Everything seemed more vibrant while speeding down a smooth empty desert highway in a roofless Bentley. The scenery fell and climbed over the soft, leather-clad doors from empty sandy flats to sheer cliffs and back down again and, eventually, to the grandest canyon in the lower 48.
As the landscape effortlessly flew by in a blur of shifting colors, the bareness of our surroundings offset by a sumptuous ride, I thought, this must be what it is like every day for the upper crust. No potholes, no speed traps; just sailing down a sun-drenched highway through life.
(Full Disclosure: Bentley provided lodging, meals, a Continental GT Convertible, entrance into Grand Canyon Nation Park and gas for this review.)
The Grand Canyon is a great place to visit any way you can get there. But if you can get there in a Bentley, do that.
This trip was so magical to me for two reasons. Mainly: Since I was a kid, I built up the American Southwest as an almost mythic place of towering stone structures and golden sunsets set against endless horizons. It did not disappoint. Arizona’s mood can change in a heartbeat from close, secretive canyons with hairpin turns carved into the rock to wind-stripped plains and colorful prairie. It was my first trip to this ancient and beautiful place and I was seeing it all from the driver’s seat of a fantastic convertible. That’s the other reason this trip was outstanding: I was driving the Continental GT Convertible.
The Continental has often been derisively called the rich person’s Camry. Indeed, a bunch of rich people, including Jeremy Clarkson, got together and awarded the $200,000 car the “People’s Car of the Year” award at the News UK Motor Awards much to the shock of the majority of us from the cheap, stained cloth-clad seats.
From my plebeian position, if you find the Bentley Continent GT common, then your everyday life is worlds away from mine. The one I was lucky enough to pilot around the southern rim of the Grand Canyon like a personal palace. I know common, I know what grocery-store-brand-cereal levels of generic looks like—this ain’t it.
We’ve driven the new Bentley Continental GT before. While that car shipped with a 6.0-liter W12, this convertible had a new 4.o-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine claiming 542 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. You lose over 100 HP with this engine option, unfortunately, but I think once you are north of 500, most drivers won’t have any frame of reference beyond “dang, that’s quick!” It certainly didn’t drive like it was lacking in the power department.
More specifically: The brochure promises a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.0 seconds and a top speed of 198. Dang. That is quick.
The convertible top, the mechanisms for which apparently add about 372 pounds to the car, can go up and down at up to 30 mph.
The V8 droptop is down on power compared to the 12 cylinder flagship, but it still has an adaptive air suspension with three-chamber air springs and continuous damping control, creating a convertible that feels sure-footed and well under control, no matter what.
All-wheel drive contributes to that sensation of bridled power, and if you’re able to resist wringing out the engine, you should be able to get 26 mpg on the highway with this.
The Continental GT Convertible is a big, cushy ride. Riding in it is like watching the world blur by from your favorite high-speed armchair. Everything inside is heated, from the steering wheel to the armrests to the warm vents on the back of the seats blasting you with air perfectly adjusted to your needs. The seats are also cooled, which was a great benefit as we raced toward the Grand Canyon for a day of driving.
It’s incredibly quiet with the top up, very comparable to the regular Continental GT (which I also took for a spin). Nothing about top-up driving felt drafty or flimsy. Not even a rattle. I may be too used to Big Three convertibles, but this was a huge deal to me. Even if you live in cold climates or in a spot with lots of rain you can still enjoy your Bentley soft-shelled.
With the top down I never felt overwhelmed with wind, even when cruising speed crept up. Right up. We even stuck somebody in the back seat and they didn’t hate it. Another touch I really appreciated: the backseat is curved on either side, giving the back seat an intimate, old-world cool feel.
And while the Continental GT comes by its reputation as a soft daily driver for the aristocracy fairly honestly, it can also haul absolute ass. I eventually passed President for Bentley American Operations, Christophe Georges, while flying down an empty desert road at a brisk [redacted] miles per hour.
We stopped for lunch in a yurt on a windswept Arizona plain, he made sure his vigilant PR team was distracted and quietly insisted we give the Convertible’s launch control a spin. So my driving partner and I hunted for some straight and empty road. And in the endless southwest, we did not have to look long.
After standing hard on the gas and the brake simultaneously for three seconds, the engine let out several high-speed growls and we were off like an untethered animal with a fresh brand on its backside. My very unofficial timing was up to 80 mph in around six or seven seconds. It felt less like a car taking off and more like we had been rear-ended by a speeding dump truck. I’ve never made a Camry do that.
We managed to get some smoke from the brakes when traffic unexpectedly forced our gallop to a trot, but that’s not terribly uncommon to see when brand new pads and rotors get real hot for the first time.
The only remotely eyebrow-raising issue I had, briefly, was when the Continental’s infotainment system seemed to struggle connecting to my co-driver’s iPhone.
Harsher driving conditions in a less picturesque place might have made a few more frustrations arise, but basically, touring around open Arizona highways in a brand-new Bentley is as glorious an experience as you’d expect for about $200,000.
I don’t mean to assume that richer people have easier lives. We all have our own struggles, but I can’t think of any problems a drive in a Continental GT Convertible couldn’t cure, or at least, make seem minuscule. The magical surroundings near the Grand Canyon didn’t hurt either, but we were able to appreciate them so much more from our elevated position of plus seats from a topless Bentley GT. The convertible version of the GT will account for 70 percent of Continental GT, and there’s a good reason for that: It’s a fantastic, accessible and elegant way to watch the world go by.
While, say, the McLaren GT is more of an engaging drivers’ car with plenty of room to get in trouble in, the Bentley GT Convertible is something that could be driven every day, if you were so unfortunate as to have only one convertible available at your summer estate for instance. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the “people’s car,” it is fun to drive. And downright practical! Well, for the upper crust of us anyway.