Auto Express was invited for an exclusive ride in the new Bentley Continental GT Convertible alongside Adrian Hallmark, the man who played a big part in the launch of the original Continental GT back in 2003 and returned to the company as Chairman and Chief Executive just nine months ago.
“It triggered a segment and it transformed the company,” Hallmark tells us as he swings the Convertible out of the main driveway at Bentley HQ and on to Pyms Lane. “We went from 800 cars a year up to 10,000 within four years. It built a profitable business in a segment that didn’t exist.”
Hallmark resists the temptation to flex his right foot – initially at least – instead remarking on how the unique road surface of Pyms Lane provides a real test for the Convertible’s suspension and body shell.
Bentley’s home will go undergo a transformation in the coming years, but the road surface will stay. “We’re going to close this road down soon, but we’re not going to change this surface because it’s the worst bit of road!” says Hallmark.
The new car comes with Bentley Dynamic Ride with a 48-volt roll control system and air suspension that features 60 per cent more air in the three chamber springs than the softest settings on the previous car. There are Comfort, Bentley and Sport modes; in the middle of three we can feel the sizeable bumps, but they’re gently smoothed over.
Even more impressive is the structural rigidity – these sorts of bumps are guaranteed to reveal any body wobble that might exist in a soft top, yet the Convertible remains resolutely solid and stable.
“It is really quick, it handles well, especially with the 48-volt roll control, but it’s not a sports car – it never was,” admits Hallmark. “Our mission is to create the definitive GT – there are faster cars and more comfortable cars, but the thing about a Bentley is the adaptive nature of the car.”
That’s proven as we make it out of Crewe and into the Cheshire countryside, onto roads that Hallmark knows well. The hood – now available in seven colours and a tweed finish – takes just 19 seconds to drop out of place into the flush rear deck. The Coupé’s rear spoiler has been dropped with just a small lip to reduce drag, yet leaving the Convertible’s flowing lines intact.
With the roof down, we can hear the glorious bellow of the W12 engine as Hallmark floors the throttle. The Convertible will get from 0-60mph in just 3.7 seconds and go on to an incredible top speed of 207mph. We steer clear of both those figures on the cold, damp, leaf-strewn roads, but the sheer power on offer from the W12 is very apparent as we’re pushed back into the sumptuous seats that not only feature traditional seat warming, but also neck warmers blowing hot air through vents styled to resemble the dash’s bullseye air vents.
The four-wheel drive determines which wheels need the power most – handy in the wintery conditions of our drive – while the 48v electrics work swiftly with the suspension to keep the car flat as Hallmark powers through corners and over brows.
The hood goes back up again and it reinforces how silent the car is. “The insulation of the roof is so good that all the low to middle frequencies have been taken out – you can hardly tell it’s a cabriolet,” says Hallmark.
The sense of luxury is enhanced by ten square meters of wood in every car, mixed with more contemporary features like the rotating display that features an advanced 12.3-inch touchscreen that features Apple CarPlay and Google Maps.
We even manage to make use of the back seats with our photographer squeezed in behind us in the passenger seat, while the 235-litre boot takes his kit bag easily, too.
As we return to base, Hallmark explains why the majority of customers will pay out for a convertible rather than the coupé. “If you’re going to buy car like this – even though it’s a four-wheel-drive everyday special experience, it’s also more than special – you have it for the fun of it as well,” he says. “Most people say if I’m going to buy a Continental, I might as well have the convertible.”