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.
The new engine may not have the headline-grabbing outputs of the W12, but on the road the V8 feels no less potent, with the ultra-flexible power delivery you’d expect of a Bentley, allied to a newfound crispness to its throttle response and gearchanges. Make no mistake: the Continental V8 is a very fast car, with a 0-62mph time of 5.0sec dead for the GTC and a top speed of 187mph.
Any refinement concerns related to the cylinder deactivation are soon dispelled. Try as we might, no one on the car’s Spanish launch could tell whether the engine was running on four cylinders or not; there was no discernible change in sound or feel. The car is smooth and astoundingly quiet at a cruise, yet power is always there when you call upon it. I defy anyone to spot the transition from V8 to V4; it works seamlessly. As it had to, really.
The benefits to the V8 Conti of carrying 25kg less weight over the front axle soon become apparent, too. The GTC may still be a heavyweight at 2470kg, but it feels noticeably more nimble than ever before, its retuned steering and suspension bringing a slightly lighter, sharper feel to direction changes. You still wouldn’t call it a sports car, but there’s plenty of incentive to press on a bit now, and the second-generation GTC’s noticeably stiffer chassis means it rarely feel out of its depth even if you do decide to ‘have a go’.
In all other respects the GTC V8 is as desirable as its W12 equivalent, with a gorgeous cabin oozing hand-crafted elegance and luxury, coupe-like levels of refinement with the hood up and, if anything, an even greater feelgood factor, thanks to the pleasure derived from the noise it makes and the more agile handling.
In addition to the huge reduction in running costs and gains in touring range it brings compared with the W12, the introduction of the V8 is significant because it makes the Continental feel like a thoroughly modern car all over again. The second-generation models may have taken a useful step forwards even with the W12 still aboard, but the arrival of this state-of-the-art V8 powertrain makes the Conti feel less like an indulgent, anachronistic plaything and more like a fully competitive, sporting luxury car.
Should I buy one?
Bentley is adamant that it will continue to develop the unique W12 engine for the Continental and that there are loyal buyers out there for whom nothing but the most expensive version will do, but for the rest of us it’s hard to see any reason not to go for one of the V8 models instead. They’re usefully less expensive to buy, substantially cheaper to run, will go half as far again on a tank of fuel and are actually more rewarding to drive. Far from being the poor relation to the W12, the Continental V8 is now the best car Bentley makes, whichever body style you prefer.
Bentley Continental GTC V8
Price: £136,250; Top speed: 187mph; 0-62mph: 5.0sec; Economy: 25.9mpg (combined); CO2: 254g/km; Kerb weight: 2470kg; Engine: V8, 3993cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power: 500bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 487lb ft at 1700-5000rpm; Gearbox: 8-spd automatic