This lightly-disguised Bentley Continental GTC is understood to be testing the new turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine that is due on sale next spring.
Suggestions that the mule caught in our spy shots is a hotter Speed variant of the next soft-top Continental are wide of the mark. Autocar has learned that the new Speed is much further out on the product plan. The priority now is to get the new engine into production for early next year.
Two versions of the V8 are understood to be under development for Bentley: a single-turbo unit with around 415bhp and a hotter twin-turbo version with close to 555bhp.
There’s no indication which version of the V8 the mule is testing in our photographs, but the more open lower air intake suggests it might be the more powerful example.This sportier-looking intake also fits in with the sharper driving characteristics that the new engine is expected to bring to the manufacturer’s Continental family.
That sporty character should be backed up by a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission that Audi badges ‘S-tronic’.
Bentley has significantly re-engineered the Continental’s floorpan to fit this transmission, which is being co-developed with Audi for its new S6 and RS6.
The S6 is tipped to get a single-turbo version of the new V8 with 440bhp, the RS6 a twin-turbo with closer to the 555bhp of the most powerful Bentley.
The S6 is likely to be at the Frankfurt motor show, where Bentley is also expected to unveil the new GTC. The V8, however, is likely to be saved for launch next year, possibly at the Detroit show, followed by Geneva.
US sales are particularly important for the new versions of the Continental, where many sports car buyers will only buy a car powered by a V8.
Bentley’s new GTC is expected to follow the formula of its latest GT coupé, with a sharper chassis and steering that add edge to the driving experience without losing the hallmark comfort and luxury Bentley owners expect.