When the call came from Simon Elkin of Harwood’s Bentley in Pulborough, with an offer to test the new Bentley Continental V8 convertible, l struggled to think of a better way to spend an afternoon. My wife was in labour at the Sussex County and my daughter had a ballet performance that she had been rehearsing for well over three months but l still thought driving a new Bentley was the most important task l had that afternoon. I don’t regret it.
The Continental moniker has been around for quite some time and was originally used on any model that WO himself had taken for high-speed testing to mainland Europe. The first was the 1952 R-type coupe and it is still an evocative name that conjures up images of Roger Moore and Britt Eckland cruising around Casino Square in Monte Carlo.
I was blown away but the sheer majesty of the car and if you pluck up the courage to open the taps on this 500 hp twin turbo V8 you will quickly learn that it is actually is feasible to merge a luxury GT with the sort of power you might expect from a Ferrari. It can be savage unless you would like to take your Nan to church, in which case it is well behaved and almost docile with a stately manner that made me feel quite regal.
With a car weighing in at 2320kg, you would be forgiven thinking it a misprint when l tell you that the 0-62mph score is 4.8 seconds. And this is not the fast one! The 6.0 litre W12 sits atop the tree but the V8, with a slight reduction in power but a huge economy saving, the V8’s 29.7mpg compared to the W12’s 17.1, l don’t think you need to look much further than the V8.
It also offers a cavernous boot with a low lip ensuring that the heft of the golf bats is none too strenuous.
Bentley’s design team, led by Dirk van Braeckel, have sculpted and carved the body with gorgeous pronounced creases and curves and although there is a nod to the past, this is contemporary 2014 styling with great visual muscularity.
I fully expected to wallow around the bends but she will have none of it. Surface imperfections pass unnoticed, our glorious Sussex potholes don’t exist and when cornering in anger, it can hold 1.05g of lateral grip and that is vastly impressive.
Touch the accelerator on a motorway slip road at 30mph and you will be doing 70mph in 4.2 seconds. Repeat the exercise at 50mph and you will cruising at 70mph within 2.4 seconds. You get the idea – this is a hugely fast car with impeccable road manners.
The interior leaves me slightly breathless. Acres of soft embroidered leather, yards of perfect polished walnut veneer, handmade aluminium fascia inserts and chrome-bevelled control dials all contribute to a rich and luxurious interior that very few manufacturers can pull off.
You wonder how many hours went into designing the triple laminated acoustic glass that cuts out virtually all wind noise. Crewe’s master craftsmen have an uncanny attention to detail and are the envy of the industry. They have even designed the dash to resemble the wings of the Bentley badge. And the smell of leather, wood and deep pile is intoxicating.
They have had to work hard to make this work for four people. The front seats have been cleverly slimmed down to offer an extra 46mm of rear legroom but in the back, anyone over six feet will be a tad tight. But then with the convertible, that problem dissipates into the thrill of hair in the wind motoring and a lovely roar from the thumping V8 when you hit the gas.
The standard equipment is impressive of course and too long to list and then there are those devilishly attractive extra items that would have my cheque book out in a jiffy. Take the optional carbon-ceramic brakes that will stop this beast from 60mph in 2.5 seconds. How could you not order that option?
This is not a cheap car to buy or to run but then why should it be? It is the pinnacle of great British engineering, seamlessly drawing from a long and illustrious history and still showing the world what luxury is all about.
I previously had seven things to accomplish on my ‘to do before l die’ list and now there are eight – to own a Bentley Continental.