St Tropez, top down, cruising effortlessly…you wouldn’t say ‘Non!’ to a Bentley!
If there is one personal car that is guaranteed to open doors to high-end locations, it has to be a Bentley Continental Convertible by Mulliner and Iain Robertson revels in the lap of luxury motoring, while enjoying Mediterranean sunshine and grand style.
In the playground of the rich and famous, synonymous with exclusivity, private beaches, walled gardens and multi-million Euro properties, where six-star hotels are not enough and 7-11 shops are relegated to the back streets, near service entrances, a Bentley drop-top is a passport to on-street parking outside clubs and restaurants, where only the finest Heidsieck bubbly is welcome refreshment. The French know how to turn on the style. They have done it for years.
It is a rarefied atmosphere of designer shops, Three-Star Michelin eateries and impeccably trimmed vegetation, where a money-no-object aura is tolerated but, unlike its near-neighbour, Monte Carlo, there is accessible space to breathe, without the giddiness of narrow back-doubles and steep hills, unless you venture into the Alpes Maritime. A bespoke motorcar is its own currency and, with its electric roof lowered beneath the diamond-stitched tonneau cover, the head-spinning potential is constant.
Sometime British-owned, Crewe-domiciled but Volkswagen-managed Bentley is probably more at home at a St Tropez tennis club, at the racecourse and popping into nearby Juan les Pins, than any other brand. Its own in-house coachbuilder, Mulliner, has combined traditional and modern coachbuilding techniques that introduce fresh, contemporary and bespoke features. A deliciously tactile Diamond Milled technical finish has been applied to the centre console, using Bentley’s first use of a multi-machined panel process, while exploring the long-standing partnership between a watch brand and an automotive manufacturer. The Breitling for Mulliner dashboard timepiece now features a brushed metallic face and bejewelled hour marks. Its bezel and air vent surrounds are finished in chrome to complement the stunning interior jewellery. Yet, analogue and digital displays are linked harmoniously.
Piano black wood veneers predominate from a choice of 88 different trim finishes, the artisans at Crewe mixing and matching the mirror-like perfection to inlaid Bentley ‘Bs’ and the new ‘diamond-in-diamond’ stitching concept, which adorns all four seats, the door casings, rear quarters and now, for the first time, furnishes the tonneau cover mentioned earlier. Contrast stitching in two complementary colours accentuates the thread against the quilting. It takes almost 400,000 stitches for each car, with 712 painstakingly applied, individual stitches, each one aligned precisely to point to the centre of the diamond it creates. Developing the embroidery process to deliver this alone took 18 months.
Powering the Conti convertible is a choice of Bentley’s V8 or W12 powertrains. When equipped with the 6.0-litre, twin-turbocharged W12 (317g/km CO2; 20.2mpg), the drop-top blitzes from 0-60mph in 3.7s but is still capable of a top whack of 207mph. The revised bi-turbo 4.0-litre V8 (260g/km CO2; 23.3mpg) responds with a no less impressive 4.0s and 198 mph. Apart from engine tone, which is muted anyway, there is scarcely anything to choose between them, apart from budget stretching.
Thanks to air suspension, any low-speed rumble from the 22.0-inch diameter, Mulliner styled alloy wheels clad in low-profile, edge-protected tyres is minimised but the responses at the helm are as direct as any bespoke sportscar, accompanied by just enough feedback to ensure accuracy. The adjustable ride quality is sublime and the structural rigidity is such that ‘scuttle shake’ will never trouble even the most demanding of drivers. Mind you, ‘lightweight’ is not exactly an element of this Bentley’s specification.
Taking to the main coastal autoroute, wind roar is suppressed at speeds of up to 60mph, when the multi-layer roof is lowered but higher speed cruising is best carried out with the top raised (at speeds below 30mph), occupants luxuriating in climate controlled comfort, the taut structure cancelling any air leaks, even though the rear and over-shoulder views are slightly compromised by the fabric and its concealed mechanism. Refinement levels are exemplary. Even when an errant Renault slips unguardedly into the overtaking lane ahead, the assured shedding of speed is conducted in a fuss-free manner, thanks to six-pot front callipers clamping dinner-plate sized brake discs and there is so much grunt on tap that whisking past obstructions is totally effortless.
Although this new model will not be available to order across the EU27 countries and several other important markets, such as the UK and Switzerland, until later this year, this summer’s Bentley Grand Tour of Mediterranean France is sure to part-fill the order book, with impatient residents from Monaco, Nice and Menton, all vying to be the first users of a Mulliner convertible to park in front of the famous casinos and beauty spots. It seems almost vulgar to talk about pricing but it is anticipated that a ‘base-line’ Mulliner Convertible will cost from around £260,000 and, if all the options and bespoke introductions are contemplated, that figure could escalate readily into £350,000 territory…heady and ever-so-exclusive.
Of course, Mulliner is renowned throughout the automotive scene for crafting some of the most individual Bentleys ever. It is the birthplace of coachbuilding, being the oldest automotive coachbuilder in the world and works through three distinct and specialist divisions: Mulliner Coachbuilt provides customers with the ability to work closely with a team of specialist designers to create unique body styles, use different materials and specially curated options. Mulliner Classic deals with (unsurprisingly) classic car requests, including the build of the one-off Coupe we featured last year. Finally, Mulliner Collections offers customers luxury-focused derivatives of the core Bentley range, such as this new Continental GT Mulliner Convertible, as well as the opportunity to personalise other new Bentleys, dipping into an expansive range of options from unique colour-matched paint, hide and thread combinations, to bespoke features.
Coming back to earth and driving my Suzuki after undertaking the all-enveloping Bentley experience only serves to underscore the value of bespoke motoring. To be honest, I am not sure I could tolerate all the attention and I like opening doors for myself, yet I can comprehend the appeal.
Conclusion: It is fun to play an unfamiliar game and, were I to play the Lottery and win, a Bentley might fit with my new jet set lifestyle, although being born into it would make the transition easier to live with.