What is it?
A new convertible variant of the Continental GT, the sister car to the GT V8 S and another step towards returning Bentley to its pure, sporting roots.
This is not a transformation – a Bentley GT3 for the road, if you will – alhough all the rumours suggest that car is in the development pipeline. Instead, this is a typically subtle but thorough working over of what was already here. If you think of it as a GTC V8 that spends the small hours pumping iron in the gym, you’ll have the right kind of idea. And like any good workout programme, every important part has been toned and tuned.
The easy bit was the engine. A line or two of software in an ECU has instructed the turbos of the 4.0-litre V8 to blow a little harder and there’s another 21bhp straight away, bringing the total to 521bhp. There has also been some minor reprogramming of the eight-speed ZF autobox to suit the new power curve.
What took the time – and it was an 18-month programme – was getting the suspension tune right. The car is 10mm lower but that’s barely the start. The front air springs are 45 per cent stiffer, while the rears go up by just 33 per cent but are balanced by a rear anti-roll bar that’s over half as stiff again.
The dampers have been reprogrammed, too, to dial in both more bump and rebound control, while all the bush rates have also gone up, those on the lower front suspension arms by 70 per cent. And the ESP has been reprogrammed to allow the car to get just that little bit more out of shape before concluding there’s an idiot at the wheel.
In terms of parts that determine how the car performs, the only items left unchanged are the vast iron discs (carbon-ceramics are optional), because they’re already good enough for the 616bhp GT Speed.
Visually you’ll know it’s an S by the slightly naff badges on the wings, the deeper front spoiler, new side skirts and rear diffuser, and fresh wheel and colour options. All the usuals you’d expect, in other words.
What's it like?
I’d be being less than truthful if I told you that at this distance I could tell the difference the extra 21bhp makes, although I have no reason to doubt it does indeed trim the GTC’s 0-62mph pace from 5.0sec flat to 4.7sec. The V8 rumbles and roars effectively enough, although even Bentley admits it does so no more than in the standard car.
As for the chassis, Bentley has cleverly elected to introduce the world to its latest product in southern California, where roads resemble those in the UK only insofar as cars drive on them. How compromised the ride has been by all that stiffening work remains to be seen.
What I will say is the car rides well enough not to agitate its commendably stiff body shell, but I’d not be surprised if a decent ride in the US turns into something merely adequate at home.
Then again, Bentley engineers are clever but they’re not miracle workers, and their hope is that customers will put up with that extra firmness for the handling dividends it brings. And dividends there are: for a convertible weighing just 30kg shy of 2500kg, its handling is little short of incredible.
There is grip aplenty, poise, accurate steering and even a definite inclination to pivot around its axis when you play with the accelerator in a fast turn. But now I should also say that by the standards of the cheaper, incomparably quicker, more powerful and 800kg lighter Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, the Bentley’s handling is certainly fluent, but perhaps not much more than that.
Should I buy one?
Possibly not. The problem here is simply that the standard GTC V8 is already one of the finest grand touring convertibles you can buy, and it’s hard to see what’s going to tempt a customer interested in such a car into spending the additional £16,650 required to add that little ‘S’ to the car’s title.
At £152,900, it’s even more expensive than the more powerful 567bhp 6.0-litre, 12-cylinder Continental GTC. The extra performance is marginal, but I fear the compromise in ride quality may spoil the car’s finest attributes in pursuit of abilities unlikely to be that high on the priority list of typical prospects for such a car.
By stark staring contrast, these very modifications turn the Continental GT coupé into quite possibly the best Bentley in living memory. Substantially lighter, more sporting in outlook and with a massively more structurally stiff platform to show off the new components to their best effect, the GT feels let loose and revels in its new found abilities. But that is another story.
Bentley Continental GTC V8 S
Price £152,900; 0-62mph 4.7sec; Top speed 191mph; Economy 25.9mpg; CO2 254g/km; Kerb weight 2470kg; Engine V8, 3997cc, twin-turbocharged, petrol; Power 521bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 502lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox 8-spd auto