What is it?
Our drive in this Bentley Continental GTC V8 is the first time we’ve tried Bentley’s new V8-powered Continental range in production form and on the road – our previous experience being limited to a run in a prototype GT at Silverstone.
The new twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 is being offered in both the Continental coupe and convertible alongside the existing 6.0-litre W12 and fulfils a commitment by Bentley bosses in 2008 to produce a new powertrain that delivers a 40 per cent improvement in fuel economy and CO2 emissions compared with the 12-cylinder engine.
It’s essentially the same engine as that used in the latest Audi S8, retuned to give a power delivery befitting a Bentley, with slightly less peak power but more torque. In Bentley spec it pumps out exactly 500bhp at 6000rpm and 487lb ft from 1700-5000rpm, along with 25.9mpg on the combined cycle and 254g/km of CO2 in the case of the GTC (27.0mpg and 246g/km for the GT).
The V8 achieves that seemingly incredible reduction in consumption and emissions with the help of what Bentley calls variable displacement – otherwise known as cylinder deactivation. Under light loads, two cylinders on each bank are shut down, turning the engine into a V4, with all the obvious savings that brings. The switchover happens in 40 milliseconds – so quickly that you’re never aware of it. The potential problems of extra noise and vibration in V4 mode are nullified by ‘switchable’ hydraulic engine mounts and careful tuning of the sound produced by the induction and exhaust systems, although Bentley stops short of employing fully active engine mounts and active noise cancellation, as Audi does in the S8.
Further assistance in the quest for greater efficiency comes in the shape of a new eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox instead of the old six-speeder that’s attached to the W12, although Bentley has chosen not to adopt automatic stop-start, even though it was available (the S8 has it), deeming it too detrimental to passenger comfort.
The V8 Continental models get a number of styling tweaks to subtly distinguish them from their W12 siblings, including a slightly more upright black grille, red badges, a more aggressive lower front bumper design and figure-of-eight-shaped exhaust pipes, divided by a black valance. They also get some unique colour and trim options and a shorter centre console with more of a bench-like rear seat than the range-topping W12 models.
The V8 Contis are priced at around 10 per cent below the equivalent W12s, starting at £123,850 for the coupe and £136,250 for the convertible. Both versions arrive at the same time, with UK deliveries starting in May.
What’s it like?
This is probably the most sporting modern Bentley yet; that much is evident from the moment you fire up the engine. The sound it makes, rumbling at idle and changing to a wonderfully throaty growl under acceleration in the mid-range and beyond, is significantly more aggressive and charismatic than that of the W12, signalling a distinct shift in the car’s character. And it sounds even better from the outside than it does in the cabin – a proper, bellowing V8 soundtrack.