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.