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Tuesday 18th December 2012


DRIVEN: BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8

A 500hp-plus V8 is a very Bentley approach to downsizing but can the Conti cope without its W12?


Despite the old adage about being chauffeured in a Rolls but driving a Bentley oneself, the Continental GT has never had any great pretensions to sports car vulgarity. Speed and Supersport specials have boosted bragging rights but power and bling do not a driver's car make. Now Bentley is going the other way with an 'entry level' model claimed to have a more sporting bent.

So there's an Audi-sourced V8 in place of the traditional W12, a 4.0-litre with 507hp and 487lb ft that, thanks to tech like cylinder deactivation and overrun alternator charging, is 40 per cent friendlier in terms of economy and emissions than the 12.

So far, so zeitgeisty, then but what of that sporting promise?

Interior is as opulent as you'd expect
Interior is as opulent as you'd expect
Figure 8
The black mesh grille, red badging and big, 'figure 8' tailpipes all mark the V8 out over its bigger brother. It's all, thankfully, pretty subtle compared with previous-generation Supersports models. More tasteful alternatives to the gaudy black and silver wheels and unique to the V8 Dragon Red paintwork are available too.

Inside everything's knurled, chromed, quilted, hand-stitched, or clad in real wood veneer. A huge amount of kit comes as standard, too - we particularly liked the seats, which offered heating, air conditioning and a massage function, as well as full electrical adjustment. Less impressive was the infotainment system, which had a predilection for annoying quirks. It wasn't the only foible, either. On more than one occasion, the self-closing boot didn't. And one attempt to raise and lower the rear spoiler for the purposes of ... ahem ... showing off, resulted in it jerking up and down briefly, then staying stubbornly in its upright position, before dropping unbidden back into its recess several minutes later.

New V8 twin-turbo feels pretty good
New V8 twin-turbo feels pretty good
Less is more?
Moving on, can you live with a Conti that's effectively four cylinders down? The answer is yes. Big, creamy spoonfuls of yes, actually, with more yes on top. The noise is tremendous; prod the throttle a little and the auto 'box changes down to reward you with a bassy thrum. Push further, and it grows into a warbling, crackling gurgle that works itself up to a murderous roar. 62mph comes up in 4.8sec - remarkable for a car which weighs 2,250kg - while top in top is 188mph. The power and torque are always instant and crushing; it never feels as though it's going to run out of breath.

So the engine ticks the boxes then. What about the rest of the car? Well, it has to be said that the speed with which you can punt the V8 down a lane is astonishing, given its size. The four-wheel-drive system never offers anything less than rock-solid stability and sure-footedness, allowing the power to be used to instant and devastating effect whenever you need it. There's no oversteer to speak of and only the merest whiff of understeer if you really push on hard. The suspension offers four settings, and the most sporting of these do a great job of disguising the car's mass, giving you the confidence to bowl into corners at faintly unbelievable speeds.

Driving experience is good, but not perfect
Driving experience is good, but not perfect
More speed, sir?
But the Bentley still doesn't quite involve you in the experience as much as you'd like it to. You get the sense that the car beneath you is rather like a giant technological butler, sorting everything out and leaving you simply to prod the throttle and turn the wheel as much or as little as you desire. While it's still exhilarating thanks to that fantastic engine noise and the endless grip, it's always a whisker away from being truly seat-of-your-pants good fun. If that’s what you’re looking for, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage S or a BMW M6 might be a better bet – and they’re £23,000 and £30,000 cheaper respectively.  That said, you’ll have to plough into the options list to get either to the same level of specification. Merc’s CL63 AMG comes with more toys, but costs similar money to the Conti. It feels smaller and more malleable in the twisties, and its engine is a cracker, but the rest of the car does lack the Bentley’s pomp and circumstance.

The Conti V8 isn't the sports car Bentley would like you to think it is, then. But to be honest, you'd probably already guessed that. It's in its element cruising at high speed on an autobahn; mash the throttle, allow the eight-speed ZF gearbox to find the right gear, and spurt up to 150 on demand, spouting V8 burbles into the cabin as you go. While it doesn't quite cosset you in splendid isolation the rest of the time - there's a touch too much tyre noise for that - it always feels big, solid and impressively grand.

So, a car to drive rather than to be driven in? Yes - but don't expect any surprises. Like all Bentleys, this one's best enjoyed on long, open roads rather than short, twisty ones. At £13,000 less than the W12, though, and with that vast improvement in fuel economy, the V8 now feels like the one to have.


BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8
Engine:
3,993cc V8, twin-turbo, direct injection
Transmission: 8-speed auto,four-wheel-drive
Power (hp): 507hp@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 487@1,700rpm
0-62mph: 4.8sec
Top speed: 188mph
Weight: 2,295kg
MPG: 26.9mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 246g/km
Price: £123,850 before options






Author: Alex Robbins