The new Bentley Continental V8 is much more frugal than its W12-powered sibling and is also a whole lot better to drive

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.

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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

Join the debate

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matsoc 5 January 2012

Re: Bentley Continental V8

Mario B wrote:
Yes, but would they fit 22 inch chrome wheels to it or have it wrapped in pink or silver foil?

Well, we could say that they have a bad taste fitting after market wheels on that type of car and choosing fool colours, but again why should avoid great cars because of the people who own them?

ThwartedEfforts 5 January 2012

Re: Bentley Continental V8

Porsche Nine Eleven wrote:
If anyone remembers when the put the BMW V8 engine in the Silver Seraph / Arnage in what were known as the 'green label' cars

the Seraph had the 5.0L V12 from the BMW 750 which was an incredibly dull engine in a seriously pisspoor package that at launch felt at least a decade behind any mainstream German competitor. The 4.4L V8 from the 740 that went into the early Arnages was actually an OK transplant, but as with most run-of-the-mill Teutonic V8s was efficiently inaudible and lacking in any character whatsoever.

The Arnage improved with the return of the 6.75L V8 in the Red Label and it became an awful lot better when German engineers got a hold of it by the scruff of the neck and reworked both the car and the old and gruff but still lovely Rolls-Royce V8. Anyone who has owned an historic model will tell you just how ruddy fantastic that lump is. It has what feels like all the torque available at idle and makes the sort of deep but reassuring purr that one imagines a Trafalgar Square lion might make were it ever to come to life.

Likewise the W12 is a drab appliance generating a lot of power and what can only be described as a really odd noise. I can only imagine that another engine from the masters of drabness - whether V8 or otherwise - isn't going to make this car have a heart and soul (c'mon, name me one VAG product that has such a thing). You just need to look at the prices of the previous model Continental with the 6.75L V8 to know which is the more desirable of the two long term. They'll never be pin money but the mass produced footballer's Phaeton is positively cheap by comparison.

As for the comments (such as the one I just made) about these things being vulgar footballer cars, well, hello, they ARE footballer cars. This sort of cachet might be desirable in some circles but then so are Rolex watches and Herve Leger clothing. If that's what floats your boat, you're welcome to go sail in it.

kaman 5 January 2012

Re: Bentley Continental V8

Mario B wrote:
matsoc wrote:

Lesia44 wrote:
kaman wrote:
I`ve never had anything other than compliments on the car, so the `image` is in my opinion press generated garbage
Absolutely. The only people obsessed with this 'premier footballer image' thing are the few who keep mentioning it all the time. To everyone else this is still an extremely desirable car.

Yes, this "premier footballer image" is something about UK I never understood. I heard it many times watching Top Gear, why should it be a negative thing? Footballers are young and have money to spend, why should they buy a cheap car? The fact that almost all the players of Juventus soccer team own a 458 make it a car to avoid? Ridiculous

Yes, but would they fit 22 inch chrome wheels to it or have it wrapped in pink or silver foil?

Who cares what wheels or colour of paint they choose, its just stupid british snobbery just like clarkeson procliaming he wouldnt buy one because the likes of Jordon own one, well I for one could say that I would not own a superb car like and SL55 AMG because some fat over the hill bloke without any taste in clothes and bad teeth owned one, get over yourselves Bentley/Rolls and Range Rover are world brands that we have every right to be proud of, who cares if they are no longer `bespoke`, cars from small manufacturers simply can not be in the present world.