What is it?
For a company with some of the most bling-friendly customers on earth, Bentley has always taken a delightfully understated approach to often quite dramatic engineering changes.
Look at this, the new Continental GT V8 S. The name has just an additional ‘S’ and the looks are enhanced by just a mildly revised front grille, a new chin spoiler, reprofiled side skirts and a different rear diffuser. But miss the V8 S badge on the side and you might miss also that this is Bentley’s best Continental yet, and by some margin.
Bentley has almost started again with the suspension and has taken 18 months to do it, the aim being to sharpen up the Continental GT for all those customers who continue to tell Bentley they want more fun.
So, the power of the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 has been tickled up from 500 to 521bhp, the 0-62mph time cut from 4.8 to 4.5sec and its top speed raised from 188 to 192mph.
It’s understandable that much of the focus will fall on the additional engine power, but in fact it’s the suspension changes that are far more interesting, because this is far more than a stiffer set of springs. The Bentley's ride height has been dropped by 10mm; the front spring rate has also been increased by a massive 45 per cent and the rear by ‘only’ 33 per cent.
You’d think this would encourage understeer, but Bentley has also made the rear anti-roll bar more than half as stiff again but left the front bar unchanged, so the car is actually more eager to turn in. With ESP additionally reprogrammed to delay its activation, a more neutral handling stance has been achieved.
What's it like?
Don’t set too much store by these numbers, for they are not what this car is about. Indeed, I have only Bentley's word that the car is any quicker at all.
Show me someone who reckons they can spot 21bhp in a 2.3-tonne car that already had 500bhp without being able to do a back to back and I’ll show you someone who shouldn’t be earning their living this way.
Instead, join me on an open road somewhere in the middle of nowhere as the driver eyes up a quick, open turn and wonders whether to brake, lift or stay flat. In the standard GT V8, you’d be far more concerned about entry speed and mindful of any hidden mid-corner undulations that might unsettle the car.
Not any more; my time in the V8 S was spent unlearning what my brain thought it knew this car could do, and reprogramming it with altogether more interesting parameters.
Given what stands against it – its weight, four-wheel drive hardware, more mass in the nose than you’d like and the fact it remains a grand tourer rather than a real sports car – the V8 S has hauled itself up to a level you’d not have believed conceivable had you only driven the Continental GT as it started life over 10 years ago.
Of course, it corners flatter and faster than the standard V8, but by putting greater loads through its suspension, it is also able to communicate like no other Continental before.
The V8 S's chassis feels taut and precise, and while it’s still no drift machine, if you do run wide in a curve it will tighten its line in direct, precise proportion to how far and how fast you lift your foot from the accelerator.
Should I buy one?
Unlike its floppier, heavier GTC sister, these modifications suit the character of the Continental coupe.
Indeed, they speak of a car that has had all this latent talent stored up within it all these years and it’s only now that Bentley is allowing it to realise its full potential. Except it’s not there yet.
There was nothing in many hours of high-speed driving that made me think the car was near the limit of what the chassis could take. On the contrary, I think Bentley could and should go further.
And if the rumours of a sub-two tonne, rear-drive road-going version of its GT3 car hold any water at all, that is precisely what Bentley is planning to do.
Bentley Continental GT V8 S
Price £139,000; 0-62mph 4.5sec; Top speed 192mph; Economy 26.8mpg; CO2 246g/km; Kerb weight 2295kg; Engine layout V8, 3997cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Installation Front, longitudinal, 4WD; Power 521bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 502lb ft from 1700rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic