New Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible 2021 review

With an outstanding chassis and a blistering engine, the new Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible provides plenty of open-top thrills

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

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In coupe or convertible form, the Speed adds more power and performance to the already compelling Continental GT package. Its chassis is as capable and borders on witchcraft, especially when the ride and refinement are well beyond anything that its rivals can compete with. Throw in the sublime interior and incredible materials and quality, and it’s a genuinely difficult car to fault.

We’ve never had any complaints about the amount of power Bentley’s two-door Continental GT puts out, but that hasn’t stopped its engineers from adding more - at 650bhp, this is the most potent version of the current generation of the car.

We’ve already sampled the coupe on a racetrack, so now it’s time to find out if that sharper, more focussed feel we discovered at Silverstone translates onto the road - in convertible and coupe body styles.

That headline figure is 24bhp more than the existing W12 model - which the Speed effectively replaces in the UK line-up. The bump in output is achieved courtesy of software tweaks, and similar attention has been applied to the gearbox, resulting in 50 per cent faster shift speeds. Torque remains the same at 900Nm, covering a huge spread of revs from 1,500rpm right the way up to 5,000rpm. Drive is sent to all four wheels.

The W12 didn’t hang about before, and with the Speed the Continental GT has just become even faster. Twirl the drive mode select dial to the left to engage Sport mode and press down both pedals to engage launch control. Release the brake, and the engine shrugs off the Convertible’s not insignificant 2.4-tonne mass to fire the GT Speed to 62mph in just 3.7 seconds. That’s one tenth quicker than the outgoing W12 - and the coupe is a tenth quicker still; 3.3 seconds later it’ll reach 100mph, and the acceleration hardly lets up towards a top speed of 208mph. 

Hard acceleration is accompanied by a deep guttural roar at lower revs, which transforms into an angry howl towards the red line. It’s not as goosebump-inducing as a Ferrari V12, but it still has plenty of presence. Go for the optional Akrapovic exhaust, and it gets more aggressive still, introducing a few crackles from the twin pipes on the overrun.

That power is kept in check by new carbon-ceramic brake discs gripped by 10-piston calipers. At 440mm in diameter, they’re the largest fitted to any road car, and only just squeeze behind the (also vast) 22-inch alloy wheels. Not only is their stopping power enormous, but unlike some carbon set-ups which can feel grabby, they offer plenty of progression - they’re just as happy coming to a smooth stop on the road as they are hammering around a race track. They save a significant 33kg of unsprung mass relative to the standard set-up, too.

In most situations on the road, it’s hard to believe that the GT weighs as much as it’s claimed to. As before, there’s three-chamber air suspension and a 48-volt electrical system which controls an active anti-roll set-up. For the GT Speed, Bentley has introduced a new electronic rear differential - the first for the brand - rear wheel steering and variable electronic stability control. It reckons all of this should add up to a more agile driving experience, yet one which maintains the typical Bentley stability and control. 

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It’s hard to argue with that claim. The variable ratio steering has been recalibrated to take into account the rear-axle steering, and remains precise and well-matched to the response of the chassis. Grip from the 275-section front and 315mm-wide rear tyres is tenacious; only when pushing the car hard into a tight switchback bend will the front end wash wide.

Approach the same corner with a little more caution, and you can get on the power earlier, because that new differential pushes the car around the turn. In Sport mode, where it’s at its most aggressive, it’s even enough to induce a little oversteer. That seems like a crazy thing to say about a Grand Tourer like this, but it’s so controlled and forgiving that it’s completely possible.

Perhaps what’s most impressive of all is that the added sharpness hasn’t come at the expense of comfort and refinement. Those larger wheels have introduced a little more fidget to the ride over broken surfaces, and with the roof down, those poor roads also produce just a hint of shimmy through the steering as the body flexes ever so slightly. Switch out of Sport mode and into ‘Bentley’ and you can feel the damping relax and the ride becomes smoother. In Comfort it gets better still, now floating over all but the harshest of bumps.

Combine that with a cabin that remains exceptionally hushed - you need to keep an eye on the speedo, as it’s so calm that you’ll almost certainly be travelling faster than you first think - and despite the performance bias, it still easily covers off the GT brief. That’s in part because compared with rivals like the Aston Martin DBS and the Ferrari Portofino M, the Bentley is still positioned significantly further over to the comfort end of the scale. Plus neither of those cars have usable rear seats.

From a design point of view, the changes to the GT Speed are subtle. At the front there’s a new grille insert, while the flanks feature unique badging, extended sills and those 22-inch wheels. The rear gets a new, enlarged diffuser. The cabin features the same glorious rotating display as the standard car, but unique embroidery, Alcantara trim on the seats, and special kick plates. Prices start at £209,000 for the Coupe, and climb to £230,900 for the convertible.

Model: Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible
Price:  £230,900
Engine:  6.0 twin-turbo W12
Power:  650bhp/900Nm
Transmission:  Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:  3.7 seconds
Top speed:  208 mph
Economy/CO2:  20.0mpg/320g/km
On sale:  Now
Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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