2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible — Test drive and review

7 Feb 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible — Test drive and review

Fleet Four-Seater

Driving and reviewing a quarter-million dollar convertible requires a different mindset than driving and reviewing an economy car or even most luxury cars. The issue becomes value vs. worth. The vehicle’s price on the open market is its worth — that’s fairly objective.

Value is more subjective, and must be answered by the individual.

Driving a Bentley invariably brings up these considerations, to the extreme. The 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible carries a price of $238,700 ($277,955 as tested). Bentley bills the Speed as the fastest four-seat convertible in the world, with a top speed of 202 mph.

That’s about two-and-a-half times as fast as I need to go, but it’s nice to have some speed in reserve, right?

First Glance: Stunning Speed

The Speed (for the sake of character count, that’s what I’m going to call it here) is the center of attention, even in the company of other luxury vehicles. My test vehicle wore a coat of Non-Standard Paint ($4,395) in Moroccan Blue, giving it a rich, vibrant sheen. The Speed is shockingly good looking, a completely modern take on the four-seater convertible coupe, with echoes of classic design.

The first element of design that immediately catches my eye is the big dark-tint wire mesh front grille, both brutal and elegant at the same time. Dual Bi-Xenon projector headlamps with LED daytime running lamps embedded in their surround give an expressive, animated look. The prominent yet tasteful flying-B badge (link goes to photo) is front and center, rendered on a black enamel background.

The Speed is all about proportions. Much like the classic 1957 Continental S1, the Speed seems to be all hood (or bonnet, in British car terms) flanked by long, swooping front fenders (wings, in British parlance). To save weight, the wings are made from aluminum.

A very strong character line flows from the front fascia over the wheel arches and along the doors, then is repeated with a line that begins in front of the rear wheel flowing over the rear wheel arch to the back of the car, like dual speed lines. The Speed ends in a truncated boot, with a very short overhang beyond the rear wheels — which are standard at 21 in diameter. by the way.

This is a stunning, stop-and-look-at-me convertible, an absolutely gorgeous example of automotive design. And that’s just the exterior.

2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed dashboard

Photo #169; Bentley

In the Driver’s Seat: Smooth Speed

Open the big door, and slide in to a superbly tailored suit. There’s no question that the Speed was assembled by highly skilled craftspeople, carved from the finest materials available. It’s not just the high quality that impresses me; it’s the unity of design. The same diamond stitching pattern from the seats graces the door panels; buttons and knobs have black centers and are trimmed with real metal.

Everything that you have to touch or manipulate in order to operate the Speed has a solid, rich feel, and works smoothly. My test vehicle got an added jolt of Dark Stained Burr Walnut ($1,200), White Contrast Stitching ($1,905), White Emblem Stitching ($630) and Stitched Steering Wheel in Contrasting Colour ($200) to amp up the interior even more, along with Massage Seats and Seat Ventilation to Front Seats ($930). Comfort was never an issue in the front seats.

Rear seat passengers, once they got over the thrill of being in a Bentley, complained of extremely limited leg room, and of claustrophobia when riding with the convertible top up. Honestly, the back seat is for briefcases, lap dogs and emergency use.

As much as I liked the quality of the dashboard materials, I was a little disappointed that the big 8 touchscreen was placed halfway down the center stack, rather than at the top of the stack. The higher in the stack, the less the driver needs to divert attention from the road in order to refer to the screen. Bentley does have the finest air conditioning vents in the world, unfussy, easy to operate, smooth and velvety.

I know it seems silly to go on about air vents — but they are just one example of the precision craftsmanship that you’ll find on a Bentley.

On the Road: Swift Speed

As magnificent as the Speed is in repose, get it into motion and that’s where the full worth of the vehicle is revealed. Under the hood, a 6-liter W12 engine awaits your every command. Twin turbochargers help to coax 616 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque to the gearbox, an eight-speed automatic that sends power to all four wheels.

The permanent all-wheel drive system has a 60/40 rear bias, and has the ability to send up to 85% of its power to the rear wheels or 65% to the front in situations where demand dictates a shift. The balance feels just right. Having so much torque available at low rpm (peak torque arrives at just 2,000 rpm) means that power management is critical.

Too little restraint, and you’ll be burning rubber every time you apply the throttle. Too much, and you’ll feel like someone attached an anchor to the Speed’s rear bumper. With all four wheels working, the Speed bites in to the road on launch, and still handles like a rear-wheel drive coupe on the curvy stuff, with predictable steering and nice, agile changes of direction.

At 5,500 lbs, the Speed Convertible is almost 400 lbs heavier than the hardtop Speed, which has a slight effect on the vehicle’s acceleration — 4.1 seconds from 0-60 mph, vs. 4.0 seconds for the hardtop; 9.7 seconds to 100 mph vs 9.0 for the hardtop. Either way, the Convertible Speed is neck-snappingly fast, capable of eliciting unsophisticated whoops and yells from passengers and driver alike.

Driving with the top down is a little noisy, as expected. A $545 Wind Deflector and $1,015 Neck Warmer can make the journey a little calmer and cozier, though installation of the Wind Deflector is a two-person job (unless one of the people has really long, strong arms, and is not at all afraid of scratching the expensive paint or dinging the luscious upholstery). But what’s the point of owning a convertible if you’re not going to put the top down and hang out in the wind?

Not to mention, how can your fellow motorists admire you if you keep the top up?

The Speed doesn’t overwhelm you with cutting edge technologies. Adaptive Cruise Control is available for $2,730, but don’t look for lane-departure warning, collision mitigation, heads-up display, blind spot warning, active parking assistance or several of the other high tech features that are becoming more common on luxury vehicles and even on some low-cost models. What you do get is a beautifully calibrated ride from an alphabet soup of programs: ESP, ABS, ASR, EBD, HBA and MSR, along with continuous damping control and aquaplane detection.

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