Autocar’s publisher Mark Petch gets the opportunity to put Bentley’s all new ‘singing and dancing’ continental GT V8 through its paces at its recent north American launch.
Sporting four fewer cylinders than Bentley’s W12-engined, third-generation Continental GT, the V8 variant may look like a bit of a trade off in terms of outright performance and prestige. However, in this particular instance, let me assure you that less is actually more.
The new Continental GT V8 is not only built on the underpinnings of the Porsche Panamera, but it also utilises Porsche’s 404kW V8 engine. Fortunately the new Bentley certainly doesn’t look like the Panamera in any way, shape or form, and nor does it feel like one either. No, the new Continental GT V8 is quintessentially British were it counts most, and that’s in the tactile feel and look of its lavish leather-clad interior that could only ever be designed and made in Britain.
Hand-built in the original Crewe factory, the new car continues the traditions of the most successful Bentley ever, having sold more than 70,000 cars over the last 15 years. The successful marriage of precision German automotive engineering with the time-honoured traditions of hand-built, bespoke British luxury sees those who purchase the new Continental GT V8 gain the best of both worlds.
This is luxury in the true sense of the word, and with a lighter twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8, this Bentley has the agility and athleticism that few, if any, other Grand Tourer can match. Bentley’s engineering staff went to great lengths to explain that they were involved from the get-go in the design of both the new platform and the twin-turbocharged engine, along with their Porsche ‘brothers in arms’, as part of the vast VW family’s shared engineering philosophy.
Interestingly, the shared platform is some 90 centimetres shorter in the two-door Bentley, which not only enhances the Continental GT’s rakish design but also contributes to the car’s sporting agility by utilising a shorter wheelbase.
The lighter, twin-turbo’d engine also sits some 100mm further back in the chassis and it’s this shift in the car’s polar weight that has transformed the dynamics of the Continental GT V8 over the company’s flagship W12 engined car, which also weighs some 200 kilogrammes more.
The new V8-engined car is so good, you need to drive it in order to appreciate how nimble it really is. You can fully exploit its dynamic abilities, snaking quickly downhill rushing from corner to corner. The old cliche ‘like a rat up a drain pipe’ sprung to mind when hustling this comparative heavyweight through seemingly ever tightening downhill corners without so much as a hint of understeer before gassing it back up and rushing forward to the next cornering challenge!
Fun? Yes, ear-to-ear grin-inducing fun in fact, and I have to say, it was totally unexpected on my part. Kudos Bentley! The steering feel is quite possibly the best I have experienced in a luxury car, being beautifully weighted and communicative. It utilises a variable rack ratio so parking is a breeze but through tighter corners the rack ratio changes to minimise steering input.
The car’s active all-wheel-drive system in Sports mode is heavily biased to deliver up to 80 per cent of the drive torque to the rear wheels. However it’ll progressively shift more of the drive to the front wheels as and when is required for improved traction.
Whilst we didn’t get to drive the car on slippery roads, there is no question that the active ‘four paw’ mode will be of great assistance in more treacherous conditions. The car’s independent suspension rides on a three-chamber pneumatic air system in place of steel springs.
The Bentley-tuned Intelligent Dynamic Ride System offers four modes of ride quality from ‘pillow like’ to firm and responsive in Sports mode at the twist of the central control knob. It’s tempting to leave the car in Sport mode because, along with the more responsive throttle, the burble of the V8 engine on the overrun is totally intoxicating, whereas in Comfort mode the engine note is heavily muted, as befits the car’s most refined setting.
Even left in Sports mode, the car’s ride surprises given that our GT ran on 20-inch, 10-spoke wheels dressed with Pirelli’s PZero 265/45ZR20 tyres on the front and 30mm wider 40 series on the rear. There are also optional 21- and 22-inch wheels. However, Bentley representatives quietly acknowledged that ride quality is compromised by going any larger than standard.
The car’s official performance statistics record that the new Continental GT will hit 100km/h in just four seconds, and whilst I didn’t have the necessary equipment or indeed the time to verify Bentley’s claim, there’s little question that this big car feels indecently fast when the question is asked of it. This literally leapt out of tight uphill corners and powered seemingly ever upward on the hilly sections of our drive route in and around the hills that form the famed Napa Valley in Northern California.
Responsible for that big push is Porsche’s most powerful production internal combustion engine yet. The twin-scroll, dual-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine develops 700Nm of torque that flatlines from just under 2000rpm through to 4500rpm. It also produces 404kW at 5750rpm. When one considers that the Continental GT weighs in at a porky 2165kg, some 200kg heavier than the Panamera turbo, that’s staggering performance for a luxury vehicle.
As one would expect, the creature comforts excel; heated armrest, seat, steering wheel, neck warmers and a massage function for the seat, the latter offering adjustability in every conceivable direction. Along with the last word in worldly connectivity, this is surely the ultimate in personalised, bespoke British luxury motoring on a grand fashion.
There are also innovative touches inside such as the central rotating three-sided dash panel which can display the touchscreen infotainment system, a trio of classic analogue gauges or it can rotate once again to present a neatly integrated wood veneer finish that blends perfectly with the inlays on either side of the panel. A sat nav display is available at all times in between the central instruments, as well as in the head-up display.
There is seemingly no end to what’s on offer for those with an indulgent persuasion when ordering your GT. Bentley has a vast array of standard colour options to choose from. However, as with any bespoke luxury car the sky is the limit, and decadence reigns supreme if that’s what rings your bell. Whilst the Coupe rings mine with its muscular haunches and lithe lines, there are those amongst us that will be irresistibly drawn to the convertible that offers ‘wind in the hair’ and ‘look at me’ experiences in spades.
It weighs slightly more of course and loses the sharpness of the coupe in the handling department, but who cares when the day dawns bright and the sun dances on the shimmering seas.
Life, I am reminded, is for living and for those amongst us who are fortunate to be able to afford such a car, there is no better personal statement on four wheels than the new Bentley Continental GT V8 drop top.