Bentley is having a great 2021 and let's be honest, not many are able to say that. Sales are up, production is up, it has a whole load of new models, a new fragrance and even some new furniture. The company has even bought the road that runs outside its front door so it can expand.
When things are this good, you might be tempted to jump into something rather special, like maybe a Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible. We drove the Coupe briefly around Silverstone earlier this year, and now it's time to find out whether the drop-top a proper GT or just a fast riviera cruiser.
In the Metal:
This is the Continental GT Speed, the top of the line, the crème de la crème, the best of the best, the Dolce Vita - oh wait, that's a Ferrari. Anyway, the Continental GT features unique 22-inch wheels in a choice of three finishes, sports sills and unique badging and grille, while inside there are special treadplates, embroidery, leather choices and more. It's all just that little bit more special.
The Z-fold fabric roof can be opened or closed at the touch of a button in 19 seconds, which is useful if a Mediterranean thunderstorm is about to be unleashed. It's remarkably smooth and quiet, but then this is a Bentley, so it should be. What's even more impressive though is how smooth and quiet it is in the cabin when that roof is down.
Even in many luxury models you'll have to turn the radio up a bit or wear a cap to stop your hair blowing around. Not so in the Speed. It's very quiet inside and the wind barely ruffled what little hair I have left on the top of my head. You could easily have a conversation between all four occupants without anyone demanding the roof be put up because they can't hear themselves think.
Then there's the luxury. You sink into the seat surrounded by perfectly trimmed leather, wood and knurled metal dials. I'm not a fan of the rather warped buttons on the centre console, but everything else is perfection in design and engineering. Run your hand along the leather trimmed door and you just know someone has hand-cut and then stitched it all together in the factory, just for you. That's awfully nice of them.
Because it's the Speed it might be driven by people who love to drive as much as they want the colour of the upholstery to match their wardrobe. So Bentley has dialled things up a notch. It's the first Bentley to get an electronic rear limited slip differential, for example. It also has rear-axle steering, a specially tailored drive mode and recalibrated all-wheel drive.
The W12 engine doesn't roar in the way you might expect; instead it has an effortless elegance about the way it gathers up the pace. That is unless you switch everything to maximum attack as we did when we were given the coupe and told a disused US air force base was ours to go play in. Now how many Bentley owners are going to drift their Speed in a car park, hurtle between townhouses or dart through an empty fire station? We did and it was great fun.
Leave it in Bentley mode, the setting devised by the company's engineers to be the best all-round driving mode, and it's all very comfortable. Push down on the accelerator and it remembers its motorsport roots and hustles along well, but push it into Sport and you'll have more fun. It has loads of grip in the corners and while it does feel big on narrow roads, it feels lighter and more agile than the last generation Speed. There's the feel of a slight rear bias and the torque vectoring by braking helps to keep everything in check, but while it might feel slightly nimbler, there's no ignoring the 2.5 tonnes you're captain of.
Switch things into Comfort mode and sit back and relax.
What you get for your Money:
We don't think there is such a thing as a standard Bentley, so what you get is basically up to you. The basic price works out as about €440,000 imported from Northern Ireland, but then most owners will want more so there's the option to add an Akrapovič exhaust system, the largest carbon ceramic brakes of any car anywhere and a multitude of colour and trim choices to make the car yours.
We were tempted to say this is the best convertible money can buy, but then you think - is it better than a Porsche 911 Turbo Convertible at the fun stuff? Well, no not really. Is it set up to be more comfortable than the Rolls-Royce Dawn? Again no. What it is then is the best luxury convertible for the driver who has a passion for driving. Yes, that's what Bentley has created, a luxury sports GT convertible that's as much about the passion for driving as it is about the handcrafted luxury that surrounds you. For some, life really is good.