100 years of pace and elegance: how the First Edition Bentley Continental GT Convertible is starting a new century in style
We experience ultimate luxury – and champagne – with the centenary anniversary First Edition Bentley Continental GT Convertible
Bentley Motors has just achieved its 100th year of building some of the world’s finest and most desirable motor cars. To celebrate this magnificent milestone, the manufacturer launched the First Edition Continental GT Convertible, heralding the beginning of a second century for a brand recognised the world over for quality, pace and elegance.
From the 4.5-litre supercharged Bentley Blowers of the 1930s, to the modern-day classics, Bentley’s cars have been the sporting gentleman’s car of choice, so we were delighted to be invited to test drive this brand-new centenary vehicle. And what better place to take it for a spin than the long, winding roads of France’s stunning Champagne region? In search of the perfect location to test drive one of the world’s finest trans-continental grand tourers, we visit the vineyards of Hatt et Söner, a small-scale but exceptionally high-quality champagne producer.
From the first moment I see it I realise this car is special – you’d expect as much, given it features more than £51,000 of extras on top of the Continental GT Convertibles list price of £175,000. It is stunning in every respect. Finished in extreme silver with a blue hood, two-tone imperial blue and Portland hide interior, with diamond-in-diamond embroidery, plus embroidered Bentley logos and contrast stitching, it is one of the loveliest interiors I’ve ever seen.
Familiar Bentley touches, like the high-quality metal switches and controls still wonderfully cold to the touch, feel reassuring and reach back to a time when quality was remembered long after the price was forgotten – I suspect this will be the case with this modern masterpiece of automotive engineering. Meanwhile, unique design elements identify this as a First Edition – First Edition Union Jacks are positioned on the liquid-amber veneer and front wings, and a 1919- 2019 emblem lights up the tread plate.
The more aggressive and masculine styling of the new convertible is noticeable, and the car is instantly the subject of much attention as it is delivered to the Tempus office in Mayfair. The colour, spec and new styling really makes it stand out in a crowd. When the styling genius at Bentley specced this car, to use a colloquial term, they nailed it. >>
Having driven many Continentals in the past, I thought I knew what to expect, but driving this car reveals a leap forward in Bentley’s evolution. Of significant note is the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox that manages the power of the 6-litre, W12 configured, twin turbo, TSI engine, which delivers 630bhp, hurling the car effortlessly to 60mph in 3.7 seconds, and 100mph in 8.1. And with a top speed of 210 mph, this car can stand up against many high-performance sports cars, with four times the luxury.
The torque is another major selling point. When you look at a graph of bhp verses torque on a normal car, you see a gradual progression. Not so with Bentley, whose torque graph looks like a breeze block with near-vertical torque progression between 1,000 and 1,300 rpm, topping out at a flat 900Nm of torque to 4,500 rpm, delivering huge power at these low revs for effortless acceleration with virtually no noise. On further application of the right foot, the revs start to pick up and torque and horses combine to deliver truly breathtaking power and performance.
In sport mode this beast assumes an even more angry persona – low-frequency grumbles and roars combine with a wonderful turbo ‘whinny’ like a testosterone-fuelled stallion. Coupled with the luxury and elegance created by Bentley’s design team, this is another masterful fusion of quality and power.
The run down to the Eurostar is pockmarked with traffic delays, roadworks and the inevitable variable speed cameras, which gives only a glimpse of the car’s true performance until the open roads of France allow more exploration of its full capabilities. I am immediately struck by the myriad of safety features Bentley has built in, which make it one of the safest cars on the road. >>
At first, the flash from the blind spot detectors on the mirrors is startling and the Bentley Safeguard Plus system takes a little getting used to as its big red warning triangles appear in the dash display with such forceful presence they invoke a brief moment of panic. In extreme cases, the system’s anti-collision system also applies the brakes. But it also informs you if the tyre pressure is set too low for maximum speed, and displays the speed limit on every road in the heads-up display, even adjusting the limit for rainy conditions.
Ultimately, the car proves itself to be highly intelligent and the navigation system buried in the massive revolving centre touchscreen display, combined with the heads-up display on the windscreen, is a joy to use once you get your head around the complexity of the systems and sheer number of settings. Although confusing at first, once you’ve got used to them, the sensory and assisting features make for an amazing experience and the drive back proves to be much more relaxed as I learn to work with them.
When crossing the channel, the system automatically changes the clock and resets the head lights for driving on the right, an incredibly handy feature of this car which, after all, was designed for luxury continental motoring.
On arrival at Chateau d’Etoges, the Bentley seems entirely in its element against the elegant 18th-century backdrop. The styling changes and rakish masculine lines are even more accentuated with the roof down and draw much attention, prompting fellow hotel guests to enquire about the car, which is not yet on general release.
Finding fault with this fine motor car was difficult. Apart from the eight-speed gearbox, which was seemingly confused and overly busy at really low speeds (a problem I suspect easily resolved with more time and settings under the “custom set up” modes available), the only issue was the compromised boot space, which limited the amount of champagne we were able to onboard for the trip home. But if you travel light, and have your Louis Luggage sent on, you will have the most enjoyable experience in this new and wonderfully remastered classic that positions Bentley for another 100 years of excellence.