Four fewer cylinders, but so much more – the 2013 Bentley Continental V8 GT is an inspired premium sports coupe taking a hit on engine performance but easily offset by the gains in fuel efficiency
Los Arcos, Spain — With the ever-increasing emphasis on the environment and oil reserves, it’s no wonder that alternative-fuel vehicles are seen as the answer to a solution that will be needed down the road. But it’s also worth noting that there are some pretty sharp minds out there working on optimizing the performance of the good, ol’ internal combustion engine—and the 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 provides ample proof of this fact.
Under the hood
The GT V8 is armed with (you guessed it) a V8 engine, twin-turbocharged in this case. This V8 takes the place of the twin-turbo W12 that has been fitted to every Bentley Continental since the debut of the original back in 2003. Armed with 500 horsepower, the GT V8 is a fair amount off the pace set by the W12 in standard specification, which develops 589 horsepower.
Understandably, then, the V8 delivers a slightly more leisurely driving experience; it takes 4.8 seconds for the sprint to 100 km/h versus 4.6 seconds for the W12 and the car’s top speed is a “measly” 303 km/h (318 for the W12). But in the grand scheme of things, this difference is negligible—particularly when you consider the astonishing 40% gain in fuel efficiency by the GT V8 over the other Continental models.
This slick bit of engineering has been achieved through a number of means. First, by downsizing from 12 cylinders to eight, there has been a corresponding reduction in weight. The V8 is also calibrated to run on just four cylinders when not under significant load. In addition, the Bentley benefits from low rolling resistance tires, an energy recuperation system that charges the battery under deceleration and an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Out on public roads, the GT V8 ran beautifully; there was no sense I was behind the wheel of a de-tuned version of the Continental. The V8 engine is robust and its performance is punctuated by a downright nasty exhaust note. Further, the transmission was smooth and seamless in either fully automatic or manual mode. Lastly, the all-wheel drive system proved its worth on the tight roads of Northern Spain, especially when one of those roads was hit with snow.
The drive event also included a track test at the Circuito de Navarra, a very challenging course that places an emphasis on braking and high-speed stability. The driving dynamics of the super-coupe were very refined. The all-wheel drive system features a 40/60 front/rear distribution of power, so the Bentley responds like a traditional, rear-wheel drive sports coupe. The traction control system on the Continental has also been recalibrated to allow for more aggressive driving.
This V8 takes the place of the twin-turbo W12 that has been fitted to every Bentley Continental since the debut of the original back in 2003.
On track, the transmission proved to be, in a word, frustrating. Even in manual mode, the gears would switch of their own accord rather than waiting for the driver to take action. Call me a contrarian, but I believe a truly sporting vehicle would at least have one drive mode that kept the engine bouncing off the rev limiter until the driver made a move.
The car also a real stickler when it came to downshifting; approaching a corner at speed always took more care than expected because the engine would, for example, refuse to go from third gear to second at 80 km/h, but was happy to respond at 79 km/h.
Of course, close to 100% of the car’s drivers will toss it into full automatic mode and let the transmission do all the work—every time. But even some of those drivers would want to know that there’s some race-inspired thinking in there somewhere. Or maybe I’m wrong.
In terms of visual cues, the Continental GT V8 features a lower front bumper, gloss black front grille, figure-8 tailpipe treatment and robust red badges with the flying B logo. Inside, the new Continental sports a few differences, some seemingly made in the name of cost savings: a cloth headliner, shortened centre console, single front armrest and rear bench seat. Of course, as per Bentley policy, the GT V8 will be available with any number of bespoke touches that would then send the price skyrocketing once again.
All told, despite the disappointing experience with the transmission on the track, the 2013 Bentley Continental V8 GT is an inspired premium sports coupe. The slight hit in engine performance is easily offset by the gains in fuel efficiency. Not only that, this version of the Continental will be 10-15% less expensive than the W12 in markets around the world—still expensive at around $200,000, but a bargain nonetheless.