Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible
It uses the same twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 engine as the GT Convertible's previous flagship model, but it's been tuned to give a mighty 616bhp and 590lb ft of torque. As a result, this 2.5-tonne beast can power from 0-60mph in just 4.1 seconds.
The Speed's suspension has also been uprated and lowered by 10mm compared with the regular W12 model's, and the steering has been retuned.
The car looks a little more purposeful, too. There's a dark-tinted chrome finish on the radiator grille and bumper air intakes, and a unique design for the car's 21-inch alloy wheels.
What's the 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible like to drive?
Quick is something of an understatement. Bury the throttle from a standstill, and the Bentley's awesome power, coupled with the traction you get from the permanent four-wheel drive, gives stupendous acceleration.
Even when you're already going at a fair old lick, stamping on the gas unleashes a truly ferocious surge of forward motion.
That's partly to do with the incredible torque on offer, and the fact that it's available from low revs, but the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox also plays its part. It always seems to know which gear is best for the situation at hand, and it gets there with impressive speed and smoothness.
That's with the transmission in ‘Drive' mode, though. Stick it into its ‘Sport' setting, and the shifts become harsher, while each ratio is held longer before the 'box changes up. This completely changes the car's character, and whether this change is positive or not will depend much on your outlook.
For us, you're better off in the ‘Drive' mode most of the time, while the full manual mode (controlled with steering-mounted paddles) is the one to pick when you're in the mood to play.
The car has astonishing grip in corners, and with the adaptive suspension set to one of its sportier modes, body roll is well controlled.
Granted, the sheer bulk of the thing prevents the Speed from ever feeling like a sports car, because you can feel the immense weight transferring itself around in bends.
That said, the Bentley is surprisingly unflustered though fast corners, and considering the laws of physics it has to defy, this huge car changes direction with amazing neatness. That's helped by steering that's beautifully weighted and endowed with some genuine feel.
Besides, even in fire-breathing Speed form, cornering ability isn't what the Continental GT is about. As the name suggests, this car is a Grand Tourer, and in that role, the Speed excels. It feels immensely stable and composed at motorway speeds, and with one of the slushier suspension settings selected, it's really rather comfortable, too.
Refinement is just as impressive. The four-layer fabric hood and double-glazed windows do an exceptional job at keeping out wind noise, and with the roof down, you feel barely any buffeting.
Granted, the fat tyres kick up some road noise, but not enough to irritate you too much.
The engine emits nothing more than a throaty murmur at a steady cruise, too, but it sounds fantastic in all other situations. It's best at low revs, when you get a bassy burble. This turns into a glorious bellow when you acceleration hard.
What's the 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible like inside?
The sheer quality is the first thing that strikes you about the interior. The hand-stitched leather on the seats and dashboard kick things off, and the machined metal air vents and switches also lend a bespoke, hand-crafted feel.
Things get even more impressive when you poke around the cabin. Every single surface, no matter how small or insignificant, is beautifully finished. When so many cars costing similar money cut corners on quality, this is really refreshing.
Life is comfortable at the wheel, too, because there's bags of space, all the controls sit dead ahead of you and the full electric adjustment for the seats and steering wheel helps you fine-tune your driving position.
The cabin is also filled with all the luxury kit you expect, such as climate control, sat-nav, a CD autochanger, a DAB radio, various iPod sockets, a 15GB hard drive and a hot-air neck warmer.
As ever with Bentley, there's virtually limitless scope for personalising your car with optional extras – for a hefty price.
The ergonomics, meanwhile, aren't so impressive; the dashboard has rather too many small, fiddly buttons, many of which are poorly marked. The touch-screen infotainment system is also a little disappointing, because the menu layout isn't that intuitive and the sat-nav is painfully slow to update.
As for being the world's fastest four-seat convertible – well, we won't argue with the speed, or the number of seatbelts provided, but we will argue about the useability of the rear seats.
Kneeroom is rather too tight for adults to sit comfortably for long periods, so you're best off sticking to short journeys or keeping the back seats for children.
That said, the well-shaped 260-litre boot is big enough for a couple's holiday luggage, and you don't lose any capacity with the top down.
Should I buy one?
Nobody enters into Bentley ownership expecting it to be cheap, and at almost £168,000, the Speed is the priciest version of the Continental Convertible you can buy.
If you can afford to even think about buying one, you probably won't care that it'll only return a claimed average of 19.0mpg.
However, that is a limiting factor, not because of the money you'll spend on fuel, but because of the time you'll spend filling up. After all, this is a car designed to do epic distances, and stopping every couple of hundred miles for more petrol might get on your nerves.
That's why the V8 remains our favourite version of the Continental; it'll take you half as far again on a single tank and is still insanely fast.
However, if you must have the fastest, most hardcore and most expensive version of the car (which in truth, many of the car's well-heeled buyers will demand), then there's no reason not to buy the Speed – it's an awesome machine.
What Car? says...
Aston Martin DB9 Volante
Engine size 6.0-litre W12 turbo petrol
Price from £167,900
Torque 590lb ft
0-60mph 4.1 seconds
Top speed 202mph
By Ivan Aistrop
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