What’s Hot: Fabulous powertrain and sound, excellent ride, dripping with sumptuous quality.
What’s Not: Back seats a bit tight for adults, not exactly affordable luxury.
X-FACTOR: An ultra-luxury convertible for the 'high net worth' buyer; fast, but cosseting, a drop-top that just does everything right.
Vehicle Style: Luxury convertible
Price: $446,000 (plus on-roads) | $598,236 (as tested, on-road)
Engine/trans: 389kW/680Nm 8cyl turbo petrol | 8spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 11.1 l/100km | tested: 14.8 l/100km
For a car that was first launched in 2003, the Bentley Contintental GT still holds up pretty well.
Sure, it had a refresh in 2011, but the general architecture is the same and the interior hasn’t really progressed apart from a few infotainment tweaks.
But there was one change that really made the Conti stand out. While the original W12 engine is a power-house that fits the Bentley requisites of torque and power, it’s a bit characterless.
A twelve-cylinder engine that sounds like a V6? No thanks.
But when Bentley shoe-horned a twin-turbo V8 under the bonnet, the Continental GT took on a whole new appeal. And what better way to access its thumping soundtrack than to slot yourself into the droptop version.
Bentley arranged for us to take possession of its top-rung V8 S model, differentiating itself from the V8 with 10mm lower suspension, a different body kit, red brake callipers and unique badging. More importantly, it has more power and torque.
Keys in hand, it was time to drop the top and enjoy the winter chill.
Quality: Bentley prides itself on building a quality motor car; one which is literally fit for the Queen. But instead of a bespoke Royal coach, the Continental serves up a long-distance tourer with plenty of nice touches.
The leather is “A-grade” according to the company, which is PR speak for very good.
With hide swathing the dashtop and running down to the centre console, you get to see how expertly the contrast stitching has been finished - and it’s impeccable.
The steering wheel alone takes around five hours to double-stitch by hand.
Some of the switchgear is a little sub-standard (the plastic paddles and cheap-feeling infotainment buttons are disappointing) but the larger surfaces like the piano black centre-stack surround are very nice. Likewise the burnished aluminium fascia panels.
It would be nice, though, to see a panel or lid to cover the rather ugly cupholders which sit just in front of the centre armrest.
That aside, this Bentley lives up to the company's reputation for fine craftsmanship.
Comfort: Heated and cooled, and with massaging function, it’s a good bet most folks will find the Continental GT’s front seats very comfortable. But apart from the active comfort, the seat shaping is excellent.
With optional neck warmers fitted ($2177), our test car was toasty warm, even on crisp mornings with the roof down.
In fact, that’s one of the best times to appreciate the Continental; an open, quiet road, cold air rushing past, and the seat heaters and neck warmer set to furnace. Brilliant.
Not so brilliant if you’re an adult and want to use the rear seats though. It’s seriously squishy. (But kids or small teens will love the experience.)
Ergonomically, there’s only one area in which the Bentley needs improvement. The control stalks are very low, so you find yourself using your little finger to indicate.
Equipment: As standard, the Conti comes with multifunction steering wheel (with electric adjustment), electric seats, a Breitling timepiece inset into the centre fascia, 8-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth and SD slot, plus satnav and integrated climate control.
There’s keyless entry and start, tyre-pressure monitoring, parking sensors and an ultrasonic alarm. So, there’s a bit on offer, but then you start going through the options. Some you may want, but will perhaps be better off without.
For example, the Naim For Bentley Premium Audio is part of the $18,986 Premier Specification, which also includes rear-view camera, twin front armrest, valet key and cooled and massaging front seats.
While the other inclusions are nice, the stereo isn’t worth the extra dough, being too bassy and generally lacking in clarity at all volumes. Fiddling with the equaliser doesn’t fix it either.
The Mulliner Specification ($17,762), on the other hand, is something you could argue adds value at resale, with beautiful quilted hide, embroidered Bentley logos on the headrests, gorgeous 21-inch black-and-silver wheels and drilled pedals.
Storage: Being a convertible, you may think you’ll lose out on boot space, but this simply isn’t the case.
At 260 litres, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s enough for shopping, a couple of suitcases, or a few sets of golf clubs.
The real beauty is that this space doesn’t change if the roof is stowed away.
There are two open cupholders and just behind them, under the twin armrests, are narrow, shallow spaces for coins or cards, and a slightly deeper space under that.
Of course, the glovebox is available (with a medium depth) and the door pockets will hold a book or tablet, but they’re too narrow or shallow to take a bottle.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The star of this car is that eight-cylinder donk up front.
Borrowed from the Audi RS 6, it’s been tuned to suit this car, and while that means it’s down a few kilowatts and Newton-metres, it’s up on personality.
Press the start button and it growls as it bursts into life, settling down into a muted burble. Give the loud pedal a kick, and even at standstill, it roars in a way that lets you know it means business.
With the roof stowed away, there’s unfettered access to that fabulous exhaust note. And, quite simply, Bentley has done wonders with imbuing this powertrain with plenty of character.
It has a distinct old-school sound to it; it’s almost like listening to an old Mustang engine played on a 45 record. There’s a bit of scratch, a bit of crackle, but it’s totally authentic.
But the engine’s not just about the aural sensation. It’s also about the motivation.
It’ll hit 100kmh in just 4.7 seconds and given a stretch of road long enough (and a friendly constabulary), it maxes out at 308kmh. Not bad for a two-and-a-half tonne behemoth.
Directly behind the engine is the ultra-smooth and ultra-capable ZF eight speed auto. It uses the V8’s torque to the full, keeping the engine in the thick of the torque output, and never puts a foot (gear?) wrong.
You can change it manually using the paddle shifters or just leave it to its own devices, which is the best way in our experience.
Sports mode quickens the shifts and provides a wonderful burble and bark on downshift, but in Drive, it just gets things right. Finally a car you can set and forget.
Refinement: With 21-inch wheels, road noise is normally a problem. But Bentley has done wonders in isolating the cabin from such distractions.
Only on the worst of surfaces is there any rumble, but the air-suspension does a brilliant job of absorbing most of it.
The roof is made with four layers of insulating materials which reduces the drumming effect when it’s raining, and with the roof in place, the cabin is impressively hushed.
Thanks also to the eight-speed auto, the Continental is very, very smooth. Refinement, then, is first class.
Unusually, the Bentley doesn’t suffer from the ultra-stiff sidewalls such rolling-stock brings. Instead, the absorption is taken up by the air-springs, and in Comfort mode, it’s very compliant.
Dial it up to Sport and it can get a little jittery. Despite there being two other steps between Comfort and Sport, you’re best off leaving it in the softest setting.
What about if you want to attack that favourite bit of country road? Well, you may want to dial back the enthusiasm, because this is one heavy beast. Weighing in at 2470kg, there’s no getting around the laws of physics.
Even in Sport mode, the tyre scrub can be felt (and heard), and with a static 40/60 front/rear torque split, the Bentley is happiest with long, open sweepers, rather than tight, mountain hairpins.
As a sports car, the Continental GT makes a great cruiser.
Braking: Hauling up the GT Convertible V8 S are a pair of massive 405mm front discs and at the rear are 335mm discs, all ventilated.
Fitted to our test car were the optional carbon-ceramic discs at an eye-watering $33,002. For everyday use, the cast iron brakes work very well.
ANCAP rating: Neither ANCAP or EuroNCAP have crash tested the Continental GT (or any Bentley, for that matter).
Safety features: Apart from the standard ABS, ESC and brakeforce distribution, the Continental GT V8 S Convertible has two airbags up front, plus side thorax airbags for both front and rear passengers, and tyre pressure monitoring.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Intervals are every 16,000km, however each interval has a different cost. Please check with your local dealer for accurate pricing.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Aston Martin DB9 Volante ($380,500) - With one of the most glorious soundtracks on sale, the DB9 comes very close to stealing the Bentley’s thunder.
That it’s cheaper is almost the clincher. But the Conti claws back points for having much more room. (see DB9 reviews)
Mercedes-AMG SL 63 ($399,000) - A slightly different proposition in that it’s much harder-edged, the SL is a bullet.
Comfort and equipment levels are excellent, but the Merc isn’t quite as good looking, nor does it ride as well. But plant your foot and you’ll be sold. (see SL reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It’s one thing for a company to make a luxury car, but a very different proposition to make it so charming that you’re happy to overlook any minor faults.
But that’s exactly what Bentley has done with the V8 S.
It sounds just like an old Bentley, but has a thoroughly modern feel. It combines the classic Breitling clock with digital satellite navigation, yet the two don’t clash. And it rides like a dream yet accelerates like a bat out of hell.
It’s not intimidating to drive, despite its size and weight, and with enough room to go shopping you could even call it practical.
The Continental GT V8 S feels special to drive, which means that despite its age under the skin, there’s still plenty of life left in this British brute.
Of course the price - at $446,000 plus it is sinfully expensive, and 'ours' gave little change out of $600,000 - makes it one for the few who can afford such extravagances. And that is no doubt part of the appeal.