If there is one automobile that has the perfect blend of everything – from luxury to performance to usability to fuel consumption – the Bentley Continental GT V8 S might just be it. Since the introduction, the modern Continentals have been available only with the over-the-top 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 engine, which gives them tremendous power and torque, more than enough to propel them to well beyond 300 km/h.
Although they currently produce around 10,000 cars per year, even Bentley isn’t immune from pressure to meet more stringent fuel consumption and CO2 standards in various parts of the world. That means the company must develop new, more efficient engines, but being Bentley, they don’t sacrifice the drivability their customers have come to expect.
Under the bonnet of the Continental GT V8 S is an ultra-modern 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 that produces a respectable 521 horsepower and remarkable 502 pounds-feet of torque that’s available from 1,700 through to just past 5,000 rpm. In practice, that means you’re rarely using more than half travel of the throttle pedal, simply because the torque is so completely abundant throughout the rev range. And this translates into a more relaxed motoring experience since the transmission shifts less often.
One aspect of the V8 that’s always enjoyable is the sound. I can’t fathom how Bentley has done it, but this four-litre mill sounds more like a 6.0- or 7.0-litre displacement V8. It sounds great at all times, from its rumbling idle to its full-throttle roar and, with no perceptible turbo lag, this demonstrates that a modern, turbocharged engine can be the right solution, even in a premium luxury grand tourer. The new V8 is about 50 kilograms lighter than the W12, although the GT V8 S feels lighter on its feet than those numbers would suggest.
Gearheads like us immediately consider the implications of swapping the 12-cylinder for a V8 and, while there may be some prestige having a W12 under the bonnet of your Continental GT, in the real world that’s the only difference. In terms of performance, the V8 S is a tick slower to 100 km/h and a few kilometres shy of the W12’s top speed, but the V8 S is so quick and so fast that any notion of these minor differences fades when you’re behind the wheel. In addition, Bentley says this car can be as efficient as 7.7 L/100 km on the highway. In the real world, well, I wish you good luck trying to achieve that.
With this car, accelerating from rest to 100 km/h takes just 4.5 seconds, and this is astounding in a couple of important ways. First, this Continental tips the scales at just over 2,268 kilograms (5,000 lbs.) and, second, it accelerates so entirely free of drama and distraction that you needn’t be a racing driver to hit these marks. Even your grandmother can achieve these numbers. In this way, the Continental reminds of the way the Veyron launches, although that accelerates at a level unlike anything else.
The performance of the V8 S isn’t entirely about the engine, either. The eight-speed automatic is one of the best to grace the world of automobiles and its capabilities are so broad that it’s perfectly suited to the extremes of the Continental’s performance envelope. While you’re cruising (as this Bentley often encourages you to do), when the transmission must shift, it does so virtually imperceptibly – and if you do notice a shift, it’s incredibly smooth.
On the occasions when you wish to take advantage of the V8 power, the transmission shifts almost as quickly as a dual clutch, plus you always have the option of manual control. Shift paddles are mounted to the steering column and are positioned a little further away from the wheel than a typical sports car, which serves to keep them from interfering in day-to-day driving. When you engage them, however, their alloy construction imbues them with a premium feel and your gear selections are immediate. In addition, the transmission will skip gears, if you so desire.
For example, if you’re cruising along in eighth gear and driving demands fourth, four pulls on the left shift paddle will cause a downshift from eighth to fourth without shifting through the intermediary gears. It’s a wonderful bit of modern technology.
All Continental GTs are all-wheel-drive, making this one of a very small number of grand tourers that you can drive all year round here in Canada. In normal operation, the system has a rear-biased 40/60 front-rear torque split, but can vary as much as 65 per cent of the torque to the front axle, or up to 85 per cent to the rear, depending on road conditions and the performance demanded by the driver. The system works imperceptibly and, while I couldn’t discern how the system was distributing torque, I often enjoyed maximum acceleration exiting corners numerous times during my test.
The experience behind the wheel of the V8 S is transformative, but not because of its impressive performance. That’s almost a bonus, as driving a Continental is an immersive experience. The cabin is wonderfully tranquil, spacious and utterly luxurious. The absence of road noise, the scent of the leather hides, the textures of all of the materials, the comfort of the seats, and the overall spaciousness define what the cabin of a luxury grand tourer is meant to be. Unlike most other two-door, four-place cars, adults can sit comfortably in the back. Given the overall dimensions of the Bentley, the boot is thankfully very accommodating, and I’ve enjoyed filling various Continental GTs with endless luggage and cargo.
In the confines of urban Toronto, the Continental GT attracts more attention than your average sports car. Every day during my test, countless drivers and pedestrians would take photos of the Bentley and, while I do see Bentleys daily in the city, this V8 S is striking. It sits 10 mm lower than the standard specification and the additional aero bits add to its street presence. There’s a subtle splitter at the bottom of the front fascia, paired with rocker panel extensions and a discrete diffuser at the rear. Fitted with the optional 21-inch wheels, this V8 S looks like nothing else and is immediately recognizable as special and luxurious.
The V8 S is more buttoned down than the standard V8 with its thoroughly revised chassis. In addition to the lower ride height, the S gets stiffer springs, bushings and a 54 per cent stiffer rear anti-roll bar along with more sporting alignment settings. A Porsche 911 Turbo it is not, but it’s also no surprise that the S is as enjoyable to drive as it is luxurious.
If there were one, do-it-all automobile in Canada, this Continental GT V8 S might just be it. It combines day-to-day usability with uncommon levels of luxury and performance, in addition to its stunning, understated design and the finest finishes.
2015 Bentley Continental GT V8 S
Base Price: $241,670
As Tested Price: $284,565
Engine: 4.0L twin turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 521 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 502 lb-ft @ 1,700-5,100 rpm
Dry Weight: 2,295 kg
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Tires: Pirelli P Zero (275/35 R21 front and rear)
Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy. / comb.): 15.4 / 7.7 / 10.5 L/100 km
Warranty (mos. / km): 36 / unlimited