When VW bought the Bentley name in 1998 it made the very sensible decision to retain the metal-bashing, veneer-slicing and leather-stitching craftspeople at the Crewe factory. Looking to distance itself as far as possible from previous sister brand Rolls Royce (owned by rival BMW) it was able by 2003 to create a monstrously powerful luxury coupe on the VW Phaeton platform that sported a virtually hand-crafted interior at a value-for-money price (in luxury car terms anyway). The bully-boy exterior of the new Continental was intended to attract a more youthful crowd of "racy young men," harking back to the glory days of the 1920s and 30s rather than the middle-aged clientele of the Rolls Royce years. It worked rather spectacularly, though of course the "racy young men" of today with sufficient cash to buy a Bentley tended to be professional sportsmen or rap stars. There was a period a few years ago when the player car parks of Manchester United and Chelsea soccer clubs were full of nothing but Bentley GTs.
Bentley is naturally very grateful for their business, but as the brand grows and strengthens it needs to appeal to more mainstream markets of the US, Europe and China and these clients need a little more refinement in their boulevard bruiser. The "standard" Continental coupe was significantly updated at the end of last year after nearly eight years in production but the Convertible was always the more beautiful and desirable version and the new 2012 model on display at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month is no exception.
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With such a successful product you don't mess around with it too much. The original beefy curves are still there in essence but a new high-pressure "superforming" technique has allowed for the creation of crisper edges to the flow lines and subtle re-sculpting to the aluminum fenders, hood and trunk. It's also allowed for the removal of some unsightly panel seams at the front and with the upright radiator grill the overall effect is more contemporary yet as Bentley says "more bespoke." The flattened trunk in particular harks back to pre-war Bentley saloons. New 20" or 21" wheels complete the muscular new look.
The fabulous interior has been made more cosseting with new soft-touch leather and veneer dash in a shape that mimics the wings of the Bentley logo, (as does the steering wheel). Rear leg room has been increased as has soundproofing to the multi-layer soft-top and cabin undertray. Customers now have a choice of 17 leather colors and seven veneers, all produced and fitted by Crewe's craftspeople. The ageing Satnav has finally been upgraded to an advanced 8" touchscreen system sourced from VW. A Naim premium audio system is available as an option.
Under the hood the unique W12 engine now puts out 567 hp (423 kW) and provides 516 lb ft (700 Nm) of torque and is capable of running on petrol or biofuel (or a combination). The all-wheel drive system has been tweaked and features a 40:60 torque bias (as opposed to 50:50 on the original car) for more responsive handling in the twisty stuff, front and rear track has been increased and gear shift times have been halved. This all adds up to a performance envelope of 0-60 in 4.5 secs (0-100 km/h in 4.8 secs), 0-100 in 10.9 secs (0-160 km/h in 10.9 secs) and 195 mph top speed (314 km/h). All yours for just $212,800 (£149,350/€170,060).
Never forget - the original James Bond drove a Bentley.View gallery - 28 images