It’s a big car, for sure, fractionally longer than the outgoing car at 4.85metre overall length and with 100mm added to the wheelbase. Mainly, this moves the front wheels forward, an action that greatly improves body proportions and removes the last sign of a relationship with the old VW Phaeton limo, the car that provided the original Conti’s platform.
The engine is the recently revised 6.0-litre W12, now with both direct and indirect fuel injection (to spread torque and cut CO2) as well as variable valve timing and many more mechanical refinements. The engine produces 626bhp at 6000rpm, plus a mighty 664lb ft of torque, an output that easily beats even the most powerful versions of the previous GT.
Like its predecessor this car has four-wheel drive, but the emphasis of the system has completely changed. You now get a set-up that retains rear-wheel drive most of the time, delivering an adjustability of handling the old car never offered. If necessary it can divert up to 38% of its torque to the front wheels in the Bentley or Comfort suspension settings, or 17% in Sport, all according to demand from the sophisticated chassis electronics. As the above suggests, the Conti now uses the same three-chamber air suspension units as its coupe sibling, and the Panamera. And instead of the old Slushmatic, you now get an eight-speed twin-clutch gearbox.
All that power and torque easily overcomes the Convertible’s weight to make 3.7sec 0-60mph sprints possible (it concedes an undetectable 0.1sec to the fixed-head model) and the 0-100mph time is a Ferrari-rivalling 8.0 seconds. In truth, there’s little else different between coupe and convertible. The siblings have virtually the same chassis balance, the same steering response and the same ride quality because Bentey’s engineers have done such a brilliant job of eliminating the chassis flex and scuttle shake so often present in big convertibles.
They also have virtually the same performance — everything except the all-important open-air facility for which you pay around £18,000 extra. Sounds a lot, doesn’t it? But nothing comes cheaply in this arena, and neither does the customer seem to expect it. Our First Edition Convertible test car (£36,000 extra over the £175,100 base price) also had a further £17,000 of classy gadgetry, including a “Naim for Bentley” premium hi-fi that costs a cool £6500 extra.
Once you’re driving with the top down, you rapidly realise how much less important total performance is to a luxury convertible. The balmy cockpit airflow, the prestigious progress, the way the exhaust note murmurs up to your ears over the boot, the greater sense of pleasurable driving (and reduction in effort to concentrate when driving long distances) all come into play in a convertible — or at least, in the average convertible.
Where the Bentley convertible scores is that, when its hood is erect, it’s difficult to distinguish from its coupe cousin. Daily driver versatility is a quality Bentley has always claimed for its cars, and this new Conti convertible definitely delivers. Top down touring is profoundly enjoyable and there’s little or no compromise, either when it rains or when it comes to carrying rear passengers.