There are few more convivial, charming or stylish ways of taking a drive than with the top down.
With that sentiment in mind, here are four of today’s most desirable luxury convertibles.
The nearest thing to driving an Aquariva speedboat on the public road, the Rolls-Royce Dawn is the personification of automotive elegance, 21st-century style. Vast in dimensions, sleek and gorgeously uncluttered in lines and extravagantly appointed within, it would scream ultimate indulgence if it weren’t for the fact that it’s all so incredibly tasteful.
Unless you’re one of the 50 customers who snap up the special-edition Silver Bullet (shown here), which is inspired by bespoke roadsters of the 1920s and replaces the two rear seats with a leather-clad titanium tonneau, there’s plenty of room for four passengers, who are wafted about in outrageous luxury, basking in the sun and breeze, not to mention the envious gaze of the less-fortunate masses. Power comes from a gently turbocharged 6.6-litre V12 engine, which generates more than 560bhp and a thumping 780Nm of torque from as low as 1,500rpm – meaning acceleration that, though rapid, is less terrifying than subtly relentless.
Although introduced just a few years ago, this current Dawn is probably nearing the end of its production cycle, as the Ghost on which it’s based was recently replaced by a brand new model. But no matter, this regal ragtop is about as sweet and desirable as the best luxury convertibles can get – and if royalty doesn’t happen to be your thing, it’s also the Roller that makes every one of its privileged occupants feel like a rock star.
Bentley Continental GT Convertible
If Rolls-Royces are for kings or cads (two supposed opposites that, of course, sometimes turn out to be one and the same), Bentleys are for gentlemen – or, at least, that’s the saying. And if any motor car could be said to uphold the values of the English gent today – stylish, well-mannered and just a little bit raffish – then surely it’s the Bentley Continental. Reintroduced into the British car-maker’s line-up some 18 years ago, the Continental also played a big part in re-establishing the marque’s sporting credentials – and the current Conti, though large, rather heavy and extremely luxurious, is the most sporty of the lot.
Crucially, it’s built on a platform initially deployed on Porsche’s impeccably handling Panamera and, just like the Pana, one of its two engine options is a 4-litre twin-turbo V8 (though if 540-odd horses are insufficient there’s also a 626bhp, 6-litre W12), so it certainly walks the walk. There’s all-wheel drive and active suspension, so the thing grips like a sports car should and wafts like a limo too. And then there’s the stunning interior, all put together by hand and fashioned from the finest materials.
Order the Continental GT in softtop form and as well as being capable of annihilating autobahns it’s also the perfectly relaxed boulevardier, so once you’ve arrived at your destination after gobbling up much of Europe, you can dawdle to your dinner date in the highest style, all eyes on you. True, there isn’t quite as much room in the back for two passengers as in Rolls’ more spacious Dawn, but in ultra-posh Mulliner spec like the Continental shown here it puts the “grand” in GT like few other cars we can think of.
BMW 8-Series Convertible
Although sharing a platform with the more stately 7 Series saloons, the 8 Series Convertible is intended to display a more sporting demeanour, thanks partly to what BMW calls a “carbon core” chassis. The reality is somewhat different, as the rather heavy 8 works hard at being genuinely nimble and is thus more grand tourer than sports car – though the high-performance M8 variant does offer much more of a hardcore experience.
Fortunately, the 8 excels as a swift, large and fairly luxurious carriage for transporting four people in style between two faraway points on the map, and this is especially true of the M850i xDrive. In this guise, the big Beemer ragtop comes with a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 worth 523 horsepower, as well as all-wheel drive – and to be honest it’s seriously quick, though its heft doesn’t make it the most wieldy of machines, in spite of BMW’s sterling efforts in the chassis department.
As to the interior, you’ll note we used the words “fairly luxurious” and that’s because, although the cabin is made from premium materials, well equipped and equally well put together, it’s not that different from lesser BMWs and thus not particularly special – and especially not when compared with the hand-built opulence of the Continental, which could and should be the 8-Series Convertible’s natural competitor. Hugely fast, cleverly engineeered and very comfortable, it’s both an impressive piece of kit and a continent cruncher par excellence, but a little more luxe on the inside wouldn’t go amiss.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet
We’ve long nurtured a soft spot for the unostentatious elegance of Mercedes’ mid-size E-Class Cabriolet, and the air of ease that this excellent automobile imparts. Built less for outright speed than comfort, it’s a car for lazily meandering through landscapes rather than carving them up – and though it’s no Roller or Bentley, it still makes its occupants feel like a million dollars as they cruise, top down, along La Croisette or past the casino in Monte Carlo.
It’s based, of course, on Mercedes’ deeply impressive, spacious and sensible E-Class saloon, which means there’s plenty of room for four and oodles of comfort, too. And though slicing off the roof doesn’t do too much for body rigidity, that really shouldn’t be an issue in a vehicle that’s mostly about refined relaxation. That, of course, isn’t the entire story: for those journeys when you need to get there in double-quick time, Mercedes does have an ace up its sleeve with the recently introduced AMG E53 Cabriolet, which mates a mildly hybridised 3-litre straight six producing 429bhp with a nine-speed multi-clutch gearbox and 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Thus fettled, the Cab can move at a fair old clip, reaching a maximum of 250km/h (though surely not with the roof down, dear) and hitting 100 in less than 4.5 seconds – and it even gets a dollop of attitude with AMG’s aggressive Carrera Americana-style grille (not to mention the optional Dynamic Plus package that even offers Race and Drift modes – both entirely unnecessary in a car such as this). To which we’d say, sure, go for the extra power, eschew the race-track tech and then revel in a motor car that’s as much about the slow lane as tearing up the fast one.