Bentley's Continental GT Speed Convertible is so new that pricing has not yet been announced. So I was left to guess how much money I was putting in peril when Bentley dropped one off in the CNET garage for a short loan. Judging from Bentley's current lineup, I ballparked it at between two and three. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, that is.
People who buy Bentleys probably don't ask the first question that came to my mind: what makes this car worth that much money?
Working for a company that recently did a hands-on (eyes-on?) with a $25,000 Sony television, my first thought was to consider the GT Speed Convertible's cabin electronics. The Bentley's 8-inch LCD was much smaller than the 84-inch Sony, and did not have 4K technology, so I ruled out the screen as the priciest element.
The cabin tech suite -- navigation, phone, and digital audio -- were familiar to me from having reviewed a number of recent Audi models. Bentley and Audi, both being part of the Volkswagen Group, share electronics, a point in Bentley's favor, as Audi's cabin technology is among the best in the business.
However, most Audis do not top 100 grand, let alone 200. For the price of the GT Speed Convertible, I would expect to get a 3D laser HUD with military-grade GPS. The car should come preloaded with all the music on iTunes, accessible through voice command. And how about a satellite video phone system that makes calls outside of cell coverage areas. At least give me a 4G data connection.
Alas, those digital niceties are not the focus of Bentley's production budget.
Instead, the GT Speed Convertible bears the distinction of being the fastest four-seat convertible, with a top speed of 202 mph. Take that, Volkswagen Eos.
The 6-liter W-12 engine makes use of twin turbochargers to produce 616 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission runs power to an all-wheel-drive system, while an air suspension softens or tightens the ride, depending on what the driver has in mind. That drivetrain technology has to be worth a hundred grand by itself.
I should also give it credit for the near-seamless construction of its body, with lines that hearken to 1940s automotive design. And then there are the double-paned windows, which deaden exterior sound like nothing else. Thick leather covers comfortable seats that massaged my back on the final stretch of a long drive. Richly grained wood covered the dashboard, with inset chrome metal vents. A Breitling clock, set into the middle of the dashboard, would certainly cost a few grand in watch form.
This GT Speed Convertible came with the optional audio system from Naim, Bentley's partner for premium audio. This system took any digital track I fed it and turned it into a work of heart-stopping beauty, even music I didn't particularly like. And given that a credible Naim home audio system would run into the tens of thousands of dollars, I was beginning to understand the cost of this car.
Not unexpectedly, the well-padded cloth-top convertible roof did its part in shielding me from the harsh sounds of the outside world. At speed, the ceiling liner remained perfectly still, experiencing no buffeting from the wind whipping by overhead. When I toggled a metal switch on the console, the top lifted up, folded back, then stowed itself away under an automatic tonneau cover, smoothly and in quick time. The reverse operation seemed a little slower, like closing the load bay of a Boeing C-17 Globemaster.
For open-top driving, the GT Speed Convertible offered every comfort. Along with the massage feature, the seats featured heating and cooling. And Bentley even took a page from Mercedes-Benz, implementing something similar to Airscarf, which blew warm or cool air around my neck from under the headrest.
And here I actually have a complaint, in that Bentley puts many of the seat controls, even the neck-air dials, down on the side of the seat, where I couldn't see them. My tip for automakers: once you have more than four seat control buttons, put them on the door or the console. We aren't all proficient in Braille.
Most impressive was how, with the top down and the speed approaching 100 mph, I could easily carry on a conversation with my passenger.
Given the GT Speed Convertible's power, it glided along as effortlessly as all the cabin insulation made it feel. Hills did not faze it in the least, and it shifted through its eight gears almost as smoothly as a continuously variable transmission. I did catch the transmission flat-footed once, as some quick acceleration changes at low speeds, necessitated by traffic, led to a sudden, lurching downshift.
Most of the time, however, the transmission did an admirable job with the engine's tremendous power. Even in its standard Drive mode it downshifted promptly in response to braking. Unlike so many new cars, the GT Speed Convertible did not try to stay in top gear as a fuel economy measure. And I didn't even bother to try and tally its fuel economy, knowing that it was probably getting something in the mid-teens. Like cabin electronics, economy is not the focus of this car.
Moving the polished metal pole that is the GT Speed Convertible's shift lever to its Sport position opened up whole new performance vistas. In Drive, I could gracefully glide the car through congested downtown traffic. In Sport, I could only hold it back with a feather foot on the gas pedal.
Not only did Sport change the transmission programming, it seemed to sharpen the accelerator response and opened up baffles on the exhaust. Clark Kent shed his business suit and revealed his cape and tights.
I reveled in the exhaust note, a big, throaty roar I could play like a bassoon with the gas pedal. The acceleration was not graceful -- the GT Speed Convertible gathered itself up for a moment, then gave its all, charging forward like a snorting Clydesdale.
The shift lever handled most of the Sport settings, but I had to use a separate control for the air suspension. Pushing a button with a shock absorber icon on the console brought up a screen on the car's LCD, with four settings between Sport and Comfort. Four settings seems excessive to me, but the GT Speed Convertible seems to be all about excess. Less excusable was the touch-screen interface, which is not really suitable for making quick suspension adjustments while under way. The driver would be better served if the suspension button on the console toggled through the different settings.
The most hard-core Sport setting for the suspension certainly made a difference in the ride quality, but it never got down to a pavement-grinding level. The GT Speed Convertible felt like a lighter car on the twists of a mountain road, and seemed to be able to take a lot more than I was throwing at it. On one tight turn, the pavement a little damp, it got loose, putting its tail out when I tried to correct.
The steering tightens up a little bit at speed, but on these sharp corners the wheel tended to feel light, too easy to turn. Bentley uses ZF's Servotronic power steering, a hydraulically boosted system with electronic controls. Given the size and luxury of the car, it felt like most road feel had been tuned out. The GT Speed Convertible shows the road what it wants to do, rather than letting the road dictate behavior.
As well as the GT Speed Convertible handled, it does not entirely disguise its 5,500-pound curb weight. On a twisty road, it was a far, far cry from a Scion FR-S. When I thought I was burning up a set of turns, I glanced down at the speedometer and saw that I was only going the speed limit.
After spending time with the GT Speed Convertible, it became clear that the price tag covers luxury materials, construction, and performance, but not so much the tech. Its styling gives it quite a bit of presence, and unless you live in Monaco, there won't be many other examples around. It also makes for a very, very comfortable ride, fine for a long road trip if you can afford the gas.
But its greatest worth probably came in the form of the cheers and smiles of approval from all the baggy-pants rap fans on the sidewalk as I cruised by.