The Continental was always a model child when it came to sharing. Very much a product of Volkswagen's profitable mania for platform recycling, the car infamously shares its underpinnings with the less-than-glamorous Volkswagen Phaeton. The tweaked 6.0-litre W12 engine came as part of the bargain and continues to this day as the 582bhp range-topper. However, with 384g/km of CO2 belching from its 12 cylinders, it must have been clear from the outset that the Bentley engineers would have to delve back into the VW Group parts bin if they hoped to satisfy their directors' environmental boast.
In best downsizing tradition, the forced induction unit they returned with is four pots and 2.0 litres short of the full W, and bristling with Audi technology. Already installed in the S8, the engine's most conspicuous party trick is its capacity for variable displacement (or cylinder deactivation). When the electronic management system detects a throttle opening consistent with a cruise or gentle acceleration, it closes valves in four of the eight cylinders, effectively operating as a V4. Reactivating them takes less than a heartbeat.
Bentley's own 6.75-litre V8 already benefits from a similar function, but the new 4.0-litre unit combines it with improved thermal management, an optimised, on-demand electrical system, lower-rolling-resistance tyres and, most important, the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox that is responsible for a six per cent gain in efficiency on its own. Although most of these features are the result of Audi's expertise, Bentley is at pains to stress that, while not built there, the engine is finished at Crewe to a bespoke configuration that reduces total output by 13bhp but delivers 7lb ft more torque at 1700rpm.