Skirting Mono Lake in a 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible, I think back to the last time I was in this part of California. I was in grade school on vacation with my mother, grandmother, and younger sister. We were in grandma’s aging Chrysler minivan, and its three-speed automatic transmission was not long for this world.
Everything about the Bentley is vastly better than that minivan, but the setting makes me think about transmissions, and the eight-speed automatic transmission in the Continental GT Speed Convertible is the most important change for this generation.
Every Continental, even the lowly V-8 model, is disturbingly fast given its size and appointments. Dropping a fraction of a second from an arbitrary acceleration figure isn’t as impressive as the level of refinement the new automatic provides. Although the old six-speed was graceful when it debuted, a brief ride in the outgoing Flying Spur reveals surprisingly harsh shifts compared with the new transmission. The ZF eight-speed shifts as quickly as a dual-clutch unit but provides much smoother acceleration from a stop and creeps effortlessly in traffic.
Other key specs for the Speed convertible are a 202-mph top speed, along with 590 lb-ft of torque and 616 horsepower from the twin-turbo W-12 engine. Fuel economy improves 15 percent, to 12/20 mpg. Keen eyes will notice that the Speed sits 10 mm (about 0.4 inch) lower than a regular Continental convertible, and it still packs self-leveling suspension with four settings ranging from comfort to sport. Even the sport setting is more comfortable than the comfort setting on most other cars — this is a Bentley, after all.
Although the main reasons to purchase a Continental GT Speed convertible are its impressive numbers, the experience from the driver’s seat is more than the sum of the powerful engine and crazy sticker price. The torque rating is 590 lb-ft, but the cars pulls as strongly as a freight train at any speed in any of the eight gears. Acceleration is every bit as impressive as a supercar’s, but it’s always without drama and incredibly smooth. That’s a big difference now that every supercar seems to have a transmission optimized for launch control starts and aggressive track driving. Bentley gives you 90 percent of the supercar-acceleration experience with a million times more refinement.
We sampled the Continental GT Speed convertible from Las Vegas to San Francisco on a winding route that had us crossing Death Valley one day and fighting a blizzard the next. Neither weather extreme upset the big convertible. The all-wheel-drive system never made itself known on dry pavement and made short work of snowy mountain passes. Top up or down, the cabin was quiet, and the Naim audio system does a superb job when you want a bit more background noise. After approximately 700 miles of driving, we weren’t the least bit sore or uncomfortable.
We’re sure the typical Bentley buyer has a respectable personal fleet that includes supercars, SUVs, and everything in between. Unless you need more than four seats, or have a trailer to tow, the Continental GT Speed Convertible makes all of those other vehicles irrelevant. It’s smooth, fast, and incredibly comfortable at the same time.
2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible
- Base Price: $238,000
- On Sale: May
- Engine: 6.0-liter twin-turbo DOHC 48 valve W-12
- Horsepower: 616 @ 6000 rpm
- Torque: 590 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Drive: All-wheel
- L x W x H: 189.2 x 87.7 x 54.8 in
- Cargo Capacity: 9.1 cu ft
- 4.1 seconds
- Curb Weight: 5500 lb
- EPA Rating (city/highway): 12/20 mpg