The Continental V8 is intended as an entry level Bentley, but it is fantastic fun to drive
The new V8 engine is more responsive than the W12 and wildly better to listen to
Bentley has completely revised the suspension settings so the Continental V8 is fun to drive
New four-litre V8 pumps out 500bhp and 486lb ft
The new powerplant comes from Audi, but is dressed in Crewe to Bentley's unique specification
Cockpit of the Continental V8 features expected Bentley levels of luxury
New V8 engine returns a claimed 27mpg as opposed to the W12's 17.1mpg
First DriveBentley's big seller has a facelift for 2015 and we've driven it on UK roads for the first time in twin-turbocharged 4.0 V8 form.
First DriveGo-faster Bentley Continental feels effortlessly quick despite its considerable weight
What is it?
You don’t need to set off to the South of France nor even drive down the road to know the new V8 motor Bentley has just fitted to the Continental coupe has something the long-serving W12 has never known. You don’t even need to move: just sit in the car park and stab the throttle. And in one deep, thunderous snarl of a reply, it’ll tell you it has more character than the fastest, most powerful W12-engined Bentley will ever know.
After that, the news just goes on getting better. Bentley is at pains to point out that the car Autocar drove at and on the roads around Silverstone was a mere prototype but confirmed its specification was signed off. Which means buyers can look forward not only to a car that makes a great deal more sense because it does 27mpg rather than 17.1mpg and can now drive from London to the Alps on a tank but, less predictably, is also a whole lot better to drive.
Here’s why: the main purpose of the V8 was meet a commitment made by Bentley in 2008 to offer a 40 per cent improvement in economy and emissions with no loss of perceived performance by now. Well, fuel and CO2 side of the equation we know about already, but could a 4-litre V8 really provide not only enough performance to justify inclusion in a Bentley, but enough of the right kind of performance?
What’s it like?
The new 4-litre V8 may have a mere 500bhp and, because of all the technology attached to it, weigh just 25kg less than a 6-litre W12, but if you compare it to a first generation 6-litre Conti GT, it has more torque and better acceleration thanks, in no small part to the eight speed ZF gearbox which you won’t get on a W12 even today.
Although Bentley takes the engine direct from Audi, it is dressed in Crewe to a unique specification designed specifically to trade power for torque. So while it has 13 fewer horsepower, it offers 7lb ft more torque at 1700rpm.
The engine is also fitted with cylinder deactivation technology though Bentley has dispensed with the active engine mounts and active noise system used by Audi in the S8. It improves fuel consumption by five per cent. More major fuel savings over the W12 include downsizing (16 per cent) and the eight-speed gearbox (6 per cent).
The remainder of the 40 per cent improvement comes from items like revised power steering, better energy recuperation, low rolling resistance tyres and improvements to weight and drag.
Better still, because maximum torque is delivered at the same 1700rpm as the W12 and is maintained all the way to 5000rpm, if you shift the lever into manual so it doesn’t try to downchange, you can ride along a very similar wall of torque as W12 buyers. But this engine is far more responsive, wildly better to listen to and, thanks to the never ending supply of gears, even more seamless at maximum attack.
It’s also a better balanced car. Bentley has completely revised all the suspension settings so that, for the first time in its life, the Continental GT no longer feels overweight. You’d not call it agile yet but it is precise, poised, balanced and, yes, truly good fun to drive.
Should I buy one?
The last Bentley I drove was a 631bhp Supersports model and, slower though it is, I’d mark this entry level V8 as the significantly more satisfying driving machine.
If you find this amazing, you are not alone. Indeed I think from Bentley’s point of view its abilities might even be problematic: it reckons half of sales will continue to be W12s, but unless you’re a Russian oligarch or are sufficiently deluded to think size matters in such things, I can’t see why you would.
In every area that matters to me, the V8 would be a superior machine even if it weren’t ten per cent more affordable. What effect having to buy this expensive new engine from Audi and charging less for the car you put it in will have on the profitability of each car remains to be seen. But I guess that comes under the category of nice problems to have.
Bentley Continental GT V8
Price: £122,000 (approx); Top speed: 188mph; 0-62mph: 4.8sec; Economy: 27.0mpg; Co2: 246g/100km; Kerbweight: 2295kg; Engine type: V8, 3993cc, petrol, twin turbocharged; Installation: front, longitudinal, four-wheel drive; Power: 500bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 486lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox: 8-speed auto