July 17 (Bloomberg) -- It’s summer. How do I know? Well, my hair looks like it’s been styled by a tornado and people are staring at my car.
This is the season of the convertible, prime time for those who prefer their pleasures in the open, wind skimming your scalp and onlookers gawping with envy. A convertible flips the proverbial bird at convention, a topless proclamation that you’re having a good time while others are commuting to work.
A roof-down car is the automotive equivalent of a bikini: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. (And even if you are headed to work, maybe you’ll arrive with the smell of beach in your tousled mane.)
Sticky summer days will surely send some buyers to the Bentley dealership for a test-drive of the Volkswagen AG unit’s four-seat Continental GT V8 S convertible.
Like July itself, the Continental convertible is an excuse to excess, a $216,000 hair dryer, not including the $1,000 gas-guzzler tax and $2,725 destination charge. (Where are they shipping that thing from, anyhow? Other global cars travel much farther than from the U.K.)
The car I tested came to $251,070. The $31,000 in options included a $7,300 Naim stereo (the better to not hear yourself), $2,480 sport exhaust (ditto) and a $1,035 neck warmer, which blows sweet nothings on your nape when the sun dips on the Hamptons horizon.
Life is good, right? Well, it would be if people would stop laughing at me. I was getting fewer envious looks and more titters. People pointed, but I wasn’t sure if it was in a good way. The problem was the special paint ($4,395) that Bentley calls “glacier blue.” Sort of like a robin’s egg, but more electric, like the color of the hide you’d find on a Smurf.
The GT is not a dainty thing. The slablike sides and high belt-line cry out for strong colors. I recommend “St. James” red, for instance. But glacier blue is a don’t.
Nonetheless, the car is a head turner. It’s got Bentley’s stand-up, grandiose grille. The big 20-inch (51-centimeter) alloy wheels and exaggerated rear wheel arches point to a more athletic offering than the chauffeur-oriented Flying Spur and Mulsanne.
The “S” in the name stands for sport, of course, and sporty exterior touches include a black finish on the grille, aerodynamic sills on the sides and four stylized exhaust pipes sticking out the rear.
It’s not really a sports car, though, so why choose the Bentley over other vanity convertibles such as the Ferrari California or Audi R8 Spyder? For the back seats: There are two full-size buckets back there, with decent legroom. That’s a relative oddity these days, as many convertibles are two-seaters.
That means you can share the fun with another couple, and the rear trunk is ample enough to accept sufficient luggage for a long weekend. That extra cargo room comes at a price: The top is the traditional soft style rather than a hardtop.
No problem. The soft top is lighter and more compact. Ragtops used to be noisy, leaky things, but no longer. The three-layer design from Crewe, England-based Bentley effectively shuts out excess noise, and I drove through a rain gale and not a hint of moisture intruded.
The car rides beautifully, even over potholes. The GT is a heavy thing, well over 5,000 pounds (2,300 kilograms), but the steering is reassuringly firm and precise. The all-wheel drive helped it through the heavy rain, and the GT makes its way out of corners with gusto.
You can thank that unflagging motivation from the 4-liter, twin-turbo V-8. Bentleys are known for their standard W-12 motors, but I prefer the lighter and punchier V-8 option. It gets better gas mileage, with an EPA rating of 14 miles per gallon city and 24 highway, and I actually saw better, reaching as much as 28 mpg over 120 miles (190 kilometers) of freeway driving.
On a sunny Saturday, I loaded up the car with passengers and we took a drive along wooded back roads, enjoying the weather and the freedom that comes with having no real destination or schedule. I’d almost forgotten how powerful the car is -- 521 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque -- until I came to a steeply banked turn up a hill. I gunned it, pushing the car into the turn, and both my passengers called out in surprise, then began laughing.
You could opt for the S coupe, which has a less expensive starting price of just under $200,000. The coupe looks more purposeful, handles better and takes its sporting side more seriously. But I don’t think it would be half as fun on a summer day in July.
The 2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S Convertible at a Glance
Engine: 4-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine with 521 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 14 city, 24 highway.
Price as tested: $251,070.
Best feature: Allows as many as four passengers to get a suntan while driving.
Worst feature: As expensive as a beachside shack.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this review: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin
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