One of the most difficult challenges when getting ready to drive the 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible was deciding what to wear ? it is a special occasion. Traditionally, an ultra-British luxury car calls for tweeds or at the very least a blazer, ascot and one those cute little ?sports car? hats. But that?s not really us, so we had to settle for our regular togs.
By the numbers alone the Bentley Continental GT Speed is mind-boggling: 616 horsepower, top speed 202 mph and 0 to 100 mph in 9.7 seconds. Then add in the styling, comfort, performance and drivability, the car is nearly overwhelming.
Initially, the idea of driving such an expensive car in a sea of texting Toyota drivers, cell phone dialing Chevy owners and Starbuck sipping Subaru pilots was a bit intimidating. We were on constant alert to avoid getting hit, but after a few hours behind the wheel, it started to feel like it was normal to be driving a car that costs about the same of the average American house ($270,200 as of December 2013).
Bentley Continental GT styling is unique from the large multi-segmented bi-Xenon headlights and large mesh grille back to the pronounced rear fenders and trunk lid. The overall look is masculine and strong. To put its size in perspective, the Continental GT is the same length as a Toyota Camry but it weighs nearly as much as a Chevy Suburban. Most cars with an ability to go faster than 200 mph have spoilers to control lift and stability, but the Bentley only needs a small double-horseshoe lip on the bootlid (trunklid).
Driving the Bentley convertible with the top up seemed like sacrilege when the weather permits top down, but it?s sometimes necessary when you?re taking someone to the airport that doesn?t want to get her hair blown. With the top up, the convertible is as quiet at the coupe, and the interior is beautifully finished. Dropping the top takes 25 seconds and required only one finger to hold the button as the top folds neatly in a compartment behind the rear seats, and the process can be done at speeds up to 20 mph. There?s a little wind buffeting with the top down, but a one minute installation of the wind deflector in the rear seat area and wind buffeting nearly disappears.
Bentley planners created a cozy interior environment even in cool weather. The heating system includes heated seats and fantastic optional ($1,035) neck warmers that blow warm air out of the seatback to keep the front seat passengers nice and toasty. Our test car was also equipped with the optional ($950) massage and ventilated seats to make it more comfortable for longer drives and hot days.
The inside is the ultimate in luxury with diamond patterned soft leather seats, stitched leather covered surfaces, dark tint aluminum ?engine spin? finish trims, carbon fiber panels and a Breitling timepiece mounted at the top of the center stack over the large navigation screen. It also has most of the latest in technology like active cruise control, bi-Xenon headlights, electronic parking brake, and park distance control. One feature missing was a blind spot warning system which would have been quite helpful when the top is up and rear visibility gets blocked by the top.
The Convertible has an available ($7,300) Naim audiophile speaker system plus all the audio and connectivity devices most people demand. One interesting feature with the Bluetooth, is an optional hand held telephone for privacy so your passenger, or driver, can?t hear the details on the big deal being made.
This Bentley was one the fastest cars we?ve ever driven. Powered by a 616-hp twin turbocharged 6.0-liter W12 engine the big car accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 4.1 seconds. There is no drama involved in this car?s acceleration. With full-time all-wheel drive and massive 21-inch tires it simply goes ? no wheel spin, no pulling to the side. The major sensation is the skin on your face pulling back as if someone was demonstrating a facelift.
The eight-speed ZF transmission shifts quick and smooth allowing the car to build speed very quickly. It takes the 12-cylinder engine only 9.7 seconds to hit 100 mph, and if you had the track to let it happen, the Bentley will go all the way past the 200 mile mark ? they claim 202 mph. That makes it the fastest four-seat convertible in the world.
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 12 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined. With occasional bursts of enthusiastic acceleration, we averaged 15.3 mpg according to the trip computer.
On the windy mountain roads near our home in southern Washington we put the big car through its paces and the aluminum intensive four-wheel suspension reads the road like a blind man reading braille ? precise and controlled. The suspension is also self-leveling to help maintain the vehicles excellent balance. The driver can switch the transmission over to the ?Sport? mode to obtain a sharper throttle response, higher rpm transmission shift points. With the top down, the driver gets to hear the powerful thundering exhaust notes. Behind the steering wheel are leather covered paddle shifters when desired for precise driver control.
Our test car was a dark gray color called Thunder and with a blue top (one of eight color choices). It?s actually a very subtle look and we were surprised that we didn?t see more heads turn. Perhaps if it was in one brighter of the 17 other standard colors or optional 85 ?bespoke? colors it would have attracted more attention.
The Bentley Continental GT Convertible is available at three levels. The Speed, which we drove, is priced at $241,100 plus it had $18,845 in options, a $2,600 Gas Guzzler tax and $2,725 destination charge equaling $265,270. Of course the sales tax, where we live, would add enough to buy a Chevy Spark. Two other versions, one with a 567 hp twin turboW12 engine and the other with a 521 hp twin turbo V-8 engine are a few thousand less with base prices of $223,600 and $219,400 respectively.
The 2014 Bentley Continental GT Convertible is not for everyone, but for those who have a tweed jacket, and can afford the sticker price it?s one of the most amazing pieces of automotive machinery made.