With the original Bentley Continental GT, less was actually more. The model may have been launched with a 6-litre W12 engine, and indeed, go-faster versions were usually based on that flagship, but when it came to driving dynamics it was the V8-powered ‘junior’ version that was the pick of the range. Lighter overall, and in particular with less weight over the front axle, it was a better balanced machine.
Now, following the arrival of the much more advanced second-gen Continental GT in W12 guise last year, comes the inevitable launch of the V8 version. Will it still be the superior driver’s car this time around?
The V8 GT uses the familiar 4.0-litre twin-turbo engine, tuned to produce a fairly unstressed 542bhp and 568lb ft of torque. Those outputs keep it safely away from the 631bhp W12 model, but still allow it to reach 60mph from rest in 3.9 seconds, before going on to a top speed of 198mph. Official fuel figures aren’t yet available, but Bentley reckons over 500 miles is achievable, admittedly from a large 90-litre fuel tank.
The V8 model weighs 50kg less than the W12, but it’s worth remembering that this is a big grand tourer that still weighs well over two tonnes (2,165kg to be exact). Still, much of that weight reduction comes from the smaller engine over the front wheels, and that promises to make this version once again more dynamic.
Otherwise the GT is largely unchanged in its transformation to a V8. There are some minor suspension tweaks to offset the reduction in weight, and certain equipment has been moved to the options list, notably the active anti-roll bars that Bentley calls ‘Bentley Dynamic Ride’.
Settle down into the GT’s sumptuous cabin and its charm quickly gets to work. Quality materials and fine leathers abound, creating a spectacular driving environment when combined with the latest in digital displays. Predictably, there is virtually no end to the amount of personalisation you can achieve – at a price.
A thumb of the starter button wakes the V8 with a deep roar, but it soon settles to a quiet idle. There are four driving modes in the GT: Comfort, Bentley, Sport and Custom, with Bentley being the ‘everyday’ setting you tend to spend most time in. So configured, the GT V8 gently lopes along, requiring just the minimum of driver input and swallowing distances with ease. As a comfortable long-distance tourer it is almost without equal in this class, and certainly a more relaxing place to be than an Aston Martin DB11.
When the road turns twistier, it’s time to try the Sport setting, which sharpens throttle response, firms up the suspension, and sends more torque to the rear wheels. As our car also has the active anti-roll bars, it also firms those up too, and this is immediately obvious from the increased lateral stiffness of the chassis. Sport also opens up the exhaust, so the GT thunders and crackles down the road; performance is strong, with a more aggressive delivery than the W12.
But it’s in the corners where the biggest differences are felt; the V8 changes direction more keenly, and the steering is extremely precise and well weighted. It never quite morphs into a sports car, but it’s certainly entertaining and very capable.
At £148,800, the GT V8 squares up shoulder to shoulder with the V8-engined Aston Martin DB11, which costs £147,900. In reality these two cars have rather different personalities, but while the Aston has its strengths, it can’t match the breadth of the GT’s abilities.
Other cars to consider in this marketplace are the Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe (£129,330), or its sportier relation, the AMG GT 4 Door (£121,415). Both are impressive machines but lack the Bentley’s charisma and charm, as does the closely related Porsche Panamera Turbo (£116,509) which is arguably a sportier drive, but rather soulless in comparison.