When Bentley and Rolls-Royce were split by BMW and VW in 1998, there were fears that neither firms' ethos would survive the fragmentation. Those were allayed in 2003 when the Continental GT appeared, with potentially huge pace and majestic looks.

The four-door Flying Spur and drop-top GTC were introduced in 2005. In 2009, the limited-edition 621bhp Supersports showed that Bentley was still capable of producing something resembling the most unlikely super-fast bruisers it was famous for.

Some will find it comforting to think of Bentley's implied heavyweight sporting elegance as an intransigent part of Britain's automotive landscape: as evocative as the thwack of willow on leather, the smell of a village pub or the peal of a church bell.

But, in truth, the company is no more resistant to the preoccupations of the 21st century than any other cultural benchmark. And so, like limited-overs cricket or gastropubs, Bentley has moved with the times and, with the considerable help of its German cheque writer, Volkswagen, introduced the green and pleasant version of the Continental GTC that it promised in 2008.

Of course, some things don't change. The continued fitment of the 6.0-litre W12 engine is proof of that. Bentley may have delivered the 40 per cent improvement in economy and emissions that it said it would, but that hefty reduction still permitted the fitment of a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine from Audi that produces 500bhp. The question is: are those 500 four-ringed geldings capable of mimicking Bentley shire horses aboard the mobile amphitheatre that is the GTC?

Top 5 Ultimate luxury

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    3 March 2015
    Sharper handling, more refined and better-looking. Still a bit rough around the edges, mind, but now good enough to be a class contender
  • Car review
    27 February 2015
    The second pure Mercedes-AMG model is a triumph of engineering and design, and should have rivals from Porsche and Audi worried
  • First Drive
    27 February 2015
    Dual motors and a power hike give Tesla's electric family car supercar acceleration - and the rest of the package is as strong as ever
  • Car review
    26 February 2015
    Flagship performance C-Class is more than ever a true rival for BMW's M3, and impresses with both its breadth of ability and its practicality
  • First Drive
    26 February 2015
    The new Renault Megane GT 220 is essentially a toned-down version of the hallowed Renaultsport 275, but does it have the required DNA?