Bentley Continental GT/GTC V8: First drive review
After almost a decade on sale, Bentley has made the most significant changes to the GT and GTC ranges with the addition of an all-new 500bhp, 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine.
Designed to attract new buyers to the historic British brand, the V8 versions of the GT and GTC are the realisation of a commitment made at the Geneva Motor Show back in 2008.
This was when the Volkswagen-owned, Crewe-based company announced that it planned to produce a new power train that would deliver a 40% improvement in fuel economy without sacrificing the performance that Bentley is known for.
Well the result is this new engine, a joint venture with Audi (it is also fitted in the S8) and to achieve the set standard, it is fitted with plenty of clever technology to cut consumption. This includes cylinder deactivation, which at low speed turns the V8 into a V4 and an eight-speed ZF-supplied autobox, that block shifts up to four gears at once to improve responsiveness.
Although face-lifted just a short time ago, changes over the more powerful W12 versions are obvious and most noticeable at the front. There's a more dynamic looking lower front bumper, with distinctive shark teeth-like strakes and a slightly more upright grille finished in gloss black.
At the side, the changes from W12 to V8 are harder to spot, but there are a new set of optional 21-inch alloy wheels. The Bentley B badges are also picked out in red, like the rest of the car. A tradition that dates back to the 1920s, the 'red label' badge signifies that the V8 is a sportier model.
You'll spot a Bentley Continental V8 from the back by its distinctive 'figure eight' tailpipes split by a darkened lower valance.
Move inside the V8 and despite the smaller engine and (slightly) cheaper price, there is the same typical supremely luxurious feel that you only get from a Bentley.
The only way you'll be able to tell a V8 version over a W12, is that the V8 has a shorter centre console separating the front driver and passenger seats, there is only a single front armrest, the headlining is finished in unique cloth and the wood trim is dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus.
With the average Bentley buyer spending over £10,000 on options and the choice of 17 hide colours, I doubt there will be many standard V8 versions of the Continental. All the cars I drove on the launch were fitted with the Mulliner Driving Specification, which included attractive diamond patterned leather trim and alloy detailing, such as the turned gear knob.
Still, some of the money spent on the interior can be saved at the pumps. Drive the Continental W12 gently and you'll struggle to get under 20mpg, yet the V8 with its smaller, more efficient engine can return 26.7mpg, which is a significant improvement.
Bentley also claim that the V8 has a driving range large enough to make a trip from London to the French Alps on a tankful.
So, with a smaller engine and the fuel-saving technology, can the V8 Continetal drive like a proper Bentley? The answer is a definite yes, as with 60mph coming up in just 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 188mph the performance of the V8 isn't far off the W12.
Massively torquey too, the V8's 487lb ft is available from just 1,700rpm and because the Continental GT and GTC have standard fit four-wheel drive, the extra traction means you can make the most of the performance.
Worried that you'll notice when this engine swaps from V8 to V4? Don't, as neat features such as the hydraulic engine mounts mean it is completely undetectable.
Finally, it sounds fantastic, in my view better than the W12. At idle, there's a strong V8 burble,
which changes to mid-range growl when accelerating and then becomes a high-end growl during hard acceleration. Go for the GTC if you want maximum aural enjoyment.
So what's the Bentley Continental V8 like to drive? Well, the 25% weight reduction over the front wheels makes the biggest difference. The steering seems pointier and more precise, although it doesn't feel as sharp in convertible GTC form.
There is also a different handling balance over the W12, making this Continental feel more agile and responsive.
The new eight-speed gearbox seamlessly shifts between ratios, but it is best in sport mode where you can make the most of the performance. Leave it in drive and it seems to hunt between gears too much.
Finally, the column-mounted paddles are too big and easily confused with the indicator or windscreen wiper stalks. The Bentley doesn't like holding on to gears when on the limiter either and can be frustrating when it drops you into the next gear.
Better efficiency and an improved fuel range are not going to bother the average Bentley owner, but instead are sure to attract new buyers to the brand who hadn't previously considered a Continental GT or GTC.
Whilst, the W12 may be faster, it's the lighter V8 that's the more involving drive and on top of this it has one of the most luxurious interiors of any car on sale. If you're in the fortunate position of being in the market to be able to buy a new grand tourer in this price range (£123,850 V8 Coupe and £136,250 GT Cabriolet), the Continental should be given serious consideration.