What is Great Britain famous for? Entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson and Sir Philip Green, great musicians like Sir Paul McCartney, footballers and the Royal family.
If asked that question 25 years ago, I would have included car manufacturing, too. However, while the UK is still among the best at it, there are sadly few, if any entirely British owned brands and therefore in my book I don’t feel we can claim this field as our own. Yes, I know that Nissan, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce and Bentley all build cars here but they’re foreign owned.
That small point is quickly forgotten though when you’re fortunate enough to be entrusted with the Bentley Continental GT Coupe Cabriolet 6.0 W12. It’s a massive responsibility to look after something that currently costs more than the house I live in. Needless to say I worry about leaving it alone, just in the same way that I do with my precious baby daughter, Harriett.
This remains in the back of your mind at all times. But it does not take away the sheer joy that comes in savouring the beautifully sculpted cabriolet, on experiencing the roof dropping and on hearing the note of the engine as it bursts into life. The quality of materials both inside and out are the best man can buy and it is very pleasing to know that all Bentley vehicles are still manufactured in Crewe, Cheshire even though Germany based VW’s in charge.
On first acquaintance, after regaining a modicum of self-control and sobriety, it is necessary to load Harriett’s Mothercare Oyster pushchair into the boot. Simply press the boot function on the £200 luxury Bentley key fob and watch the lid effortlessly open. The compact pushchair fits snuggly inside. Push the ‘close boot’ button inside the boot lid and it automatically shuts. How the other half live but then their energies are better spent in monitoring share prices or some other such intelligent activity.
Irritatingly though, the rear seats are not large enough for adults and while Harriett’s baby seat fits, my wife’s front seat has to be far forward meaning that it’s not as comfy as it could be for Caroline.
On opening the large and chunky door the driver slides into the most comfortable seat imaginable, finished in hand-stitched leather – an incredibly opulent environment. In comparison to say, a Skoda Superb, it is clearly noticeable how supportive the Bentley’s front massage seats are in comparison, particularly for the lower back.
Leather seats can get sticky on a hot day and the Bentley’s incorporate a useful cold function (and they can be heated, too). The front seats intelligently recognise when they’re occupied and cleverly offer up the seatbelts saving passengers from painfully stretching backwards to reach, as is so often the way in cabriolets.
The dash is finished in highly varnished Tamo ash wood with lashings of chrome. Sunglasses can be kept in the ash covered Breitling case in the centre and there’s a complimentary Breitling clock, too.
There is a traditional ignition and a push start giving the driver choice. One qualm is that the ignition key resides to the far right of the dashboard close to the driver’s window. An ideal location for a thief to pocket them at the traffic lights when the hood or windows are down.
It is an absolute joy though to hear the gravelly tone of six-litre W12 engine, which sounds like a highly refined racing car and it doesn’t disappoint, if anything exceeding expectations.
The driver must respect this exquisitely engineered vehicle because press that accelerator too eagerly and you will lose control. Few cars will reach 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds and have a top speed of 198mph. Its abilities can be partially experienced pulling off a roundabout with a clear run ahead. Just push the accelerator down and be prepared to be stunned.
The smooth responsive six speed auto is easy to use while there are paddleshifts for those wanting to drive like a manual. The force experienced isn’t dissimilar to that felt when taking off in an aircraft. This is further enhanced by the hard, sporty ride and the accompanying wind when the roof is down. There’s even a neck warmer making it possible to drive topless in the coldest of climes. Helpfully, the roof can rise or drop at speeds of up to 20mph. When it’s up you would be forgiven for thinking that you were in a luxury saloon, it’s so quiet.
A wide vehicle, it makes a better motorway cruiser than a country lane crawler. Handling is exemplary, though.
Parkers, the car experts, say: “Any fears that new owner Volkswagen wasn’t going to deliver a proper Bentley with its first model in charge were instantly dismissed with the arrival of the Continental GT. This opulent coupé offers real 200mph performance. The four-wheel drive chassis and W12 engine are actually shared with the Phaeton, Volkswagen’s attempt at a BMW 7-series rivalling saloon, but the two cars are certainly not clones.”
This is one car that everyone should drive at least once in their lives.
Model tested: Bentley Continental GT Coupe Cabriolet 6.0 W12 (2011) 2d Auto £163,495
Gearbox: 6 speed auto
Top speed: 198mph
Tank: 90 litres (300 miles or so to a tank depending on driving style!)
Watch the video at www.testdrives.biz