than before, but you can only feel it on bare skin, as we discovered when the cool night started to set in.
A heated central armrest is new as well, and the heated steering wheel and seats (even on the high setting, it doesn’t make you sweat) round out a generally warm and comfortable cabin on a cold drive.
With longer hair, I didn’t feel the need to wear a cap to keep hair out of my eyes, even on Spain’s 120km/h freeways – it was quite pleasant with the roof down, and wasn’t buffeting or uncomfortable.
A conversation could be easily had without raising voices, too. With the top up, thanks to improvements to sealing and acoustics, the cabin is now three decibels quieter. It’s not exactly noticeable to the human ear, but hey, any reduction in cabin noise is always welcome.
The interior is undoubtedly the highlight of the Continental GT, and having the benefit of a convertible, it can be on show. A signature of Bentley's is not only diamond knurling, but also the sheer array of quilting.
With each diamond on the seat, 712 stitches are present, adding to 310,675 throughout the car. Line up the thread in a line, and it would stretch 2.8km. Astounding.
The most impressive feature is the rotating display. At the touch of a button, the screen rotates with a choice of three options: a blank piece of veneer; a 12.3-inch touchscreen (the largest ever in a Bentley); or the more traditional three gauges that include the outside temperature, a chronometer, and a compass.
The touchscreen is crystal clear, especially with the rear-view camera and a 360-degree overhead view, but we struggled with the lack of user-friendliness of the satellite navigation, with confusing voice commands. Apple CarPlay is a handy addition.
There are numerous upholstery colours and veneers to choose from, but a neat highlight is the 12-colour customisable mood lighting, which at 0.8mm thick is barely noticeable when turned off.
Three stereo systems are available: standard with 10 speakers and 650W; the 1500W Bang & Olufsen with 16 speakers; and the 18-speaker Naim system with 2200W. The car we had on test featured the Bang & Olufsen, which had just the perfect balance of treble and bass, and after hearing what 16 speakers can do, and how clear it was with the roof down, it begs the question of really needing to tick the Naim option box.
The 20-way adjustable seats are that comfortable, not only did I feel drowsy in the passenger seat, but a few others did as well. It’s such a relaxing place to be. Maybe not so in the back, though. There’s really only room for kids, but those back seats would barely get a bum on them in their lifetime, you would think. The 235L boot has enough room for two overnight bags and two backpacks.
The new 6.0-litre W12 TSI engine is the most advanced 12-cylinder in the world, and delivers maximum torque three times faster than the previous model, while turbo lag virtually disappears with twin-scroll turbochargers. However, it hasn’t added any weight from the last engine, and the fact it’s now 30kg lighter is one remarkable feat.
Producing 467kW of power and 900Nm of torque, the Continental can reach 100km/h in 3.8 seconds on its way to a top speed of 333km/h. Considering the Continental GT weighs 2.4 tonnes, it doesn’t feel heavy at all, especially when launch control is activated.
The AWD system keeps it planted to the road with not one sign of wheel spin, and has enough torque to decently pin you back in your seat.
With actuators installed in the front and rear anti-roll bars, body roll is barely felt, instilling confidence to push it further and further. It doesn’t feel all that big when taking corners, but negotiating some wrong turns in some small towns in Spain, its nearly two-metre-wide body definitely didn’t go unnoticed. The front axle has been moved forward 135mm, which gives it a shorter front overhang and longer bonnet, and a new weight distribution of 55:45.
The Bentley driving mode, which is basically between Comfort and Sport modes, is the best of both worlds and provides a nice engine note when the foot is planted, but it is refined at cruising speed.
Comfort driving mode is almost a little too relaxed, with the brake pedal becoming very soft, and the throttle pedal needing an extra push to get it going.
Meanwhile, if you want to hear that W12 engine sing, Sport mode is your best friend. The engine sound is addictive with a nice bass note to it, with pops changing up through the gears and a subtle burble on the overrun. Put the top down and it’s accentuated even more.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is nicely matched with the W12, and is pleasant at cruising speed, but the nice metal paddle shifters step up the fun factor by letting you hang onto each gear to your own taste.
Bentley's combined fuel economy is claimed at 12.2L/100km, which for 12 cylinders isn't all that bad. We got close to that figure with 13.1L/100km, which included a few twisty roads and the occasional freeway thrown in.
Overall, the 2019 model is such an improvement on its predecessor. A better engine, a more planted chassis, and touches to the cabin that make the Continental GT Convertible one of the most luxurious and effortless cruisers, and a classy and elegant statement.