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

Explore the Bentley range

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    3 July 2015
    Charming four-door city car gets Smart's new six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, in a bid to make the Forfour more versatile
  • First Drive
    2 July 2015
    First UK drive in the latest-generation MX-5 reveals an iconic roadster that's back to its best
  • First Drive
    2 July 2015
    Extra firepower and pared-down kerb weight conjure even greater brilliance from the Boxster's chassis. Pricey – but superb to drive
  • First Drive
    1 July 2015
    There's another BMW 2 Series variant on the horizon; we drive a late-stage prototype plug-in hybrid Active Tourer
  • BMW's prototype fuel cell concept is based on the 5GT
    First Drive
    1 July 2015
    Fuel cell-powered 5 Series GT concept previews a revolutionary storage and refuelling system which could pave the way for hydrogen to become the alternative fuel of choice