Barrelling down a narrow English lane – not far from the place of its birth in Crewe – the 2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible is utterly at home in such genteel confines. It’s a big car, a grand car for a grand occasion perhaps, but its performance ability ensures it never feels as big as it actually is.
When it comes to hand-crafted, painstaking attention to detail, it’s hard to fault the way Bentley goes about building cars. There’s something to be said for the bespoke level of detail too, because when you’re spending more than 400,000 Australian dollars on a car of any kind, why would you want it to look exactly like any other one? And why wouldn’t you want to know that it was put together with decades of time-honoured hand-crafted skill?
Any vehicle that retains a level of hand crafting and individuality like a Bentley has a special feel about it, a sense of occasion when you open the door, something to enjoy in every small detail within the cabin. I’ve always believed that if you aspire to this level of vehicle ownership, and you get there, it should feel special. It’s what it’s all about, really.
My drive of the GT V8 Convertible is preceded by a visit to the Crewe factory, a place that is utterly modern, but steeped in tradition. We spend time on the assembly line (no photos please), the interior trim department, and the ‘wood room’ – a section of the factory that has the old-world charm and care of an antique furniture restoration shop.
On the day that we visit, there is no less than half a million pounds worth of timber veneer, carefully selected and prepared, ready to go into a bespoke Bentley interior. It’s an inspiring and endlessly interesting place to visit such is the level of care and customisation available to the Bentley buyer.
The 2020 Bentley Continental GT is on sale now in Australia, and pricing starts from $400,900 before on-road costs for the Coupe, while pricing for the Convertible starts from $441,300 before on-road costs. You can read our pricing and specification guide for more details.
Last year, the Continentals were redesigned and sharpened up in a performance sense, with subtle restyling, and a new body structure as well as a slicker-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. According to Bentley, those revisions enhanced elegance and performance, and who are we to argue? Interestingly, while most fans want to speak about the W12 engine, the twin-turbo V8 is actually the pick for mine. Its mix of polish and performance more than make up for the power deficit it gives up to the 12-cylinder.
With 405kW and 770Nm on offer, the V8 hammers the big Bentley drop top from 0-100km/h in just 4.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 318km/h. It feels fast, too – bloody fast on narrow country lanes, but peel onto a freeway and it simply rolls on speed with effortless abandon. The eight-speed dual-clutch is smooth and snappy. It's a gearbox that doesn't care what you do with it, slow and steady or nail the throttle pedal, it shifts up and down with consummate ease.
The quad exhaust tips ensure the soundtrack befits the performance, too. Stop/start and cylinder deactivation ensure it’s as efficient as possible too, but we didn’t get to test the fuel use at launch. We’ll monitor that when we test the Bentley on local roads, although I suspect fuel use hardly matters for the intended buyer.
The word that most comes to mind when you’re driving the Bentley – regardless of how fast or slow – is effortless. It’s hard to think of a more grand, Grand Tourer, a more forceful display of understated elegance, a more appropriate execution of two-door performance in the grand touring tradition.
All Continental GTs come with an AWD system, technology you almost certainly need with that much power and torque on offer, especially if you regularly traverse wet roads. The poise with which the Conti stays glued to the road, even in the dry, is evidence the system is near perfectly sorted, too.
The Continental washes off speed as quickly as it piles it on, it rides beautifully despite the 20-inch rubber, and is utterly unruffled by its surrounds even with the top down. It delivers a beautiful and premium driving experience – which is precisely what it was designed to do.
Usually, I’d opt for the Coupe over the Convertible – with something like a Porsche 911 for example – the quality of the Bentley’s soft top and the driving experience with it in position, mean in the case of the British two-door, I’d definitely go drop top.
Part of that point relates to the speed with which the roof opens and closes – just 19 seconds – at speeds up to 50km/h. The other factor is the quality of the roof and the way it works when it’s closed. There’s hardly any wind noise, no feeling of sloppiness through the chassis, and almost no deficit in real terms from opting for the fabric hood.
You get a choice of seven different fabric colours for the hood including a new authentic tweed option. The neck warmers, which blow hot air through the heated and cooled seats are quieter than the old model, and you also get a heated steering wheel and arm rests.
While a 40-degree day Down Under might not present as perfect convertible weather, I love the idea of cruising around in winter in Australia, with the Conti’s top down and hot air venting through the neck warmers. My driving partner on the English launch was Bernd Pichler, Regional Director for Asia Pacific, and he was a little disappointed in me.
“You forgot your leather jacket and Peaky Blinders cap,” he said. It was pretty chilly in Crewe and I’d requested we leave the roof on. Must be getting soft in my old age…
The interior is, quite simply, stunning. From the aromatic leather to the grain of the veneer, everything looks and feels, superb. There’s such minute attention to detail that you really do need an engineer or designer to run you through all the little details. The way the infotainment screen spins around, for example, to reveal three conventional dials, if you’re feeling like a more traditional view while driving.
The feel of the leather, the stitching, the detail and finish, and the attention to the way the dials and switchgear look and feel is second to none. Darren Day, Interior Designer for Bentley, who may have one of the coolest jobs in the world, explains that even the design team are humbled by seeing their visions come to life.
“You design a feature or something you’d like to see, early in the process,” he told CarAdvice. “And then of course, the car is built sometime later, further down the development process. And at some point, you see something that you have designed, that you spent time perfecting and honing, it could be the smallest detail that some people would find insignificant, but you get to see it come to life.”
It’s this kind of passion for the marque that makes Bentley such a special experience. The design team works hard with the engineers to ensure that concept is actually a feature that can be worked into production rather than just an unattainable thought bubble. The rotating infotainment screen is one such example.
The cabin is dominated by the aforementioned 12.3-inch infotainment display, which when you’re using it rather than the gauges that hide behind, is clear, and easy to use. Apple CarPlay worked faultlessly at launch, and there’s also Android Auto functionality. The driver gets a digital gauge display, that means the driver can use most of the functionality via steering wheel mounted controls. You get optional audio systems in England, but even the standard system is well beyond what most buyers would expect in terms of clarity and sound.
It’s difficult to measure the value of individuality at this end of the pricing scale. However, if you like to stand out, and drive something different, there’s absolutely no doubt the Bentley offers a GT experience that few can match. There’s a sense of exclusivity, but also bespoke quality and refinement. The Continental GT Convertible is a beautiful car, beautifully designed and beautifully built. Every drive will feel like an occasion.