Review and road test of the Bentley Continental GT Convertible V8
Arguably the world's most luxurious soft top can feature a relatively efficient Audi-sourced 500bhp V8. Jonathan Crouch feels the quality - and the width - of Bentley's Continental GT Convertible in eight cylinder form.
Ten Second Review of the Bentley Continental GT Convertible V8
Looking for the ultimate convertible car? The Bentley Continental GT Convertible can't be too far from it. Whether you go for the long-established 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 or the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine we look at here, it possesses a blend of trans-continental pace and luxurious comfort that very few other vehicles can match. If ever there was an open demonstration of money as a passport to power, then this is it.
You might not believe it to read the papers but the rich are getting richer. Forbes magazine reckons that today, there are over six times the number of dollar billionaires there were twenty years ago, the lot of them worth a combined total nudging $3 trillion. Presumably, the UK has its share of them too for supercar sales don't seem to have been hit too badly by the recession. Cars like this one, Bentley's Continental GT Convertible, are still parked nose to tail in Knightsbridge, just as they are down LA's Rodeo Drive.
So with all that available cash looking for a home, it doesn't do for potential recipients to rest on their laurels. Which is why even exalted manufacturers like this one are keen to keep their most successful models at the top of their game. It's also why Bentley's Continental GT Convertible has been significantly improved in recent times to bolster its appeal. Today's sharper, more muscular looks carry through to the driving experience but the bottom line remains much the same. The GT Convertible remains one of the world's most beautifully engineered luxury convertibles.
Twist the plump key and the 4.0-litre V8 (borrowed from Audi's S8 super-saloon) burbles into life, an orchestral prelude to the wonderful feeling that you get from burying your right foot into the carpet and hurling what is essentially Claridges on wheels towards sixty as fast as a Lamborghini Gallardo in around 5.0s. There's a choice of the standard 507bhp V8 or a 528bhp V8S. Owners with access to an airfield or who happen to have a particularly extravagant driveway on the front of their stately home will watch as 100mph flashes by just over six seconds later.
That's very little different to the performance you could expect from the 567bhp W12-engined GT Convertible model and, unlike the older 6-speed auto transmission fitted to that car, you get a more modern 8-speed auto 'box with which to control it. Drive, as with all Continental models, is directed to all four wheels - now with a 40/60 front-to-rear torque-split rather than the previous 50/50 to reduce understeer - where an advanced traction control system is set to work in deploying it.
Usefully lighter than its predecessor (especially with the V8 in situ), the second generation GTC also plants a larger footprint on the road thanks to a 40mm wider track. Retuned steering and recalibrated suspension settings also contribute to the GT Convertible's 'sportier' remit. And it really is surprising just how quickly you can hurl this car around twisting country lanes should the need to do so arise. The notably stiff body structure prevents the kind of open-top body wobbling you feel in cheaper convertibles over bumps and, true enough, this car feels as solid and planted at all times as the coupe model on which it's based. And the reduced weight the V8 imposes on the front axle and tyres makes a difference, too, improving turn-in and making the smaller-engined car feel a little more nimble than its W12-engined sibling. Roof-down, there's neck-level heating for chilly days and very little buffeting, even if you don't use the standard wind deflector, and what there is only becomes noticeable when you're seated in the back at speeds well over the legal limit.
Design and Build
It's remarkable how subtle changes can make a big difference. At first glance, the current GT Convertible seems little altered from earlier versions. But take a longer look and it's clearly a more handsome piece of work, the sharply creased one-piece aluminium panels, more upright grille and jewel-like LED headlights creating a cleaner, more dynamic appearance. The V8 GT Convertible gets a slightly more upright black grille, red badges, a more aggressive lower front bumper design and figure-of-eight-shaped exhaust pipes, separated by a black valance.
The beautiful Karmann-made fabric hood doesn't boast the quickest folding mechanism around, at 25 seconds from roof up to roof down, but you can operate it at speeds of up to 20mph and its cantilevered operation is seamless, with not one mechanical part visible as it goes through its contortions. With seven bows to preserve stiffness, the hood features a triple-lined fabric construction to ensure the best acoustic and thermal insulation properties and now offers coupe-equaling refinement thanks to the addition of acoustic glass and under-body panels, for optimum noise isolation.
The cabin has come in for some attention, too, in line with the reworked coupe's. Most obvious, from the driver's seat, is the all-new larger touch-screen infotainment system which is much easier to use than the previous item, though it still sits a little incongruously in a dash, The V8 can be identified by its unique colour and trim options and a shorter centre console with more of a bench-like rear seat than the range-topping W12 models.
Market and Model
The V8 GT Convertible costs around 10 per cent less than the W12, creating a £155,000-£165,000 price bracket for V8 Continental convertible models. You'd expect the standard specification to be exhaustive, and it is.
The driving position adjustment is completely electrically operated with memory functions for adjusting the seats, steering column and exterior mirrors to your pre-arranged requirements. There's a comprehensive, big screen infotainment system including DVD satellite navigation, a TV tuner, a 6 CD stereo and adjustment of the suspension settings. The telephone system has voice dialling and can link to almost all Bluetooth enabled mobiles, there's keyless entry, electronic climate control and a roll-over protection system that deploys protective steel hoops from behind the headrests should the unthinkable happen. From there of course, the monied classes can spend a further fortune on the options list on items such as astonishingly powerful premium audio system by British high-end specialist Naim, which has to be heard to be believed.
Cost of Ownership
It may not surprise you to learn that running a six-litre W12 Bentley convertible that tips the scales at 2,495kg isn't a low cost exercise. The 12-cylinder GTC pumps out 384g/km of CO2 and is supposed to return 17.1mpg on the combined cycle, though I think you'd be lucky to get that. On a slightly brighter eco note, the engine will run on E85 biofuel alone or a combination of biofuel and petrol. The outlook for V8 GT Convertible owners is somewhat rosier with a combined consumption of 25.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 254g/km.
Significant as these savings are, it seems that concerns about fuel costs and taxation that are increasingly prevalent elsewhere in the market have yet to penetrate the motoring stratosphere where cars like the GT Convertible preside. When you look at what cars of this calibre cost to buy, it's little wonder that road tax bands and fuel consumption barely register. Even the little matter of depreciation (expect 58% of purchase price back after 3 years or 36,000 miles) is unlikely to be a major concern.
Better looking, roomier and even quicker than before, the Continental GT Convertible is a wonderful achievement. It isn't too taxing to create a supercar capable of lapping racetracks at outlandish speeds but to create something that can do almost the same while cosseting you in an atmosphere akin to an exclusive gentleman's club is a rare feat indeed - and if you think the V8-engined car diminishes that experience, you'd be wrong. Truth be told, it's a sweeter steer and the more desirable package overall.
Owning one of these is like having your own private jet - in fact, it's better than that because it's so much more usable and roof-down, you can enjoy the journey so much more. It's a convertible in the best tradition, a true convertible, a Bentley convertible.
Bentley Continental GT Convertible V8 review by Jonathan Crouch