2019 Bentley Continental GT Convertible First Drive Review: Droptop Drama

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I'll happily argue with you all day long that the new 2019 Bentley Continental GT Convertible is more of a looker than its coupe sibling. The grandest drop-top version of the Continental GT is still one of the most luxurious places to spend your time in. It also happens to be one of the best ways to spend $236,000 and change.

There's no mistaking what you're looking at. Indeed at first glance, it might seem like little has changed with the new Continental GT Convertible. Much as was the case with the coupe, though, you'd be entirely wrong for thinking that way. Like the hard-top, the Continental GT Convertible is entirely new inside and out. The familiar Bentley silhouette remains, but everything has been sharpened and dialed-up, to produce a more aggressive stance.

The gorgeous rear haunches are meatier and more pronounced, exuding a sense of forwarding motion. Shorter front and slightly longer rear overhangs emphasize that. The hood is now longer, while the cabin is pushed further back. No, the extent of the changes may not be instantly evident to the untrained eye, but – like the bigger front grille that squeezes in lower in the fascia – the sporting DNA of the new Continental GT Convertible is bursting at the seams.

Where the old GT Convertible had a ton of exterior embellishments, this new car is simpler and yet somehow grander with it. Bentley's designers resisted the temptation to over-adorn the exterior with too many small details; indeed, perhaps the only semblance of bling is the crystal cut headlights, which were patterned after expensive glassware. The droptop wears them well, the beguiling glint of a Patek Phillipe paired with a bespoke suit.

The number 12 insignia behind the front wheels are finished in polished metal and are a reference to the number of cylinders lurking under that long hood. Other than that, though, the exterior of the new Continental GT Convertible is clean cut. Even the rear is tidier compared to the old model. It's all intentional, of course, done so that the new car exudes a more youthful and exuberant vibe as it passes by at 180 mph. Bentley made it abundantly clear that it wants the new Continental GT Convertible and Coupe to catch the attention of younger affluent buyers. By redefining the athletic characteristics of the new Continental GT, in my humble opinion, the automaker is doing just that.

The 2019 Bentley Continental GT Convertible sits on the same Volkswagen Group MSB architecture as the coupe. This same platform is also responsible for the sharper and more agile driving dynamics of the new Porsche Panamera. Chopping the roof off the Bentley didn't yield any weight savings for the GT Convertible, mind; in fact, the new convertible is 375 pounds heavier than the coupe. Still, the new GT Convertible is lighter than the previous-gen model, although a curb weight of 5,322 pounds is still a lot for a 2+2 convertible grand tourer.

To be quite honest, however, Bentley has achieved the seemingly impossible with the new GT Convertible. The new car is 20-percent lighter and 5-percent stiffer than the car it replaces, and this is despite being equipped with a monstrous 6.0-liter W12 motor. You might think a smaller and lighter turbocharged V8 motor would be the order of the day, Bentley facing the weight and frugality pressures of the auto industry like just about everybody else, but then what would you do if a Rolls Royce Dawn pulls up beside you at a stop light?

The W12 is the same mill that you'll find in the Bentayga SUV, good for 626 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque. Those hefty figures are enough to catapult the GT Convertible from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, courtesy of an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic with a dual-mass flywheel. Keep pushing on the gas pedal, and the car will deliver a strong and consistent wave of power and torque on to a top speed of 207 mph.

The 6.0-liter W12 engine is not new. It debuted in the Volkswagen Phaeton back in 2002, but over the years Bentley has modernized it, updating the internals and tuning the motor. Now it packs cylinder deactivation, spinning only six cylinders to save fuel when driving permits that. Even though fuel savings may not be your top priority when purchasing a new Bentley GT Convertible, it does help in reducing carbon emissions, too.

The 2019 Continental GT Convertible also comes with a new, electronically-controlled all-wheel-drive system with variable torque distribution. Where the old car had a fixed 40/60 split between the front and rear, this new system can distribute torque in greater variation between the front and rear axles for better handling.

Even the suspension in the GT Convertible is not spared from high-tech updates. As in the coupe, it comes with air springs and adaptive dampers to deliver the distinctive Bentley ride. The suspension also benefits from a 48-volt active anti-roll system, which utilizes actuators in the stabilizer bars to combat body lean during hard cornering. Don't get me wrong. The Continental GT is not an agile sports car that flings effortlessly into corners; that's really not the idea. However, all this stabilizing cleverness does an excellent job of removing any of the nervous feelings in the old car when you're pushing harder.

What's particularly impressive is the sense of solidity. The new convertible may carry a lot of weight between its axles, but no other drop-top can achieve such silly speeds while still remaining pleasantly comfortable. Very few cars can make the driver and passengers feel so planted and secure as the speed piles up, indeed, never mind when you've cut the roof off first. The Continental GT feels as solid as a rock even as you stomp the throttle. Inevitably you will run out of straight roads before you satiate the Conti's appetite for speed. There's no denying this car feels happiest when going fast, and it can do so all day with the roof up or down. No surprise, we happily kept it down for the entire portion of Bentley's drive route in Southern Spain, where the automaker had brought us to test out the new car.

Of course, you don't drive the Bentley Continental GT Convertible as if your life depends on it. The interior alone encourages you to relax and enjoy the finer things in life, regardless of whether you're a passenger or the lucky one behind the wheel. As expected from such an exquisite motor car, the interior is elegantly festooned in the finest wood, metal, and cowhide. It not only looks expensive, every single touch point feels like it as well.

Our test model was lathered with genuine wood veneer throughout the cabin, and Bentley's options for customization are vast. Honestly, it didn't feel like I was inside a car, but more like a million-dollar yacht. Not only do you have a choice of walnut, eucalyptus, American red gum, or genuine Hawaiian Koa wood, but there's also a dual veneer design with luxurious chrome stripping.

It's even more jaw-dropping when you consider that human hands, not machines, are responsible. Bentley says the new car has approximately 310,000 individual stitches in the leather interior, along with 10 square meters of the finest wood. The craftsmanship is expected, maybe, but the attention to detail is bewildering. The front seats come with integrated neck warmers so you can waft with the top down in chilly weather; they're both faster to heat up and more effective in creating a cosy virtual scarf around your shoulders.

The crowning glory of the interior, though, is the unique rotating center display. Clearly inspired by James Bond's Aston Martin DB5, the center console Rolodex can display a 12.3-inch touchscreen for audio and navigation, a trio of analog dials with chrome bezels (of course!), or a clean veneer panel. It's the first time such a feature has made its way into a modern car, and from the look of it, this is more than just a novelty. Perhaps all new cars should be fitted with a rotating center display: it's not only luxurious and high-tech, but it enhances functionality without eating up too much space.

Thankfully, Bentley resisted the urge to give the Continental GT Convertible a folding hardtop roof, which would have added more weight and complexity. Instead, there's a fabric soft top with a new sealing system that reduces wind noise by three decibels, while still maintaining the classic profile of the coupe. The roof can raise or lower itself in only 19 seconds and will allow you to do so up to speeds of 30 mph. The fabric top can also be configured in traditional British tweed, befitting for a vehicle with such an illustrious history.

Behind the wheel, the Bentley Continental GT Convertible is clearly a world apart from your usual, everyday car. What stands out is just how clear in its focus the automaker has been, as it crafts a vision of the perfect grand tourer. It's may not be designed to run with exotic sports cars and supercars, but no other car this side of a Rolls Royce can make you feel as special.