"It's had its day I'm afraid," says Q of Bond's Bentley in Goldfinger as he initiates an enduring on-screen partnership with Aston Martin. In print, though, Bond is a Bentley man. Maybe it's time for him to get back to his roots.
What, you were expecting a road GT3 version?
Certainly two and a bit tonnes of Continental GT would make a pretty potent weapon in any car chase, with or without Q-branch upgrades. And though still something of a battering ram compared with a DB9, the V8-engined Conti is a much more balanced package than the fast but nose-heavy W12 version.
Especially this one, the new S version with the Audi derived 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 tickled from 507hp and 487lb ft to 528hp and 502lb ft. In the RS6 and RS7 this engine delivers even more but, given that it's already knocking on the door of the 575hp and 516lb ft of the 'entry level' W12, Bentley has tactfully kept a lid on to maintain the range's pecking order. That said, the S is only £700 cheaper than the W12, records the same 0-62mph and only starts lagging at higher speeds where it drops half a second 0-100mph and 6mph at the top end.
Optional 21s bring the necessary visual bling...
So, at the Bentley dealership with £140K in your hand why would you pick the 'lesser' eight-cylinder car? It probably matters more in which country that showroom is located. In crucial markets like China, where punitive taxes are levied on engines above 4.0 litres, you see the logic. In the UK the price difference between the non-S V8 and the W12 is nearly £16K but in China it's £70K. There's no Chinese price for the S yet but it'll help bridge that considerable gap and uses shared in-house tech to futureproof the Conti against ever stricter restrictions on thirsty, large capacity engines. How Aston must be counting the days until it can do the same with
Enough talk though, is this really the leaner, meaner Bentley we were hoping for?
...but the 20s are the discerning choice
Boom and bust
It's a decidedly more aggressive Continental GT than the W12 that's for sure. You want turbine-like smoothness? Stick with the 12-cylinder. Want to make the cutlery at the fancy restaurant you've just arrived outside rattle? The V8 S is your boy. Wisely Bentley fitted all the cars on the launch with the optional sports exhaust and if it thunders pleasingly from inside the cabin for those outside it's utterly unapologetic. It's classily uncouth though; a bassy rumble overlayed with discreet whistles of turbocharged induction rather than a NASCAR wannabe.
That aural aggression is matched with aesthetic flourishes like black aero extensions and a 10mm ride height drop that give the S a subtle but noticeable shift in emphasis. Most of the test cars had a blingy 21-inch rims polished in the Californian style but the smaller (it's all relative) 20s show a bit more sidewall and proportionally look more like those on the GT3 race car.
Savour the Bentley bits, ignore the VW ones
With 25kg less over the nose than the 12-cylinder cars, the V8 Contis offer a relative transformation in the Bentley's cross country progress too. In a W12 you almost have to count 1, 2, 3 as you wait for the weight to settle, the nose to heave itself round and the turbos spool up. Once all that's in play you've got formidable drive out of the corner of course but the V8 compresses this process into a much shorter space of time.
You can carry more speed in, get on the power more quickly and the fast spooling 'inside out' turbo installation reacts more rapidly to the throttle. OK, you're still battling a kerb weight that's more SUV than sports car and Bentley wisely hasn't attempted to get too clever with active diffs, torque vectoring and other flim flams. Regardless, on the final twisting few miles up to the ski resort after that cross-continental drive the V8 is the one you'd want to be in.
Audi-developed V8 given charisma injection
From the distinctive wand-like shifter paddles to the giant knurled gear lever there's a defiant and characteristic simplicity to the Conti that's very at odds with the current fashion for endless modes, maps and configurability. Pull that hefty lever into D, prod the throttle, go very fast. Pull it back another notch into S and go a bit faster and make a bit more noise doing it. Or knock it across into manual mode, play with shifting yourself for a little while before realising it's better left to its own devices and sit back and enjoy the ride.
Stiff upper lip
A button selects four stages of adjustment on the dampers but frankly there doesn't seem to be a huge difference between them and having gone mid-way we barely touched it for the rest of the drive. The base chassis settings are significantly more aggressive than the standard V8 though (spring rates up by 45 per cent front and 38 per cent rear, 70 per cent stiffer bushes, 54 per cent stiffer rear anti-roll) and there's a bit more thud and thump than waft and glide. But the damping contains that heft extremely well and body control has an easy-going fluidity that complements the torque-rich power delivery and buttery gearbox very nicely. This is a making progress car, not something to corner on the door handles. It makes a lot of progress and in a very satisfying way and will do whatever the conditions too. It's not a thrill ride but nor is it aloof and uninvolving. It's just ... nice.
Cabrio: same, albeit more heavy and floppy
That classiness, character and the badge will help its case against new competition like the S-Class Coupe announced today, those qualities off-setting some of the off the shelf VW fixtures and fittings. It all works well enough but there's a large gulf between the leather and chrome bits Bentley does so well and the generic infotainment and other controls lifted out of the common parts bin.
We're nit picking though. Abiding memories of driving the V8 S are the gentle creak of leather and the reflected rumble of a rather naughty sounding V8. Not trying to spot which switches are shared with the Skoda Octavia.
A little taste of Bentley V8
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8 S
Engine: 3,993cc V8 twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 528@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 502@1,700rpm
Top speed: 192mph
MPG: 26.7mpg (NEDC combined)