The Bentley Continental GT gets a smaller, lighter V8 powerplant – but it has a tough act to follow in the W12
IT’S exciting times at Bentley’s Pyms Lane HQ these days, and it’s easy to see why. The site has just marked 75 years as the nerve centre for Bentley ops, encompassing a history which once saw it producing Merlin engines for Hurricanes and Spitfires, and global sales have never been better.
Thus it seems the perfect time to build on the existing fleet, with radical new directions in design being readied, such as a recently-revealed SUV model, and a range of new ever-greener models that reflect all the musculature of the biggest W12-cylinder Continental GTs but with the light step of a ballet dancer.
Such as the new 4.0-litre V8 which we drive here, a downsized but no less impressive newcomer to the Continental GT family, and a new member of that emerging club of high-end cars with green credentials able to satisfy even the most ardent environmentalist.
The new V8 has a lot to live up to. It enters a model range headed by the thunderous and larger than life 6.0-litre W12, synonymous with the GT since its launch a decade ago and able to leave anyone who drove it convinced that an engine even 1cc smaller would somehow not do it justice. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger without the cigar – advisable, but somehow not quite right.
But, contrary to expectations, the achievement with the 4.0-litre engine makes you start to think the W12 is in a low state of tune. Despite being only two-thirds the size and cylinder number, at 500hp and 487lb-ft the V8 loses barely 12% power and 6% of torque to its bigger brother.
And since much of a car’s figures are masked by delivery, the V8 makes up for its nominal losses by having much more eagerness, with a sharp and lively feel that’s earnest and hardworking without being too revvy. That’s despite only being 25kg lighter.
The engine roars and pops in a more vigorous fashion than the W12 and the chassis is set up to handle more acutely and responsively in corners, and picks up throttle inputs in an instant.
In fact, such is the delivery that I honestly had to double check the engine specs to make sure this was the standard V8, not some cooking version. It’s hard enough to tell from the outside, that’s for sure.
There are a few styling cues to separate the V8 but you’ll need to look really hard to see them – pretty typical Bentley really, which takes the view that owners aren’t the type to want a blizzard of badges telling all; it’s a Bentley GT, full stop.
Dirk Van Braeckel’s original design was bold, clever and original, setting GTs aside as something very different and it’s a shape you can still spot from a distance, not something that can be said of an increasing number of cars.
The latest evolution of lines have modernised the appearance and sharpened the angles but don’t forget it’s original form.
Inside you receive all the finery expected such as quilted high quality leather, fine woods, and hand-finished aluminium and carbon fibre depending on your choice. But the engine is the star of the show here and it’s only fair to focus on the spectacular 4.0 V8 twin turbo.
Like the W12 the V8 is a magnificent piece of engineering, developed in partnership with Audi (for its larger S series cars) and only 67bhp down on the W12. Power delivery is instant and an unexpectedly ferocious, with 487ft-lb of torque from 1700 to 5000rpm with an unmistakable raucous V8 burble. Off the line 60mph takes only 4.6secs and it goes on in theory to a max just shy of 190mph – very impressive – but the real magic happens when you look at the fuel gauge.
The W12 loves a drop of the good stuff and on a spirited cross country trip the needle moves nearly as quick as the Breitling clock’s second hand, but in the V8 it’s as if there is a missing gear in the mechanism slowing the sweep of the dial.
It is 40% more economical than the W12, with a combined fuel figure of 26.1mpg and over 30mpg on long autobahn-style journeys, which really pays off when used in its true GT style and fuel stops become significantly further apart. The W12 was lucky to get past 300 miles on a tank, but you could well have another 200 miles left in the V8.
Obviously there’s an array of high tech engineering going on in the background to help efficiency, and a new 8-speed close ratio transmission helps, but what’s most interesting is the cylinder de-activation which transforms it into a 2.0-litre V4 when you don’t need any more.
The new Audi S8 uses the same system, and shows equal efficiency – though it does feature a small dashboard light to tell you it’s happening. The Bentley doesn’t, and in truth you will be unlikely to spot when it does. (Such British discretion is quite suited to the car; can you imagine a waiter constantly telling you he’s doing a good job? No.)
There’s now a paradox in the automotive world at the moment that’s key to why I enjoyed this car so much. Not only are they producing more impressive power and performance figures than ever before but they do it (relatively) discretely and cleanly too.
I loved the old game of Top Trumps as much as anyone in my youth, where all that mattered was peak power and brawn, to hell with the cost, but these days I’m much more impressed with these neater more compact and efficient cars than I ever was by the original gas-guzzling chest-thumpers of old. www.bentleymotors.com
Bentley Continental GT V8
Top speed 188mph
Engine 3993cc 8-cylinder
Max power 500hp @ 6000rpm
Max torque 660Nm @ 1700rpm
Fuel Consumption City: 18.4mpg,
Price (Basic) £123,850