Bentley proudly proclaims the Continental GT to be the finest grand tourer that money can buy, but I would go a step further with this particular model: The Continental GT Speed Convertible is the very definition of grand touring, the measuring stick by which all other "GT" cars should be compared. Perhaps that's unfair to other models with a purported similar purpose, some of which cost a fraction of the price, but at the end of the day, everyone needs an archetype to aspire to.
What is it?
While most folks would associate the brand with the upper echelons of luxury, the Bentley is also no stranger to high performance. With a rich motorsports history that includes numerous wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a score of track records, and a Continental GT3 taking home the championship at the Blancpain GT Sprint Series just a few months ago, the company has proven to be just as adept at designing world beating racing machines as they are luxurious cruisers.
The Continental GT, particularly in Speed trim, finds a middle ground between the former and the latter that epitomizes the original concept of grand touring. A sports car it is not - let's remember that this two-door weighs more than a Range Rover - but outfitted as it is with a twin turbocharged, 626 horsepower W12 engine, four-way adaptive suspension, diamond quilted leather seats (replete with massage function), and one of the finest audio systems to ever be installed in a production car, the GT Speed is a luxury missile of the highest order.
It's also the fastest four-seat convertible currently available, capable of dishing out 0-60 mph sprints in four seconds flat on its way to an awe-inspiring 203 mph top speed. But the GT Speed is truly in its element when driven with a reasonable dose of spirit along a twisting stretch of picturesque tarmac. This model's mission isn't to break production car lap records at Laguna Seca, nor is it to lull the driver into a mundane stupor with an unengaging driving experience. Its purpose is simply to own the road, and it does so in spectacular fashion.
2016 brings a host of updates to the Continental GT Speed as part of an overhaul of the entire GT lineup, revisions which should hold the big coupe over until a new third-generation model arrives some time in 2018. In accordance with modern Bentley tradition, rather than making sweeping changes to a winning formula, the automaker has opted instead for subtle nip-and-tuck style updates here.
As a result, a layman might be forgiven for not being able to immediately discern the differences between this 2016 model and a similarly equipped Continental GT from the model's debut year, but the latest round of updates are significant none the less.
The most pronounced visual change comes in the form of a reshaped front fascia that adds a touch of purpose to the GT Speed's stately looks, with a more aggressive lower intake that spans the width of the car and larger side intakes that inch up toward the headlights. Complementing the new front end are a pair of fenders that sport a new B-shaped vent, while out back there's a new lip spoiler on the deck lid to go along with the revised rear diffuser found on V8 S and Speed models. The 21-inch alloys seen here are also new for this year.
On the whole, these changes don't reinvent the Continental GT Speed so much as they seek to prevent the model from becoming stale. In that regard the folks from Crewe have been fairly successful, but the writing is clearly on the wall for the current GT from a visual standpoint.
Inside, the revisions are even more nuanced, with new LED lighting, a wider range of color options (17 in all), and a new WiFi hotspot connectivity option comprising the most notable updates to the GT's cabin.
Behind the wheel
For all of its performance capability, the overriding theme of the Continental GT Speed Convertible is an unyielding sense of opulence. From the materials to the engine sound, the GT feels righteously swank, a feeling which is only bolstered by the car's sheer physical mass and, in turn, presence on the road.
You can certainly drive the GT Speed fast - very fast, if that's your wont - but often times you just won't feel obligated to do so. At the helm of the GT Speed there's simply nothing to prove, be it to yourself or to onlookers. A Lamborghini brings with it a set of expectations that the owner must live up to (or avoid living up to). With this Bentley, simply being there means you've already won.
But that doesn't mean the GT Speed is all style and no substance. Its combination of all-wheel drive, the aforementioned four-way adaptive suspension, and massive ceramic brakes make the GT Speed far more sure-footed than any 6,000 pound car has any right to be.
The latter proves to be something of a curious design choice on a car like the GT Speed though, as the big carbon discs proved to be both noisy and a bit over-eager to grab at the top of the pedal. Both of those are common concessions for carbon ceramic stoppers, but here on a Continental GT Speed Convertible they just seem a bit out of place, as their fade-resistant virtues will likely be lost on a vast majority of would-be owners, while the inherent drawbacks are much easier to quantify in normal daily driving.
Carbon ceramic or not, the stopping capability on tap in the GT Speed is certainly welcome given the sheer thrust that the GT Speed's twin turbocharged, 6.0-liter mill is capable of producing. Power delivery is admirably composed despite the tidal wave of torque that comes in as the turbos spool up to speed from low RPM launches, and the W12 has a unique, sonorous tone all its own, the volume of which is ratcheted up by exhaust valves when the suspension is dialed to its sportiest setting.
However, adjusting those dampers does require interacting with the GT Speed's infotainment system, one of the most glaring flaws in an otherwise incredibly well-sorted car. The system looks and functions years behind curve, with slow response to user inputs that are accompanied by dated visuals. It's a particular shame considering the incredible sound system it's mated to, one which I wouldn't hesitate to include among the best I've ever heard in a car, production or otherwise.
Leftlane's bottom line
Minor quibbles aside, the Continental GT Speed is a model which flat-out delivers on its two primary objectives - luxury and performance - and manages to do so without either seriously encroaching on the mission of the other. There are faster cars in the world, and there's also a short list of models that are more luxurious. But when it comes to melding these two seemingly disparate characteristics together to create a grand touring machine, the 2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed serves as the high water mark by which all other GT cars should be judged by.
2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible base price, $263,400. As tested, $280,935.
Photos by Bradley Iger.