As far as said big, fast convertibles go, perhaps none is more exquisite than the 2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S Convertible, pictured here in the striking shade of St. James Red. Not long after returning from my trip across the pond to drive Bentley's V8-powered Flying Spur sedan, I was given the chance to sample another one of its eight-cylinder wares, this one carrying less heft, offering a smidge more power, and, oh yeah, a roof that neatly stows behind the rear seats.
As luck would have it, the weather for my Conti weekend was the absolute definition of perfection. And so I took to those sweeping, tree-lined roads way outside of Detroit to see how this Bentley's "S" badge improves upon the lovely GT V8 Convertible I drove last year. Hard work, but somebody's gotta do it.
- By the numbers, the differences between the V8 and V8 S aren't that significant. Power from the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 increases from 521 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque – increases of 21 and 15, respectively, versus the non-S model. This makes the 5,445-pound, all-wheel-drive convertible a bit quicker off the line, with Bentley estimating a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, compared to the 4.7 of the standard droptop.
- But the power increase isn't the point here. Specific changes for the V8 S turn this already exquisite Grand Tourer into a much more precise, nimble machine – words I've never used to describe one of the creations from Crewe before. Front and rear spring rates have been increased by 56 percent and 18 percent, respectively, versus the normal GT Convertible. Bushing stiffness is up by 70 percent. The ride height has been lowered by 10 millimeters. The rear anti-roll bar is 54 percent stiffer.
- Numbers, shmumbers – when all that data comes together on the road, you've got a Bentley that's one of the better cruisers the company has ever produced. I've always found these cars to be completely unflappable, but the GT V8 S hauls with a far more focused attack. There's an eternity of grip available from the 20-inch wheels and 275/40ZR20 Pirelli PZero tires, not to mention the all-wheel-drive system keeping the power delivery under control. But that characteristic boat-like float that occasionally marred the GT's comportment is gone. The V8 S stays totally poised through the corners, and on the more involving stretches of my sun-drenched drive route, it truly felt lighter and more agile than its nearly three-ton heft would suggest. Feedback through the steering wheel is improved versus the non-S model. The large brakes keep everything in check with supreme force. This is truly one of the best-driving Bentleys I've ever tested.
- One of the greatest sounding, too. The 4.0-liter V8 used here is an engine truly tuned for performance, whereas the larger W12 is just, well, very powerful on its own. But here in the S, the aural stimulation from the twin-turbo eight-pot is improved, and with the roof folded back, it's a delight. There's a low, throaty growl bellowing from the figure-eight-shaped pipes out back, with a sort of percussive bass line that makes you feel like you can hear each individual piston pumping. I know Bentleys are all about being quiet and refined – and with the roof affixed, you barely hear anything – but this improved tone does wonders for the whole motoring experience. It's fantastic.
- Speaking of the roof, it's a solid, thick, nicely upholstered bit of work that'll easily shield you and yours from the elements. Beyond that, the Conti GT V8 S Convertible's interior is just as nice as it is in the coupe, or the Flying Spur sedan. Is the tech outdated? Yep. I've complained about that before. But like every other Continental with which this interior is shared, I've got nothing but praise for the craftsmanship and material selection. It's really hard to beat a Bentley in terms of comfort and refinement.
- Compared to the standard GT V8 Convertible, the S adds a premium of $13,100 – a solid chunk, no doubt, but that's chump change for the Bentley connoisseur. That sneaky little "S" really does change things for the better, here, making the Continental Convertible a genuinely involving, wonderful car.
- The Continental GT V8 S Convertible is still the same big, luxurious Grand Tourer it always was – comfortable, tight as a drum, damn sexy and plush. The changes to this S model aren't immediately noticeable in the city, or even while straight-line highway cruising. But on a beautiful day, on a tree-lined, lazy backroad, the Big B comes into its own with far more precision than before. It's an easy car to love, and one I'd happily steer every day until the summer fades away.