Hot on the heels of Bentley's updated Continental GT comes the option of twin-turbo V8 power with the promise of fuel consumption and CO2 reduced by 40 per cent. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Even with its long-serving 6.0-litre W12 engine, the Bentley Continental GT may not be able to quite live with the ultra-focused supercar set, but with the introduction of a new, high-tech 500bhp V8 it has the potential to be an even better Grand Tourer, boasting a range of over 500 miles.
The senior league GT, or Grand Tourer, shoulders arguably the toughest remit in the automotive business. Consider the following. It has to look fabulous without being too flashy. Ferocious acceleration is considered a prerequisite yet it shouldn't compromise cruising refinement. Handling and grip must be tasty enough to entertain on a challenging mountain pass but the suspension sufficiently supple to sponge away the indignities of a neglected backroad. In short, the GT has to fuse something of the speed and style of a supercar with the much of comfort and refinement of a limo. Tall order and usually a very expensive one requiring lots of cylinders and, if you can run to it, a private oil well. And while better than most rival big time GTs in all of the former respects, Bentley's 6.0-litre twelve-cylinder Continental GT does fall foul of the latter. Which isn't entirely cricket in these eco-sensitive times. So Bentley has done something about it. After revising the Conti GT for model year 2012, the model range has now been split into two with the introduction of a new V8 powerplant that can shut down four cylinders, two from each cylinder bank, for dramatically improved economy and emissions. The ultimate version is still powered by a 6.0-litre twin turbocharged W12 engine offering 575PS in standard form, as before controlled via four wheel drive and a paddle-operated gearbox. These days though, a more affordable twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 model has joined the range. It offers 500bhp and the ability run on four cylinders when cruising on a light throttle, offering previously undreampt of efficiency stats for Crewe's stylish bruiser.
The V8 engine is derived from the similar-sized powerplant already used in Audi's S6, S7 and S8 models but with its power and torque characteristics tailored to suit the Continental's greater bulk. Crewe's engineering claim that the transition from eight to four cylinders, implemented by the Bentley configured engine management system, is "seamless and imperceptible". The engine features low-friction bearings, thermal management to avoid excess heat loss, energy recuperation and turbos located within the engine's Vee to reduce throttle lag. The headline outputs are 500bhp at 6000rpm and 487lb ft of torque between 1700 and 5000rpm. Power is still transmitted to the road via a rear-biased four-wheel drive set up which gives the Continental GT a handy advantage when the going gets slippery. Advanced ESP stability control technology helps here too with its 'Sport Traction' mode allowing extra scope for the driver to enjoy the car's handling with the safety net still in place. The link between the driven wheels and the engine comes courtesy of a new eight-speed automatic transmission built for Bentley by ZF. This can be marshalled via paddles behind the steering wheel should you wish, or else it can be driven like a conventional automatic. Bentley claims a top speed of 180mph for the V8 and a sub-five second 0-60mph time. Just as well, then, that the latest Continental GT benefits from the expertise of the best aerodynamicists the Volkswagen Group had and the venturi tunnel under the rear of the car and the cooling ducts in the engine bay all attest to their labours.
Design and Build
Does the latest Continental GT's styling look good with the black grille unique to the V8? And possibly even better with the optional special 21-inch six-spoke alloy wheels, which can also be finished in black? We think so. There are distinguishing features inside too: a new cloth headlining, eucalyptus wood veneers and optional two-tone leather upholstery. As for the most recent re-style, it looks much better in the metal than it does in photos. The classic Bentley matrix radiator grille is more upright, while the smarter headlamp design, in traditional four-lamp format, has exquisite jewel-like detailing including eye-catching, LED daylight-running lamps. At the rear, Bentley signature 'floating' LED lamps extend around the corners of the wings, emphasising the car's width and purposeful stance. The track is wider by41mm at the front and 48mm at the rear than the previous model. The hand-crafted interior remains demonstrably Bentley with acres of leather and wood veneers. The fascia, with new touch-screen technology, has been designed with a notion of symmetry, the centre console rising up to divide two swathes of veneer that were designed to resemble the Bentley winged logo. It's said that Bentley's designers even took a tape measure to a team of New York basketball players to ensure that headroom is acceptable even to those at the extremes of the morphological scale. The Continental GT is a proper four seater, although a broad transmission tunnel runs down the centre of the cabin.
Market and Model
Part of the point of the Continental GT V8 is that it can substantially undercut the £135,000 being asked for the W12-engined Continental GT model which, for the time being at least, continues in production. Rather than the established aristocracy, the Continental GT range as a whole appeals largely to buyers new to the Bentley marque, who would have baulked at paying for the Arnage series but who consider the Continental GT to be good value in comparison with a Ferrari 612.
Cost of Ownership
Expect a combined consumption figure of around 25mpg (as opposed to just 17mpg for the W12) and CO2 emissions in the region of 250 g/km (compare to 384g/km for the W12), thus taking a Bentley out of the top tax band (M) for the first time. The Conti's desirability has produced solid residuals to help protect buyers' investments.
The Continental GT V8, more than any other of Crewe's recent models, brings Bentley into a new era. Purists may grumble at the Teutonic influence, but one can't help feeling that if WO Bentley is watching, he'd be mighty proud of the coupe that bears his name. This model seamlessly blends Bentley's glittering heritage with the latest technology to create a highly desirable package. If you have the means, sports coupes don't come more classy and capable than this. Its substantial mass ensures it's no hardcore track weapon but if you've got a continent or two to cross in double quick time, there can be few better options.