2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible first drive review: 207-mph toupee shredder

If any ultraluxury car qualifies as "ubiquitous," it's Bentley's Continental GT. Between its Coupe, Convertible and Flying Spur sedan body styles, this family of grand tourers borders on inescapable in the world's poshest ZIP codes. In fact, Bentley's sold upward of 66,000 units since the nameplate's introduction in 2003, making the Continental the British brand's best-selling model range ever. (The four-door Flying Spur was part of the Conti range, but since the second generation, the company has considered it a separate line.)

As a result, some internet snark merchants have sought to dismiss the Continental as "the Camry for rich people," but they're missing the plot -- despite its relative popularity, there's nothing remotely ordinary about this family's DNA. The latest proof? The 2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible. Historically, few ultraluxury cars have been as well-rounded as a Continental GT, and I'm happy to report that this new model will only burnish that reputation. Simply put, this car is about as sublime a grand tourer as you'll find, and the fact that its roof disappears is just an added bonus. 

This new droptop doesn't deviate from the GT's styling canon, which has gone all but undisturbed since Bentley designers made the bold (and not uncontroversial) decision to dramatically enlarge the design's main inner headlamps to be noticeably larger than their smaller outboard counterparts. The same sweeping roofline, prominent front grille and powerfully coiled rear haunches have carried on for three generations and 16 years so far. The new model's most noticeable departure is its almond-shaped taillamps that lend the rear end a gimlet-eyed look. 

This design continuity suggests that over time, Bentley intends to evolve the Conti GT range the way its corporate cousins at Porsche have treated the 911. Indeed, like that German company's rear-engined icon, much of the Conti's design language has spread throughout the company's range, including sharing many similarities with the brand's SUV, the Bentayga

Despite familiar appearances, the architecture underpinning this third-generation 2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible is nevertheless new, having been first introduced in 2018 on the coupe model. Built atop the Volkswagen Group's MSB platform, this Continental Convertible shares many of its unseen bits with Porsche's current Panamera family. 

Those new corporate britches enable a considerable wheelbase stretch of 4.1 inches, much of which is fleshed out not in the interest of needed rear seat room, but instead for what Bentley amusingly refers to as the "Prestige Mass" -- a longer dash-to-axle ratio. The front overhang is actually shorter, and the rear overhang commensurately longer, lending the entire form a more streamlined look, especially with the hunkered-down powered soft top in place. The biggest takeaway, though, is better weight distribution front-to-rear for sharper handling.

Officials say the new platform is 20 percent lighter and 5 percent stiffer than its predecessor. Even though this generation features an aluminum chassis clad in bodywork of the same, this two-door is nothing less than a serious heavyweight. In fact, at over 5,300 pounds before options (about the same weight as a well-dressed Ford F-150 crew cab pickup), the Convertible is around 375 pounds heftier than its already porky hardtop sibling. 

As I found out by caning the Continental Convertible through the picturesque Andalusian mountains of Southern Spain, there's no disguising the Continental's considerable width on narrow, winding roads. However, the new chassis works wonders for making this car feel less ponderous and more precise than any vehicle of this heft should -- especially one with a big hole where a roof would normally be. 

Much of its magical performance can be attributed to the car's new active anti-roll bars, which rely on a 48-volt setup for both quickness and power. The system can uncouple the anti-roll bars at will for smooth, straight-ahead running, and quickly lock them up to corner nearly as flatly as any lightweight sports car. A brake-based torque-vectoring system further aids maneuverability while operating imperceptibly.

The power top drops in 19 seconds. Roof up, this new generation is as quiet as the last-generation hardtop coupe.

Richard Pardon/Bentley

You'd think that with 21-inch wheels as standard and optional 22-inch units as fitted to my tester (part of a $12,755 Mulliner Driving Specification package), the Continental Convertible might ride in a flinty fashion, but at least on well-maintained Spanish tarmac, ride comfort wasn't an issue -- even firmed up in Sport mode. The car's air suspension has been redesigned to employ 60 percent-larger, three-chamber air springs, and the adaptive dampers were well-behaved under all circumstances. 

Those massive wheels enable enough elbow room for a set of suitably huge brakes, too: 16.5-inch discs with 10-piston calipers up front, matched by 15-inch rotors and four-piston hats out back. For my money, these steel brakes fit the lighthearted character of a convertible better than a set of racier carbon-ceramics might, offering reassuring stopping power without noise or excess dust.

The Conti's standard all-wheel-drive system has been comprehensively reworked, too, and the car operates largely as a rear-wheel driver now, though it can push nearly 40 percent of available torque to the front wheels in the car's default "Bentley" settings or Comfort mode. When the drive selector dial is set to Sport, the front wheels can only receive up to 17 percent power, a decision that helps curb understeer that previously intruded upon the GT's driving enjoyment. 

You're looking at 626 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque.

Bentley

Speaking of power: There is some. Quite a lot, actually. The Continental GT Convertible is motivated by 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12 engine borrowed from the Bentayga, where the engine debuted a couple of years ago. The new engine employs both port and direct injection, delivering 626 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque, the latter coming on boil from just 1,350 rpm. 

Accelerating to 60 miles per hour is estimated to take 3.7 seconds, but Bentley has occasionally been modest about acceleration times, and it wouldn't surprise me if if this model is a few tenths quicker. Top speed is pegged at a follicle-frazzling 207 mph, but there's power just about everywhere below that -- it takes a while to recalibrate your right foot so that you don't blast into the next country when you're merely looking to overtake a tractor trailer.

The Continental has always been surprisingly muscular, but "base" models like this one typically don't brag about it much when it comes to sound. Twist the drive mode dial into Sport, and you'll hear some modest audio pyrotechnics on overrun, but if you're expecting pops and burbles like you might find in an Aston Martin DB11 Volante's V12, well, think again. This convertible may be capable of driving heroics, but it doesn't really ever shout about it. I understand the maturity of such an approach, but I wouldn't mind the ability to dial up a bit more noise. Bentley's inevitable GT Speed and/or V8 models may crow a bit more loudly, but it's too soon to tell.

A new AWD system preserves rear-drive handling values more often.

Richard Pardon/Bentley

Fuel economy estimates have not yet been released, but the outgoing model registered 12 miles per gallon city, 20 highway and 14 combined. Given its slightly lighter curb weight, stop-start system and more sophisticated transmission, I'd expect a slight nudge upward, but likely not more than a digit or two.

Speaking of transmissions, if there's anything radically different in this third-generation Continental's performance arsenal, it's the gearbox choice: an eight-speed dual-clutch unit. If you read that and alarm bells started going off in your head, you're not alone. DCTs have long been the choice of premium sporting machinery, but even the best of them trade away low-speed refinement in favor of responsiveness. (This typically manifests as occasional lurches and clunks at or below 5 mph, as you might experience inching forward in a turn lane.)  

Naturally, that sort of conduct would be unacceptable in a luxury-first proposition like a Bentley, so I was concerned. I won't say that the company's engineers have completely vanquished such behavior, but I can say that 99 percent of buyers won't notice or think to question Bentley's decision to go with this type of cogswapper. 

Bentley's GT range finally has the up-to-date interior it's long needed.

Richard Pardon/Bentley

The ZF box, shared with Porsche's Panamera but independently tuned, is the most refined DCT I've ever experienced. The plus side of the equation, of course, is that twin-clutch gearboxes deliver unassailably quicker shifts, both when in full automatic and when playing with the paddles. The bedrock of the GT's appeal has always been that while it's capable of supercar levels of performance, it's also a very accomplished everyday driver, and the new dual clutch shouldn't endanger that reputation.

As you'd expect, the heart of the Bentley ownership experience is its interior, and this one is very nice indeed. By the end of its predecessor's model run, the Continental's cabin was starting to feel its age, both in materials and especially in terms of tech, so here is where the most work was called for. 

The new interior rectifies all that both beautifully and fragrantly: Its leatherwork is simply stunning, especially with the available diamond-in-diamond quilting. According to officials, there are up to 310,675 stitches -- 1.74 miles -- of thread in each car. (Also in the pantheon of absurdist interior numbers: Each car uses 10 square meters of wood veneer -- that's 108 square feet.)  

Infotainment dated the previous Conti the most, but the new system is up-to-date (although not quite as good as Audi's latest MMI).

Richard Pardon/Bentley

The cabin's biggest improvement, however, is inarguably the new 12.3-inch touchscreen that packs everything from Wi-Fi to Apple CarPlay (sorry, Android Auto users), as well as a Google Street View and online POI search. The gauge cluster has gone fully digital, too, to better keep tabs on a phalanx of available active safety features, including lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise with traffic jam assist, pedestrian warning and infrared night vision. Unfortunately, these advanced driver assist systems come as part of very costly option packs, bundled along with other features like a very nice head-up display and traffic-sign recognition. An inductive phone charger and additional mood lighting are standalone extras.

The new infotainment works well and looks great, but if all of that screen real-estate sounds a little overwhelming, Bentley will happily offer you a dose of what it's calling "digital detox" -- the option to hide the center display by rotating it out of view, secreting it behind solid veneer when parked or a trio of analogue gauges (temperature, compass and chronometer) on the move. Like any good celebrity therapy session, this seemingly simple option costs big bucks: It's over $6,000 just by itself, but for plutocrats looking to wow passengers, it has few equals.

If you're getting the sense that it's easy to bloat the sticker price of your dream Bentley, you're picking up what I'm putting down. While a 2020 Continental GT Coupe starts at $214,600, the Convertible starts at $236,100, meaning the privilege of folding that soft top in 19 seconds costs nearly $22,000 just by its lonesome. 

That's just the start, though. My Orange Flame tester features an eye-watering (but not atypical) $61,030 in options, swelling its bottom line to $297,130. That's still about $50,000 shy of the base price of the (markedly less powerful and less athletic) Rolls-Royce Dawn. Of course, seeking to apply rational financial thought to an inherently irrational segment of the market like six-figure convertibles is a fool's errand. Suffice it to say that if you can afford something in this class, you can and should buy what you want.

Nearly any car at this stratospheric price level will impress a driver on many levels, but few will impress so totally and completely as the 2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible. Combining supercar levels of performance with plutocratic luxury, long-legged, all-weather touring chops and a heaping helping of tech, you're once again looking at one of the world's most accomplished and well-rounded automobiles available at any price.

Oh happy day.

Richard Pardon/Bentley

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

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