Bentley Continental GT Convertible (2019)
If you were to propose the automobile today – a selfish, potentially lethal machine capable of distilling speed from old plants, and to be enjoyed with complete autonomy wherever and whenever you wished – you would, quite rightly, be locked up.
But were you somehow able, as part of your pitch, to take doubters up the road in the new Bentley Continental Convertible, you’d prompt not screams of terror as their established physical truths – horses are fast, heavy things are slow and travel is intrinsically tiring – were turned neatly on their head, but a profound sadness.
Eventually you’d stop, they’d step out and, knowing they’d never experience anything like it ever again, they’d wander off to start the rest of their now somehow paler, emptier life. For while almost any modern car is a minor miracle, the new third-generation drop-top Conti is remarkable for its mastery over physics and its curmudgeonly rules.
Climbing quickly and effortlessly inland from the Mediterranean coast, melancholy threatens as you ponder the truth that this Continental is surely the last of its kind: a decadent and profoundly 20th-century car in concept if not in execution. While not as overtly hybrid-ready as the new Porsche 911, whose transmission and electrical architecture sit ready to take an electric motor, this third-generation Conti will be electrified before it gives way to its successor. And then what? Another Conti with nothing to power it but a 6.0-litre W12 in its nose? Unlikely.
Tell me more about the engine
It’s a curious engine, the W12, with neither the analogue ferocity of a big, turbo-free V12 nor the bear-hug charm of big-capacity V8. Plenty of Bentley owners prefer the more honest charms of the eight that’ll inevitably make its way into this car, and I can empathise. But while it never sounds as special as you hope it will, the W12 is special: demure, cultured and almost silent under low load, but able to summon at will a clinical and scarcely believable turn of speed the moment you need it. Or just want it.
As the climb gets interesting, the road hunting left and right as it gains height, the unforgiving gradient inevitably starts to slow trucks and less special cars. By contrast the Bentley seems blissfully unaware. Direct- and port-injected and with twin-scroll turbos, there’s no delay, no moment in which the thing gathers its thoughts: brain, throttle, three-car overtake – done.
But while the W12 fully extended, its might shrinking distances and pulling distant places near is deeply impressive, with time it is its flexibility and effortless speed that starts to build a bond. Stop flicking between the impressively smooth and sharp twin-clutch ’box’s third, fourth and fifth gears and work the engine’s rev-range instead; effectively 6000rpm, given peak torque arrives at 1350rpm.
Now you appreciate a couple of things: that you’re barely covering ground any less quickly; that doing the same with the chassis (guiding it with a little in reserve rather than flinging it) feels right; and that, fittingly, the internal combustion engine has never felt more wondrous than now, as it plays its last innings. Consumption of 18mpg (20.2mpg officially) is the tax you pay on that sense of awe, but what price 0-62mph in 3.8sec, 207mph and being able to fly without leaving the ground?
What makes it so special?
That rhythm, the one that comes with holding gears and cornering with grace, comes quickly in the Convertible because it’s a car able to mould your mood like few I’ve driven. The interior – as befits a luxury car in the first days of its life – is gorgeous. It’s a lovingly wrought space in which the stuff you need – good driving position, clear information, some isolation from the world speeding by beneath you – is there together with reams of the stuff you don’t need but that delights nonetheless.
Stuff like the Rotating Display (a £4700 option) and the very Bentley moment of drama as it swaps touchscreen for expanse of flawless veneer, the tactile and flawless stitching around the inside of the steering wheel, and the spectacular glow the Koa veneer takes on as the late-afternoon Spanish sun pours in and sets the timber’s deeply lacquered lustre momentarily ablaze.