– Exceptionally fast
– Great exterior and interior
– Ride and handling
– Still pretty expensive
– Rear seating space
– Obvious VW-sourced bits
Downsizing is a commonly-heard buzzword nowadays, even when it comes to cars. Bentley now has a V8 option for their traditionally-V12 Continental GT. But while most manufacturers are making their motors smaller and their cars lighter for the sake of fuel economy and emissions regulations, it’d seem the British uber-luxury carmaker more likely introduced the new variant to lower the barrier-of-entry to Bentley ownership. The astounding part is that this new “base” model loses nothing to its pricier siblings.
It’s hard to believe that the Continental GT’s basic design is now a decade old. Bentley’s uncelebrated styling team created a timeless shape that’s only been spruced up with a minor facelift in 2012. The V8 version further gets unique touches that include a more aggressive front bumper, black grille, infinity-shaped exhaust tips and red “B” badges, signifying that there’s more to this car than just a smaller engine.
The cabin is trimmed with leather all over, almost down in the thickly-carpeted footwells. Fully factory-customisable on order, our test car came with red upholstery on the seats, dashboard and doors. Instead of the wood or aluminium we’ve seen in other Continentals, this specific car has large carbon-fibre dash inserts facing the front passengers. Even the traditional metal a/c vents are there, complementing the metal shift-knob and pedals.
The GT is a pretty big car, but it’s really designed to ferry two passengers in the spacious partially-bolstered front seats, since the upright rear buckets can only hold kids in comfort. As for storage spaces, there’s a surprising number of cubbies and pockets, in a segment that usually forgoes practicality for style. An odd option is a cover for the exposed cup-holders that pops off to become a case for your sunglasses. The individual centre-armrests, one of which already contains a phone handset, can open up to store small stuff in. Even the boot, which isn’t particularly big, has a cargo net to hold down smaller bags.
The tech features, upgraded alongside the 2012 facelift, continues to feed off Volkswagen tech, with a touchscreen multimedia system straight out of the VW Golf. Not that it’s a bad thing, since the system is very good, with integrated Bluetooth phone, stereo and navigation functionality, as well as short-cut buttons below for each. Bentley still felt the need to retain a wireless phone handset hidden away in the armrest, maybe as a throwback to 1980s car phones. The Naim-branded stereo is excellent, while the dual-zone a/c is above-average. Other features include ventilated power seats, powered boot lid, adaptive cruise control, HID headlights with LED running lamps, front-side airbags, smart keyless entry and start and a rear camera with sensors.
The “base” engine really is a proper bruiser. The turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 makes 500 hp at 6000 rpm, and feeds all four wheels with 660 Nm of torque from 1700 rpm all the way up to 5000 rpm, which is powerful in any language. Mated to an 8-speed paddle-shiftable automatic, it feels ridiculously quick as well, and it was rightly confirmed with a 0-100 kph time of 5 seconds flat in our September tests. That’s only a tenth of a second slower than our real-world test of the range-topping 616 hp GT Speed. And at 15.5 litres/100 km of as-tested fuel consumption, it burns almost 25% less fuel than the V12!
The pleasant surprise continues with the retuned suspension to compensate for the 25-kilo lighter motor up front. Going by the numbers, it’s not a lot, but the difference can actually be felt, giving us more confidence on sharp turn-ins and fast exits with its chuckable nature, where the heavier GT Speed would already be showing the first signs of understeer. The steering offers a bit of feel, while the brakes are pretty good. With its weighted steering and pedals, the flat-handling Bentley is easy to control precisely while bombing around curves. Thanks to all-wheel-drive and extra-wide tyres, there’s very little drama.
To top it all off, the GT V8 is even as comfortable as the GT W12. The car is sprung a bit firmly, but is still smooth enough on most roads, especially if you pick the softest setting for the adaptive suspension. For a car that has low-profile 275/35 tyres on massive 21-inch wheels, it rides well enough to retain its luxury-car credentials. Wind noise is unnoticeable at highway speeds, with only a hint of tyre noise.
Selecting “sport” mode makes the throttle response sharper, but it can get too jumpy at low speeds, so the smoother “normal” mode is preferable in stop-and-go city driving. And parking is manageable once you learn to trust the camera and sensors.
The Bentley Continental GT V8 is still a very expensive car, but it’s a fair bit cheaper, noticeably more nimble, almost as quick, just as comfortable and equally as regal as its pricier bigger-engined siblings. That, in our books, makes it the best iteration of the GT coupe to date.
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