There are few more exquisite pleasures in life than being behind the wheel of a £200,000 open-topped Bentley, as the sun kisses your forehead and the wind blows through what remains of your locks.
And I was among the first in the world to drive the brand new 207mph Bentley Continental GT Convertible, on a stunning and serpentine mountain road from the Spanish coastal resort of Marbella towards the beautiful city of Seville
It was an epic 275 mile grand tour in this new Bentley convertible capable of an astonishing 207mph at the start of the firm’s landmark centenary year.
And this Bentley also comes with a clever party trick, a James Bond-style revolving dashboard panel that allows drivers to switch between a stylish wood veneer, modern touchscreen controls, or three classic analogue clock dials.
Ray Massey was among the first to drive Bentley’s new Continental GT Convertible on test routes around Andalucia, in Spain
A clever triangular device revolves to show one of three different dashboard faces, with either the three clock-style dials pictured top right in the middle of the car, a touchscreen or a plain wood veneer
I set off through Andalucía from the legendary Marbella Club resort which, since the 1950s has been the playground of the rich and famous, European aristocracy, and showbiz and Hollywood stars from Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn to 007 Sean Connery and James Stewart.
And all this before the first well-heeled customers even take delivery of this magnificent piece of machinery in April and May after the new ‘19’ plate change from March 1.
Viewed in motion on the road this drop-top is drop dead gorgeous, with a powerful but stylish presence that really grabs attention and respect. It would be perfectly cast for a modern-day Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.
The new Continental GT Convertible is ‘beautifully proportioned with a longer bonnet, lower nose and more streamlined profile’, says Ray
Beautifully proportioned with a longer bonnet, lower nose and more streamlined profile, than its predecessor, it is set off with elliptical rear lights.
I watched in awe as one Spanish farmer far in the distance jumped from his tractor and ran full pelt across his field to the roadside to take a photograph of my approaching cabriolet on his phone, beaming as he expressed his joy, admiration, and one suspects a little twinge of envy.
Designed from the off as a standalone convertible, the Continental GT did rather suit me, I fancied. Even more so, if I could only just stretch to the £175,890 price tag, which is around £16,000 up on the hard-top coupe.
But that is just the starting price. By the time you have factored in those oh-so tempting must-have extras, you will be looking well north of £200,000 for such a car.
Wealth, I feel, is wasted on the rich.
The interior of the Bentley is exquisitely crafted with materials of the highest quality, including lots of leather and wood
However, they would get a sumptuously appointed convertible for that money. Every inch of surface, wood, leather, material or metal you touch screams tactile quality and craftsmanship.
The Bentley that I was driving was in a fetching tone called Cricket Ball, matched with a camel and beluga hide interior which also bowled me over, totting up in total to £215,330.
The revolving dashboard is inspired by the rotating number-plate gadget used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger
This included £4,500 alone for the clever, but clearly expensive world’s first three-way rotating dashboard that takes its inspiration from James Bond.
A clever triangular device revolves to show one of three different dashboard faces – a plain veneer, a hi-tech 12.3-inch touch screen for sat-nav or media, or three analogue circular dials displaying outside temperature, a compass and a chronometer.
It is inspired by the rotating number-plate gadget used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger on 007’s gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5 – using three faces, like on the distinctive packaging of the Toblerone bar of chocolate.
Then there’s another £4,500 for the special paint option; £6,195 for the touring specification, which includes lane-keeping assistance, night vision with an infrared camera, the vital (in my opinion) head-up windscreen display, pre-sense braking , and various other electronic aids; and £6,500 for the high-end Naim audio.
On the open road the Continental GT Convertible soaks up the miles with style and ease
But never mind the stereo, fire up the convertible’s start button and set off down the road and there’s a wonderfully satisfying whoosh.
Powered by the vast twin-turbo-charged 6.0 litre W12 petrol engine deploying 635PS (which equates to 626bhp) linked to a slinky and responsive 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, this near two-and-a-half-ton leviathan accelerates with controlled and seamless energy.
Try this outside of Germany and you won’t hold your driving licence for long
It goes from rest to 60mph in just 3.7 seconds and to 100mph – where permitted such as on derestricted German autobahns – in just 8.1 seconds. Top speed is 207mph, riding on 21-inch Pirelli P Zero tyres as standard, with 22 inch versions as option.
But here’s the fly in the ointment. Try that outside of Germany and you won’t hold your driving licence for long. And it doesn’t take much more than a gentle press of your right foot for the speed to rise.
Which is why that head-up display showing both your speed and the prevailing speed limit is essential to help keep you legal and safe. It may even save your licence.
To help ensure that the convertible remains ‘a Bentley for all seasons’, a special neckwarmer is integrated into the heated comfort seats
That said, top up or down, the Bentley Continental GT Convertible does have impeccable manners around town and is not straining at the leash to break free.
There are three drive modes: Comfort for boulevarding around town; Bentley, or normal, for everyday driving; and Sport for enthusiastic engagement, plus the option for drivers to personalise their own settings. The sophisticated engine management system makes 300million software calculations per second.
An enhanced air suspension system promises improved ride comfort. And a special roll-control system boosts handling, especially on corners.
The exterior silver bright work from behind the front wheel that wraps around the car resembles both the outside exhaust pipes of old and is a nod to a running board.
At night the way ahead is lit by sparkling LED Matrix lighting with headlamps inspired by the finest cut-crystal glass designed to catch the light ‘like a diamond.’
The Continental GT Convertible can seat four adults and is designed to be a luxurious ride for all, top down or up
Ultimately, the convertible version of the Bentley Continental GT means it’s a treat to have two cars for the price of one. At the push of a button you can open or close the Z-fold fabric roof in just 19 seconds at speeds of up to 30mph.
A short but intense storm allowed me to try that out – and to experience the rather romantic pitter-patter of raindrops on the cossetting canvas roof – which is even available in traditional English tweed.
But it is with the top down for that exhilarating wind-in-the hair motoring that the convertible really comes into its own.
To help ensure that the convertible remains ‘a Bentley for all seasons’, a special neckwarmer is integrated into the heated comfort seats and blows warm air around the electrically adjustable headrests.
This combines with a heated steering wheel, seat heaters and new heated armrests, to keep driver and passengers snug, even with the top down in the freshest of weather.
The rear seat passengers also get a high level of craftmanship and luxury in the Bentley, although they do get less room than those in the front
However, it still averages only a hefty and gas-guzzling 23 miles per gallon with CO2 emissions of 280g/km.
To help save some fuel and needless emissions, half the engine can shut down to run on six-cylinders, rather than 12. Stop-start and coasting technology allows the engine to rest when the vehicle is stationary and at near-stop speeds.
Bentley says the sound-proofing from the roof of the third generation convertible, mechanicals and noise-reducing tyres means that the convertible is quieter even than the previous hard-top coupe version of the Continental GT, but I did experience some wind noise from the windows at higher speeds.
I’m sure that would be easy enough to live with.
Top down. Foot down. Deposit down. (If I had the money).
Bentley Continental GT Convertible
Price: from £175,890
Engine: 6.0 litre W12 12-cylinder petrol
Power: 635 PS / 626bhp
Gears: 8-speed dual clutch automatic
0-60mph: 3.7 seconds
0-100mph: 8.1 seconds
Top speed: 207mph
Kerb weight: 2,414kg
Fuel economy: Average 23mpg
Driving range: 399.5 miles
Luxury touches for the well-heeled Bentley buyer
In September, we exclusively revealed pictures of two camouflaged versions of the new Bentley Continental GT cabriolet on test in a convoy, as part of their proving tests on UK roads.
I had spotted and photographed in the Cotswolds and on the A40 near Oxford when the engineers topped to swap drivers.
Now the car is on the market we can see the full effort Bentley has gone to make it stand out.
Inside, the driver and passengers are cossetted in a luxury handcrafted cabin featuring 10 square metres of veneer wood that takes nine hours to create and fit.
There are eight handcrafted standard veneers plus four dual veneers, 15 choices of interior trim hide, and 15 luxury carpet options, and 20-way adjustable seats with cooling, heating and massage functions.
Among the colours on offer is Orange Flame, designed for the Bentley buyer who really doesn’t want to go unnoticed
There are also eight interior hood linings including red, blue and magnolia and, we were told, more than 310,000 stitches and a mile of thread.
Enhancing the touchy-feely finesse there is also the option of a diamond-style pattern on knobs and trim, inspired by luxury Swiss watch-makers, called Cotes de Geneve – which is machined onto 0.6mm aluminium to create a three-dimensional technical finish.
There are 17 exterior colours as standard, including Beluga, Onyx and Portofino, with up to 70 in the extended range, plus countless bespoke options.
On the launch were exotic shades including Orange Flame, Windsor Blue, Silverlake, Barnato (after the Bentley Boy racer Woolf Barnato of the 1920s) .
Bentley also says the new Continental is the ‘most technologically advanced’ range they have ever produced – with 2,300 circuit boards, five miles of wiring, 92 electronic control units, and 100million lines of computer code , some 15 times the amount on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, to make it all work.
Bentley boss Adrian Hallmark says the British luxury carmaker owned by VW is read for Brexit
‘All our Brexit planning is in place’, says Bentley boss
Bentley, part of the giant German Volkswagen group, said it was proud that the new cabriolet and its engine had been ‘designed, engineered and handcrafted in Britain’.
And the new convertible deserves to be a source of real pride to the 4,500-strong Bentley workforce at Crewe, including the many and growing number of young apprentices learning their craft whether with intricate hand-stitched leathers, wood, engineering or hi-tech digital electronics.
Bentley Motors chairman and chief executive Adrian Hallmark has set out the firm’s path towards ‘full electrification’ of the Bentley range as the firm seeks to shed its gas-guzzler reputation.
Hallmark’s stated aim is to have 100 per cent hybrid or electric power available on all models across the Bentley range by 2025. The new luxury hybrid sets Bentley ’on the path towards a sustainable electrified future,’ he said.
As the UK nears the Brexit deadline of March 29, Mr Hallmark said a ‘hard Brexit’ would be ‘a blow’ but ‘not life-threatening’ to the company owned by Germany’s giant Volkswagen group.
It is putting in place long- and short-term contingency plans to cope and remains ‘fully committed’ to the UK as it celebrates its centenary year. Only 20 per cent of Bentley’s global sales are to Continental Europe so. It has a more balanced spread of sales.
Some 21 per cent is to the USA, 19 per cent to China, 14 per cent remains in the UK and the remaining 16 per cent is exported to the result of the world.
And a century after engineering genius Walter Owen, aka W.O, Bentley founded the firm bearing his name, Mr Hallmark said: ‘All our Brexit planning is in place. The outlook for luxury cars is still positive.’
‘We have been here for 100 years and we will be here for the next 100 years.’