2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible First Drive Review09/21/2021
In an era when a Dodge sedan is quicker in a straight line than a Porsche 911 GT3, it takes a certain chutzpah to name one of your models “Speed.” But Bentley carries it off effortlessly, and not just because the Speed moniker was first used to denote faster-than-average Bentley models almost 100 years ago. The 2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible thus arrives with certain expectations. And it delivers: This handsome Bentley is one of a handful of cars in which the wind will tousle your hair at more than 200 mph.
We drove the Continental GT Speed coupe a few months back and came away impressed, not so much with its straight-line performance—modern Bentleys are all seriously fast things, even if they’re not Speed fast—but rather its agility and playful poise on twisty roads, courtesy of the rear-wheel-steering system lifted from the Flying Spur sedan, its electronic limited-slip differential, and remapped dynamics software. The similarly equipped GT Speed Convertible is just as fast; its claimed top speed is an identical 208 mph. It’s just as agile and playful as the coupe, too. But it’s not quite as poised.
There are two reasons for that: mass and marketing.
Paradoxical as it might sound, removing a roof from a coupe to create a convertible almost always results in a heavier car. The frame and the motors required for the powered soft top, the mechanicals for the pop-up rollover protection system behind the rear seats, and extra bracing required to stiffen a roofless body structure mean the GT Speed Convertible weighs nearly 400 pounds more than the two-and-a-half-ton coupe.
The 650 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque from the mighty twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12 under the hood make short work of the additional heft in everyday driving—at 3.6 seconds, the Speed Convertible is only a tenth of a second slower to 60 mph than the fixed-roof car. But you can’t argue with old Isaac Newton: The heavier convertible takes 0.2 second longer to achieve 100 mph and will drop ever further behind the coupe all the way to 208 mph.
In truth, no GT Speed Convertible buyer, even one who lives within an easy drive of a German autobahn, is going to be remotely troubled by this. But discerning drivers will notice the droptop doesn’t quite disguise its weight through turns as well as the other GT Speed.
It’s not just that the convertible is heavier; it also rolls on a suspension that is approximately 10 percent softer. That’s not simply to reduce the impacts through the less rigid body structure: Bentley sources say convertible customers across the Continental GT lineup prefer a slightly softer ride than do coupe buyers, including those who want the fastest, most powerful of the topless Contis.
In truth, there’s not much to it, just the slightest of hesitations the moment you pull the steering wheel off-center as the chassis works through the increased compliance and takes a set. Once done, the GT Speed Convertible feels quite composed, although there’s slightly more patter from the big 22-inch wheels and low-profile Pirelli tires—275/35 up front and 315/30 at the rear—a touch of laxity in the body motions, and an occasional mild shudder through the steering column over stuttering bumps.
Even so, it’s still a car that, like all proper GTs, will effortlessly devour miles whether you’re arrowing down the autobahn at triple-digit velocities, or sashaying, roof down, along a winding two-lane. With the roof up, the GT Speed Convertible is damn near as quiet as the coupe, but in truth, this is a car that does its best work with the roof retracted, the sun sparkling on the cabin’s flawless chrome and highly polished veneers and warming the sumptuous leather.
Nobody does an interior like Bentley, and the GT Speed Convertible, roof down, displays Crewe’s craftsmanship in all its glory. You can mix and match colors and veneers in an almost uncountable number of ways. Bentley offers 15 different leather colors that can be arranged across six different two-tone treatments, including a unique Speed configuration that includes grippy Alcantara inserts on the seats and around the steering wheel rim, and paired with a choice of 12 different veneers.
The only way you can now get a 12-cylinder engine in a Continental GT is to order a Speed, but Bentley doesn’t make a show of it. Subtle Speed badging on the front fenders, a discreet number 12 in the vent behind the front wheels, unique multispoke wheels, and oval tailpipes are the only clues to the fact the car in question has rear wheels that steer and 50 percent more cylinders under the hood than the regular GT Convertible.
As we noted after driving it, the GT Speed coupe is quite possibly the ultimate modern gran turismo. The GT Speed Convertible is a little more complicated. Its less rigid body and softer suspension mean it’s not quite as accomplished as its hardtop sibling, less of a driver’s 12-cylinder Bentley. And at $307,725, it’s also $27,500 more expensive.
You could argue convincingly that the regular V-8-powered GT Convertible, more than 200 pounds lighter, significantly less expensive, only 0.4 second slower to 60 mph than the Speed—and still capable of coming within a whisker of 200 mph—is the more rational choice for those who simply want to enjoy wafting around in one of the most charismatic and beautifully built luxury convertibles money can buy.
But buying a Bentley is the very antithesis of a rational car purchase. It’s an indulgence, pure and simple, and Bentleys don’t come much more indulgent than the GT Speed Convertible, one of the few cars in the world with 12 cylinders and a soft top. Which perhaps explains why 60 percent of all Speeds will be Convertibles when deliveries start in the U.S. this fall.
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