DRIVEN: BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8
It's downsizing of a very Bentley kind but does the V8 Conti still do the name justice?
Just sometimes eco stuff makes cars better. No, really, hear me out. The Toyota GT 86's tyres for instance, they're the same sort of eco-robber fitted to the Prius, to give the 'right' sort of grip in the corners.
Until now there's only been the 6.0-litre W12, and while that's still at the core of the Continental range, Bentley wanted to offer a car that was 40 per cent more efficient but was a near performance match to the W12.
Bentley is open about the fact it's not the mpg figure or cost of fuel that owners are worried about, but the distance between fills and broader eco pressures. So that's okay, we're not talking about a Bentley Bluemotion here.
Based on the V8 that's also in the Audi S8, the twin-turbo 4.0-litre engine is tuned to produce 507hp at 6,000rpm and 487lb ft of torque between 1,700 and 5,000rpm. So the 40 per cent gain means range increases from 338 to 522 miles thanks to mpg that jumps from 17.1 in the W12 on the official combined cycle to 26.4 in the V8. That's a significant leap and one which, as Bentley's execs point out, means drivers can reach the Alps from the UK in one hit. How wonderfully on-message with the brand.
However, being a Bentley the V8 also had to offer the right character in terms of noise and refinement. This was a particularly challenging task, according to Bentley's engineers, given the engine will, thanks to cylinder deactivation, run as a V4 under light loads (although not idle). As you'd imagine, and as Bentley engineers freely admit, a V4 Bentley wouldn't sound right.
Most of the work to correct the sound in V4 mode has been carried out with careful exhaust tuning, including active flaps which route gases in a way to give the best noises. But Bentley has also fitted two-mode engine mounts which respond differently depending on the number of cylinders being used.
The system works spectacularly well. At no point is it possible to sense through sound or vibration levels which mode the engine's in. The only way you can tell is by looking at the instant mpg on the trip computer, which shows a marked jump.
In fact the V8's noise tuning produces a near perfect soundtrack for the car and one that, to this driver's ear, is preferable to a W12. Interestingly, unlike some modern blown V8s, there's almost no turbo whistle although there is a gorgeous and addictive burble when you lift off the accelerator.
As you'd expect, the performance isn't in any way lacking from the V8. 0-62mph is only down 0.2 of a second over the W12 and now stands at 4.8 seconds. And the GT and GTC V8s are now coupled to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission which also help that mpg figure.
On the road and in D the auto changes are as good as imperceptible. Switch to Sport and the changes are faster and more definitive. There are also paddles for manual shifts, but given the car is a GT in the classic sense it's not a mode that you use for long before deciding full auto is the way forward.
Track time in a Bentley seems an odd concept and proved, if nothing else, you need to be pretty committed to get it seriously out of shape thanks to the huge grip levels from the four-wheel drive chassis, 60:40 rear torque bias or not.
What the car does instead is look devastatingly handsome and powerful at all times and inhale roads like they're going out of fashion. And if you prefer the (even) more ostentatious soft-top, then the V8 GTC will do exactly the same for £136,250.
Our advice? Take the 'eco' V8, go further between fills, listen to the fantastic engine note as much as possible and use the saving over the W12 to indulge in the extensive list of Mulliner options.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8
Engine: 4.0-litre V8, twin turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 507@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 487@1,700rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 sec
Top speed: 188mph
MPG: 26.7mpg (NEDC combined)