Choice. Bentley offers a lot of it in the Continental GT convertible. More specifically: 17 exterior paint colors, 15 carpet options, eight veneers (plus four dual veneers) and 15 interior trim leathers. Quick math tells me that’s 45,900 ways to choose the look of the latest open-top grand tourer from Crewe. And all of that is before we touch on Bentley’s Mulliner personal commissioning division, a place to add a unique touch to the veneer or hides or whatever else you want and make your convertible truly bespoke.
All this customization and available materials prove how out of touch I am with the Bentley customer. Sure, I like different colors but care far too little to accept so many options on so many different, purely visual subjects. And yet, there’s an aspirational quality to it all that makes me want to find a way to appreciate it the way they do. Reverse-engineer my way to wealth with wealthy tastes and place value on all of the above choice because, damn, in the Bentley, the wealthy have a nice way to get from point A to B.
But first, let’s get a few mechanical bits out of the way. Like the Continental GT coupe, the convertible is new from the tires to the convertible top and built on a VW group platform that Porsche led the development on and used first for the second-generation Panamera. The new platform allowed a few fundamental and significant changes compared to the outgoing Continental.
Most important, the front axle is more than 5 inches closer to the very front of the car, which shortens the overhang and better balances the vehicle weight. Before, 56.5 percent rested on the front axle; now it’s 55 percent. Furthermore, the body is both stiffer and lighter than before. Though steel reinforcements in the sills and other key structural areas keep it more than 300 pounds heavier than the coupe, the otherwise all-aluminum chassis helps the convertible drop nearly 180 pounds for 2019, tipping the scales at 5,322 pounds.
Part of the diet comes from the powertrain: Bentley significantly reworked the W12 to give it more torque, power, efficiency and 66 pounds of relief to its bathroom scale. Still using four cams, 48 valves and displacing a rounded-up 6.0 liters, the latest 12 is actually 48cc smaller than before thanks to a shorter stroke (the bore is the same). But, critically, engineers bumped compression ratio up to 10.5:1 from 9.0:1, replaced standard turbos with faster-spooling twin-scroll units and supplemented ports with direct fuel injection.
Output now peaks at 626 hp at 6,000 rpm, a nice bump. But torque edges toward locomotive specs with 664 lb-ft available between 1,350 and 4,500 rpm. That’s 133 more lb-ft, at a lower engine rpm, available to the driver in a third of the time than before. Incredible. All this comes despite delivering a noticeable increase in fuel economy. Final numbers are not yet released, but we speculate, based on European figures, at least a 10 percent improvement to the outgoing model’s 12 city, 20 highway, 14 combined.
Some of that improvement will come from the new dual-clutch transmission, used for the first time in a Continental GT convertible. Very similar to Porsche’s PDK in design, but quite different in execution, Bentley cares less about the snappiness of the shifts and more about the smoothness. That’s why it has a nice, fancy dual-mass flywheel to keep things balanced and pleasant.
From there, power channels through an electronically controlled center differential and on to both the front and rear axle (though, under normal, warm and dry driving conditions, all the power goes to the rear). Power going left or right is determined by a brake-based torque-vectoring system, which means brakes are applied on one side of the car to send power to the opposite side. And that happens independent of the suspension loads from, say, exiting a hairpin corner posthaste.
If you do exactly that, three-chamber adaptive air springs and a control-arm front and multilink rear hold the car up and keep it level. They are aided by adjustable shock absorbers and a system with adaptive antiroll bars, which has the name Bentley Dynamic Ride. The system may sound familiar because the automaker introduced it with the Bentayga. This 48-volt system dramatically alters the resistance to roll in the vehicle by applying up to 1,000 lb-ft of resistive torque in 0.3 second. That’s useful when you have 5,300 pounds worth of wood, leather and metal to throw around.
When the fun must stop, the GT convertible uses massive 16.5-inch brake discs and 10-piston calipers in front and 15-inch discs with four-piston calipers in back to make it happen. Gripping the road are either 21- or optional 22-inch Pirelli P Zero tires, staggered front to rear.
Above and beyond that long list of expensive parts, which many engineers spent many hours to develop, the newest Continental GT Convertible is a looker. Low, wide and curvy with tight creases, it grabs the eye and hold your attention from nose to tail. Engineers do deserve some credit here too, however, as the platform allowed for that shorter front, but also a longer rear overhang, to give the GT convertible a more classic and timeless grand touring shape.
Inside, all the fancy materials do indeed come together in an elegant, cohesive manner, making the experience of sitting in a Bentley an occasion of sorts. The fact that the seats are 20-way — yes, that is 2-0 — adjustable with heated, ventilated and massaging capability is but a feather in an already illustrious cap. This being a convertible, top-down warmth is considered a high priority, so the armrests are heated too, as is your neck. Warmer and quieter than the outgoing convertible, the neck warmer works well, as long as you don’t slouch, and the blower is only loud enough to hear at parking lot speeds.
And that’s good because it allows your ears to focus on the pleasing thrum coming from the firewall and mountains of effortless pull coming with it. Surging forward to 60 mph takes 3.6 seconds, which matches its platform sibling, the Porsche Panamera Turbo. But the method these relatives take to get to a mile a minute couldn’t be more different. There’s an easiness to the GT convertible's sprint when the turbo is at work. If the Porsche is Usain Bolt, the GT convertible is Usain Bolt wearing his gold medals in a limousine.
Keep your foot buried, and the GT convertible carries on to 207 mph, a mega-number for an open-top grand tourer. It’s even more impressive when you consider that Bentley claims that number can be reached top up or down. But it’s truly fantastic when you notice that the GT coupe has the same top speed as well. That’s three noticeably different coefficients of drag, with the same power and the same top speed. Bentley was mum on the subject, which means one of two things: Bentley figures are incorrect, which I doubt. Or the GT coupe and convertible are actually governed at 207 mph. The question is, why? My theory: Speed is limited to protect either the tires or the transmission.
No matter the reason, straight-line speed is epic, but also expected with 12 turbocharged cylinders at work. A bigger eyebrow raiser is the poise the GT convertible maintains when the going gets twisty. The combination of adjustable springs, dampers and antiroll bars gives remarkable breadth in body control. And that’s in addition to managing torque across both axles. Governed by which drive mode the driver chooses, the GT convertible belies its nearly 2 3/4-ton mass, cruising comfortably and handling sharply as if it’s a world’s strongest man ballerina dancer.
Drive modes to choose from are: comfort, Bentley, sport and custom. Bentley set comfort as the default setting; it stays true to its name, offering the plushest ride and smoothest motoring the engine and transmission can achieve. Bentley mode firms settings up across the spectrum and acts as a middle man between comfort and sport. In sport, you don’t have Panamera athleticism but total competence to enjoy whatever canyon road you find yourself on.
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