What is it?
It’s a car that has been with us in its current generation since 2011, but the basic design has been kicking around since 2003, being both instantly recognisable and a fascinating divider of opinion among modern society. Whatever your thoughts on it, there’s no denying that the Continental GT has been a success for Bentley.
It’s easy to forget the GT is offered with a V8, given that for so long it was synonymous with the firm’s mammoth W12, but this S Coupé model’s twin-turbocharged 4.0 V8 is anything but second rate. The V8 S will sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.5sec – despite weighing in excess of 2.2 tonnes – and will carry on to 192mph.
To recap, Bentley introduced the V8 S as a more sporting alternative to the entry-level, standard V8. As such, it gets more power (521bhp vs 500bhp), 10mm lower sport suspension and spring rates increased by 45% at the front and 33% at the rear. Its bushes are stiffer, too, and so is its rear anti-roll bar. It’s pretty firm, then.
Beyond that the V8 S benefits from a revised steering system designed to offer more precision, and its traction control has its dial turned a little further towards ‘fun’. Like all Conti GTs, there’s an all-wheel drive system with a 60/40 power split in favour of the rear wheels and a Torsen differential to exploit it.
Bentley’s 2015 facelift of its GT has rather left the V8 in the shadow of the W12, the latter getting a power and torque hike to even more preposterous levels. Even so, the V8 still gets a new bumper, badge and alloy wheel designs, a different rear spoiler, better standard equipment and the option of onboard wi-fi.
What’s it like?
Still the pick of the range, without ever feeling like a thinking man’s Bentley – which admittedly is difficult for any Conti GT to manage given that the cheapest model costs £140,300. Indeed, this V8 is an engine that offers all the requisite performance and refinement, yet also enough character to make the case for choosing it over the W12 a seriously strong one.
While its peak power is up at 6000rpm, you’ll notice that peak torque arrives at just 1700rpm. In reality there’s a decent bung of that available from 1500rpm, helping this two-tonne assembly of chrome and leather lurch both off the line and in gear with impressive urgency.
Pull the GT’s cold chrome gear lever back into Sport and that urgency becomes almost savage. The gears are held onto longer in auto mode but react more quickly when choosing them yourself, while the throttle is made more sensitive. You’re never pinned to your seat supercar-style, but the V8 S’s far-reaching torque band and rock-steady traction certainly has your fullest attention.
The W12 is quicker, yes, but plant one after the other and we’d wager the V8’s cacophony will provoke the bigger smile. Its bubbling burble around town is transformed into a spitting, rasping bellow as the revs build with our car’s optional sport exhaust fitted, unlike the W12’s more constant, howling, bassy effort.
Our car was fitted with carbon-ceramic brakes as part of the same Extended Sport Specification pack that also includes a sports exhaust and some extra carbonfibre touches about the place. The cost? £14,380. Ouch. We’re not sure about the carbonfibre flourishes inside, but the exhaust and upgraded brakes are very much worth the extra if you can stretch to it, and we’ll assume you probably can.
Importantly, it is still supremely refined when you want it to be. Even beyond the national speed limit, wind and road noise are brilliantly contained, and that brutal V8 is easily tamed as a gentle cruise once backed out of Sport mode. Its ability to swap from eight to four of its cylinders in a bid to save fuel at a cruise goes completely unnoticed, too.
Okay, so it has the power, but is it actually a car you’ll enjoy threading along a tight, twisting British B-road? In short, not really, but it’s easily one of the best examples of a GT to drive spiritedly. You’d hardly call the front end sharp, but it definitely follows your steering inputs more closely than in other versions, while the GT’s broad body remains impressively upright.
Don’t read into the 60/40 power split and differential too much, either. The GT’s grip is monumental, and you could spend all day trying to loosen the rear axle to no avail – although the car’s sheer size makes this a somewhat unenjoyable pursuit in any case. Just as engaging is how its four tyres stay put, and experimenting with just how early you can get back on the power and fire yourself out.
The GT’s air suspension can be manually adjusted to varying degrees between Comfort and Sport settings, and in its cushiest setting it makes a fine long-distance companion. There’s the odd shudder over the sharpest edges and some vibration back up through the steering column, but nothing that is ultimately off-putting.
Overall, you should feel happy with the GT’s interior having dropped your £150,000. Bentley’s trademark leather-clad ‘wings’ cast shadows over luxurious trim inserts and the four chrome air vents looks and feel top-drawer. There’s very little plastic anywhere, with everything you come into contact with purveying a genuine sense of solidity.
Wheel and seat adjustment are generous for the driver and two tall adults will have no problem fitting up front. The rear seats are fine for children or average-sized adults as long as those in the front aren’t BFG-like themselves. Boot space is surprisingly useful, if a little shallow and with narrow access.
Should I buy one?
Yes, yes you should. If you’re studying the GT brochure, then rest assured that spending another £9500 on this V8 S over the softer and slightly slower standard V8 Coupé is worth every penny if you enjoy taking your GT by the scruff of the neck every now and then.
Of course, for many it will have to be the W12 and nothing else. Badge matters. But, genuinely, the V8 S Coupé is the sweet spot of this range. It isn’t the fastest in a sprint, nor the quickest in terms of maximum speed, but its lighter nose is the more enjoyable and it still manages to play the grand tourer card extremely well when you need it to.
Bentley Continental GT V8 S
Location Hampshire; On Sale Now; Price £149,800; Engine V8, 3993cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 521bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 502lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox 8-speed auto; Kerb weight 2295kg; Top speed 192mph; 0-62mph 4.5sec; Economy 26.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 250g/km, 37%
What is it?