Much to like about Bentley GT V8 but W12-powered Continental is glorious
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8
What exactly is it? A new version of Bentley’s GT coupe that eschews the W12 engine for a new Audi-sourced V8 with twin turbochargers and variable displacement: four of the cylinders are shut down in light-throttle driving.
Powertrain: 4.0-litre V8 with twin turbochargers producing 373kW/660Nm. Eight-speed automatic transmission, fulltime four-wheel drive. Combined fuel consumption 10.9 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 5.0 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? You can identify the Continental V8 by its black grille and figure-eight exhaust pipes. Otherwise, the striking appearance of the test vehicle is largely down to a package of optional Mulliner specification items: side sill extensions, front bumper splitter, rear diffuser, rear spoiler and side mirrors all in black carbon fibre and 21-inch alloy wheels with black finish.
Price: From $325,000.
Show me an exotic car and I will show you a big watch on the wrist of the driver.
Super-luxury cars and super-luxury watches: they just go together. Sometimes literally, as with Bentley’s Continental, which has a Breitling timepiece in the dashboard.
No doubt there is some dreadful marketing blurb in the bag of literature that came with my Continental test car, referencing the shared Bentley/Breitling values of heritage, precision and hand-built exclusivity. Dreadful but accurate; rather like some premium timepieces.
Watch closely now
Sadly for a motoring writer, I probably know a bit more about how expensive watches are made that I do about how expensive cars are made. Premium watches cost so much because they really are crafted by hand: the smallest components are painstakingly polished with the likes of lavender, almond oil and diamond paste. Some moving parts are mounted on ruby, some gears are surrounded in tiny cages to counteract the effects of gravity and improve accuracy. Tens of thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars still represents excellent value.
I have a shelf full of Casio G Shock watches at home. I can tell you that a $150 G Shock is every bit as accurate and more durable than almost any high-end mechanical wristwatch you can name.
Strong, high-quality wristwatches evolved at the turn of last century because the military found pocket watches clumsy and impractical. Most of the world’s military now favour the G Shock; there is a reason for that. For we collector/obsessives, it’s desirable because the product is so capable and functional. Despite its inexpensive nature, not because of it.
As I said, I’m a big fan. I’m also jealous of anybody with a big, beautiful Breitling or Rolex.
A Breitling does not do anything that a G Shock cannot do. A Bentley Continental GT does not do anything that a Nissan GT-R cannot do. In fact, in both cases you could argue the cheaper Japanese products do quite a bit more.
But there is immense pleasure in knowing that something is painstakingly made by hand and usually made to a very specific order. Despite its considerable performance and handling abilities, that’s what a car like the Continental GT is really all about.
Even the new entry-level GT V8. Entry level does not sound correct for a Bentley and it’s inappropriate for a $325,000 car. But that’s still what is, being $40,000 less expensive (I cannot bring myself to say “cheaper”) than the GT W12.
The V8 engine is a superb piece of engineering: as fitted to the latest Audi S8, it’s an absolute powerhouse with two turbochargers, yet also features fuel-saving technology such as cylinder deactivation.
I drove the S8 at the Circuito de Navarra, Los Arcos in Spain last year. My fingerprints are still embedded in the steering wheel leather I’m sure, and at one stage I ran out of tarmac on the back straight trying to hit 200km/h before the next turn.
I did not feel the compulsion to drive like that in the Continental GT at all. In fact, I found it hard to focus on the powertrain at all. Instead, I revelled in the presence of the car and the ambience of the cabin. It did not hurt that it was an incredibly powerful super-coupe with the traction of all-wheel drive but I became less interested in what this Continental could do because I was mesmerised by what it was. I could have pored over the specification sheet but, instead, I got lost in the hard-cover brochure that outlines every detail of the trim and the incredible array of options available.
Whether the V8 engine adds to or detracts from the experience of the Continental I’m not sure. On one hand, a less-expensive, less-profligate GT that loses nothing of the exclusive quality and feel of the Bentley marque is a real achievement.
On the other, a really outstanding V8 engine is still just a V8. As I might have mentioned in these pages before – possibly in relation to a Bentley even – a 12-cylinder engine is quite unique in terms of sheer elasticity and aural character.
The W12-powered Continental is a glorious thing. Twelve-cylinder engines are an endangered species in the modern world due to emissions regulations, and I cannot help but feel that, if you have the opportunity to own one at the present time, you should take it. A 12% price premium for the Continental W12 over the V8 is a bargain.
There is so much to recommend the Continental GT V8. It sounds impressive, is suitably quick and consumes 40% less fuel than the W12 model.
But I still cannot see the value in it, because the ultimate version of a Bentley is the correct version and that’s the GT W12. That 12-cylinder powerplant is a magical thing and while it’s only 0.2 seconds faster to 100km/h than the V8, I think we have already established that any owner will have the right timepiece to really notice the difference.