A weekend driving a Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible was a dream come true
Deliciously sexy and Dragon Red, this sleek, sophisticated Bentley Grand Tourer took my breath away before I’d even opened her door. Those of you with equal Bentley bias will understand my visceral reaction to this iconic British marque. Pure lust at first sight for this beautiful 4-seater icon that will cost you a basic £185, 200. The model I tested had every option imaginable, taking the price tag up to an eye-watering £223,795.
At this price point, you’d expect a lot of bang for your buck and Bentley provides it. Exterior aesthetics have been improved upon in the latest Continental GT model: a new front bumper with smaller radiator shell, combined with slightly more pronounced fenders make for a more aerodynamic line as it sweeps to its more muscular haunches. A sexed up revision that gives the GT a more assertive stance, especially with its rifled exhaust finishers.
She’s a sturdy but sexy beast – that steel monocoque and aluminium front fenders giving a very protective look, and as I was later to discover, a very safe ride. I love the classic Bentley lattice grille and coveted Bentley badge. I love the bright LED lights and the wheels are eye-catching sporty 21-inch, 5-spoke directional alloys with a dark tint, while the rubber hitting the road is Pirelli.
Sliding into this Beluga-leather bound four-seater haven of 6.0-litre, twin-turbocharged luxury was almost orgasmic. The GT just oozes class and sophistication. Ergonomically improved front and rear leather seats – with their diamond quilted pattern in contrast red stitching – are easy to adjust and feel very snug and comfortable. All the interior seats are stitched, shaped and finished entirely by hand, as is the (heated) sports steering wheel. Complete bespoke luxury. I felt safe and secure – and incredibly excited. Noting the small but perfectly formed analogue Breitling clock on the dash… it was time to start the engines.
The exquisite sound of those twelve cylinders bursting into life is one of life’s greatest pleasures. (yes, perhaps I need to get out more). But the way this purring lioness begs you to notch up the revs and take her out on to the open road is palpable. A few hundred miles of autobahn would have been the perfect location to test her top speed of 203mph. Alas that will have to wait… for now it was the more sedate M1, M40 and a multitude of Cotswold A-roads and country lanes around Oxford that were calling this marvel of British engineering. My companion and I were looking forward to a stay in some of the most beautiful Cotswold hotels too.
All controls are within easy reach; I loved the racing cabin feel and retro round speedo and rev counter dials. The circular theme is echoed in the air vents, which are all individually controlled and delightfully cooling. And the temperature and fuel gauges are also round. New interior illuminated by LEDs.
The middle 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is easy to operate, and there’s a mini-digital info square display between the speedo and rev counter to help you keep your eyes forward. The Bentley GT Speed has an 8-speed automatic gearbox (with paddles behind the steering wheel for semi automatic drive) with permanent all-wheel drive.
There aren’t sufficient superlatives to describe the feeling of euphoria as I accelerated onto the M1 that sunny afternoon. This rocket does 0 to 60 in just 4.1 seconds. I took her from 20 to 70 on the motorway with a mighty G-Force tug that gave an instant Croydon facelift to my rear passengers. The thrill was visceral and I felt more alive than I have for a while (yes, I definitely need to get out more). Overtaking and moving lanes is a dream when you know you have this amount of power under the bonnet. I have never enjoyed cruise control but its here for you when you need it, handily situated on the steering column.
Alarmingly, such is the GT Speed’s grace and carriage, you can easily feel like you’re pootling along at 70 when in fact you could easily be nudging the ton. Something to be aware of in speed cop-and-camera infested British motorways.
Quite by accident while moving the seat position on the right hand side, I turned on the front seat heater and massager – a heavenly interruption that was better than some spa massages I’ve experienced. Fortunately this soothing option comes to a natural halt after 10 minutes, otherwise I’d have lost concentration completely – not ideal at high speed.
Massages were on the agenda again that evening as we arrived at Champneys health spa near Tring. I’m not used to driving around country lanes at dusk or after dark, so the GT’s Bi-Xenon projector headlamps made the Bentley very visible and I felt very safe. The car has LED signature daylight running lamps and the rear lamps, as well as main beam, are also LED.
We’d loaded the GT (aka Bertie) with just two medium-sized suitcases, which meant leaving the windbreaker behind. At just 260 litres the boot space isn’t huge, but the GT Speed ain’t exactly a family vehicle. After a little tussle to get the very squeezed suitcases out (advice: pack light) we made our way to reception and dinner. Champneys has recently invested £4m towards a comprehensive refurbishment of its Tring reception area, its 91 bedrooms, dining room and at its heart, the sophisticated new 400sqm Detox and Wellbeing Centre. The new sea and mineral treatment detox spa offers unique, water-based personalised treatments using the natural qualities of seawater, algae and marine minerals, and is the “first of its kind in the UK,” according to owner Stephen Purdew.
We emerged the following day significantly more relaxed… a stay at Champneys is highly recommended. Whether you want downtime or to lose weight.
Playing with the techy stuff on the way to our next hotel – the delightful Manor at Weston on the Green – my companion found a phone handset in the centre console armrest and also discovered a TV digital tuner, onboard Wi-Fi and a 30GB on-board hard drive for any media fans. I had forgotten to bring my iPod and CDs but there’s a connection for both and also DVD playback and SD card readers. All very distracting for the driver I’d imagine, but perfect for front seat passengers who have succumbed to scenery ennui, or in her case, listening to my intermittent yelps of “I love this car!”
The music system (Naim) came in handy for our motor up the M40 and I put Bertie into Sport mode for the A-roads. You’ll instantly hear the lower, throatier engine growl… perfect for impressing car-loving bystanders as you cruise by at 20 or 30 in Oxfordshire villages. Admittedly this did feel somewhat childish but the sound of the engines is sublime. I couldn’t resist.
If you’re a Bentley owner, you’ll be only too aware of the kind of admiration this beautiful car attracts. From all ages and genders. At several of the hotels we stayed at there was a look of genuine surprise from front of house when they saw two ladies emerging from what is generally considered a ‘gentleman’s car’ but also admiration and a definite vibe of ‘wish that was me’. And there’s the rub. When you’ve dropped this much cash for a car you need to make sure you park her in a secure place. It took me a couple nights to fully relax, knowing that we’d chosen hotels with effective security. I wouldn’t feel comfortable parking a convertible at Waitrose on a Saturday morning, that’s for sure.
On the subject of parking, the GT Speed makes it a dream, thanks to its six sensors in the front bumper and four in the rear. You’ll get a camera view from the infotainment centre and if you press the PDC button a visual park distance graphic appears showing clear zones around the front and rear. And if you select ‘parking bay mode’ the display will show guidelines to help you measure your way in. Very handy.
Our second destination, the delightful Manor Country House hotel at Weston-on-the-Green near Oxford is an absolutely stunning manor house with a history dating back 900 years. Both Elizabeth I and Henry VIII have stayed here and the beautiful grounds are a joy to walk around. Dine at the local pub, The Black Sheep or at the hotel’s own restaurant. They have a selection of comfortably furnished rooms and suites and an incredible medieval hall. Attractions nearby include Bicester Village and Blenheim Palace.
We stayed here a couple nights, relaxing in the grounds and motoring westwards to Bibury Court Hotel near Cirencester – a stunning Jacobean manor house – and 17th-century Barnsley House Hotel and Spa. The latter is the perfect Cotswold hideaway and formerly the home of renowned gardener Rosemary Verey. I’ll definitely be staying here on my next visit to the area. Impeccable service, delightful public areas and of course landscaped gardens that are a welcome respite from city living in any season.
The Bentley tackled the country roads in the area with aplomb – rain was no problem – the windscreen auto sensors work brilliantly. Only a couple times at slow speed did I feel handling could have been better. I’d say she’s better at higher speeds but at no time did I feel out of control. And if the worse were to happen then front seat driver and passenger are protected by front and side airbags. Drivers also have knee airbags for extra protection. The rear seats are fairly snug – perfect for small adults and kids… but the rear legroom at 31.7 inches it will be tight for a long-legged six footer.
The highlight of the weekend for me was an overnight stay and dinner at Raymond Blanc’s Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons located in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Great Milton. It had been a dream of mine to visit here – and meet Raymond Blanc – for many years. To have this dream realised was wonderful. The hotel is exquisite: you can stay in a selection of suites in the main house, or as we did in the newer buildings in the garden area. Ask for the sublime and sexy Lace Suite and try the five or seven course tasting menu in the dining room. Thoroughly deserving of its Michelin star a stay at Le Manoir is one that will remain in your heart forever.
Likewise, driving the sublime Bentley GT Speed Convertible was an experience that will stay in my heart and mind forever. I’ve driven many supercars but nothing comes close to the sheer fun, enjoyment and pleasure I had from driving Bertie around Oxfordshire last week. I miss her already…
Start the adventure via bentleymotors.com