Ignoring the range-topping Mulsanne limousine, the new Continental GT Speed Convertible is the most expensive car that Bentley makes.
However, it also occupies a space in the market where it has few genuine rivals, as a super luxurious drop-top with a 203mph top speed, space for four, and a power output that sits on the healthy side of 600bhp.
Previously, we've preferred the Continental in its Convertible guise – the ability to lower the fabric roof enhances the glamour and sense of occasion, and goes hand-in-hand with the effortless, relaxed driving dynamics.
However, this is the flagship ‘Speed’ version, which aims to inject a sportier edge to the handling and increases the power of the enormous 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 engine to 626bhp.
So is the GTC still the one to go for? With a stratospheric starting price of £172,400 before options, it'll need to be good to justify being more expensive than rivals as strong as the Ferrari California T and Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet.
What is the 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible like to drive?
The complicated electric roof and extra strengthening to the bodywork have added 175kg to the Continental GTC’s weight, and as a result it takes 0.2sec longer to reach 62mph than the Speed coupe.
However, it's still brutally fast, and with the fabric roof down the sensation of speed when you put your foot down is even more eye-widening. Stirring the W12 twin-turbo into life never fails to raise a smile, and from just 1700rpm onwards it delivers its 607lb ft of pulling power, virtually right the way up to the redline.
That wide powerband makes for effortless overtaking, and you need only the smallest gap to squeeze past slower traffic. It sounds great, too, with a sonorous burble from the exhausts, particularly when you’re in Sport mode. It’s not as ear-splitting as the V12 in the Aston Martin Vanquish Volante at full blast – but the Bentley makes up for that by being more refined at lower speeds.
Like the GT Speed coupe, the convertible has been given some tweaks underneath to improve the handling. Stiffer springs, a small drop in ride height and tweaked anti-roll bars, plus a standard set of 21-inch alloys, all set it apart from the 'standard' W12.
These changes don’t drastically alter the way the GT Convertible drives, but it feels slightly more planted through corners, with less body lean, and more responsive steering. As you’d expect, the Convertible Speed is a bit less rigid than the hard-top, and you can feel some body flex – especially on bumpy roads.
Push too hard into a bend, or stand too firmly on the brakes, and you’ll soon discover the limitations of what a car that weighs close to three tonnes can do. The front tyres start to lose their grip and wash wide, and although the standard four-wheel-drive system splits the power between the front and the rear wheels, you still need to be patient with the throttle when exiting corners.
The ride is generally composed – no matter which of the four settings you put the adjustable dampers in. It’s only over scruffy surfaces that things become unsettled, where it's marginally less compliant at low speeds than the coupe.
Put the triple-layered fabric roof up (a rather lengthy process that takes 25 seconds and can be done at up to 20mph) and the GT Speed Convertible does an excellent job of keeping wind and road noise at bay.
What is the 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible like inside?
Lavish for the most part. The surfaces in your eyeline are covered in hand-finished wood, metal or leather, and the major controls have a reassuringly weighty feel, although the climate controls feel altogether too plasticky.
It's not the most high-tech cabin, and like its rivals from Aston Martin, Maserati and Ferrari, it feels a generation behind what’s offered in some rivals that cost an awful lot less – including the BMW M6 Convertible and Porsche 911 Cabriolet.
The Speed comes with some unique interior options, including carbonfibre inserts on the dashboard, centre console and on the insides of the doors, while the electrically adjustable, armchair-like seats are heated and cooled, and come with the option of a vent that blows hot air onto your neck to keep you toasty for autumnal top-down drives.
While those travelling in the front are treated to a first-class experience, anyone sitting in the back will find things a little more snug. Average-sized adults will still have just enough space to feel comfortable, thanks to the scalloped seat backs, but kneeroom will be tight if you’re sitting behind a taller driver.
Roof down, buffeting from the wind is kept under control via a fairly substantial wind deflector which fits across the top of the back seats, but even without it, the tall windscreen keeps things snug and calm for everyone inside. Headroom is quite tight in the rear when the roof is up, though.
The GT Speed Convertible can just about claim to be a genuine four-seater, whereas the the rear space in rivals such as the Ferrari California T and Porsche 911 are suitable for only very small children, or excess baggage.
However, while there's space for four to sit in relative comfort and luxury, their bags will have to stay at home because the roof mechanism eats into the available space, which stands at 260 litres.
Should I buy one?
Customers choosing the Convertible GT Speed will need to find an extra £15,700 in their (obviously rather deep) pockets, but the added drama and sense of speed are both major positives.
However, with Bentley planning a major overhaul to this W12 engine to improve its fairly shocking CO2 emissions (347g/km makes it 90g/km more polluting than a California T), it might be worth waiting before taking the plunge, or opting for the excellent GTC V8 S model instead.
Bentley claims that Speed customers will be split 50:50 between the coupe and Convertible, but If you’re buying a soft-top then you’re unlikely to be looking for the sharpest-driving model, so we’d save a few thousand pounds and stick with the standard models, which are just as plush inside and almost as fast.
What Car? says...
Bentley GTC Speed