Bentley Continental GT V8 - Conti-lite
Each generation of Continental GT is quicker and more nimble, but the W12 versions are a touch nose heavy. Is the V8 the answer?
Having driven the Continental GT W12 in convertible and coupe formats, we are fortunate indeed to recently have a day out with what you’d crassly describe as the base model hardtop, the V8. This kicks off at $335k, a $40k saving over the W12 variant ($375k). That’s about a 10 per cent price difference and so for those with the wherewithal, the gap is essentially unimportant. What’s the point of the V8 then? We’d say the most critical aspect is that it unloads around 80kg atop the front axle, which changes the dynamics, and it also offers a different kind of soundtrack. The fact that it uses significantly less gas than the W12 is probably not an issue to the owner either, though it should be in this day and age of climate warming.
We added around 270km to the odometer of the Onyx Conti V8 Coupe and still had well over half a tank of fuel left as we returned it after a memorable day out. The distance to empty gauge registered over 400km left to run. On the day the average was 14L/100km and that comprised primarily highway running and performance testing.
Helping to keep fuel use down is a displacement on demand system which is utterly imperceptible in action, and moonshot gearing that has 100km/h registering alongside 1100rpm.
When wandering in to uplift this version of the Continental GT, I recalled the words of the publisher after he returned from the global launch of this particular model in the Silicon Valley surrounds. He mentioned that he’d found it agile and balanced, even in tight canyon corners taken apace. He was genuinely impressed with its dynamics and asked if the W12 was the same. I replied er no, not quite.
So now we had the opportunity to map the differences on home turf. However, in winter everything’s a bit of a gamble. Luckily on the day it dawned still and cloud free, if foggy, a good reason to keep speed in check. Not that it’s especially easy to do so in a GT that has 404 smouldering kilowatts and 770Nm on tap from its 4.0-litre direct injection biturbo V8 engine. That’s only down by 63kW and 130Nm on the big dog, and the claimed acceleration figure to open road speeds is quoted at 4.0sec instead of 3.8sec. Stated fuel use is much better though, at 11.2L/100km overall vs 15.7 for the W12, so a bit of a difference. This model will still run to over 300km/h, or so they reckon, but just misses out on topping 200mph, not that we can confirm or deny either. You’d need an airport runway for that.
Mated to possibly the world’s most cultured eight-speed twin-clutch, it also offers four distinctly different drive modes, the default being the B for Bruiser mode. Kidding; the Bentley mode is essentially an adaptive setting that goes sporty when asked or the road conditions demand it, and cushy when cruising. Turn the rotary controller to the left and you get Sport which not only perks up the engine, transmission, steering and suspension, but also gives vent to the sports exhaust and a bull roaring, blatting report from the rear. Best not select this on early morning runs through built-up areas. But out in the wilds where the roads are appropriate it helps set the scene for some Continental GT revelry.
We decided to head north out of the big smoke via the increasingly unruly highway 16 and then cut back across on the truck jam that is SH1 (urgh) to Warkworth and out to the Sandspit for a bit of a look-see before returning home via Woodcocks Road that connects back up to highway 16 again. And it would avoid the hassle of paying the tunnel toll.
A little background on the GT V8 first. To behold it looks just like the W12, only there’s a discreet V8 badge on the front guard, and different exhaust outlets at the rear. The GT in its third generation looks better than ever, superwide and appropriately low riding. With bejewelled oval headlamps, Onyx paint, blackened external highlights and optional 21-inch gloss black wheels this is quite something to behold. Darth Vader would have gruffly approved.
The interior is similarly adorned, the usual wood veneers in this case replaced with gloss black and metal trim, matching the exterior. Exquisitely finished seats are powered and 20-way adjustable.
Our particular vehicle was far from standard, but then few buyers configure a Bentley without adding things like Touring and City specification - these bring adaptive cruise, head-up display, lane assist, night vision, a powered boot lid, emergency city braking, a 360-degree camera, and systems that save the car and yourself from distraction moments. The Dynamic Ride system adds active antiroll bars, for even defter cornering. Soft closing electric doors and coloured puddle lamps are the kind of detail items you’d expect on a Bentley.
It seems a busy cabin, button intensive at first, but essentially you just need to become familiar with the different drive modes and have your front seat passenger delve into the submenus to cancel lane keeping and the like so it doesn’t feel like there’s some AI influencer at the helm overseeing your every move.
Because of fog issues we decided to undertake a few cornering shots first up. Here, it’s instantly apparent that the missing weight over the front axle livens up the GT cornering experience. While it might not seem much, overall frontal weight bias falls from a 55.3 to 53.5 per cent, and the tendency to run wide when pushing towards the grip limits definitely takes a step in the right direction. It also steers with a bit more vim, and both of those things make a palpable difference to how the GT handles long distance travel.
The four driving modes are all quite different. Comfort is seriously relaxed for town and motorway use, the default Bentley mode a bit firmer and the one owners will choose most often, while Sport delivers a palpable degree of underlying firmness. Despite that, and even with the oversized low-profile PZero hoops, progress is still most acceptable. We chose the Individual setting quite often too, with suspension in Sport, and Comfort for the steering and driveline. All modes will get some use, we’d imagine.
The most surprising aspect was how well this gives the W12 a run for its money. On a totally flat but not especially grippy piece of chipseal, this repeatedly ran 3.6sec 0-100 passes, launching lion-like from 4000rpm. That’s 0.13sec slower than the W12, and it’s similar on the overtake, the difference being 0.17sec. So there’s only a poofteenth in it.
On the go, it doesn’t seem to have quite the stentorian grunt of the W12 off the bottom but from 3000rpm onwards it feels just as potent, piling on the pace effortlessly, with a distinctive and stirring V8 soundtrack in the Sport setting. In the other modes it’s quiet too, thanks in part to double glazing, the worst SPLs only just into the 70s, as you’d expect of a wafting GT.
And like only the most potent and exclusive of the breed, this munches miles in imperious fashion.
Is it a Porsche Panamera Turbo beater? They cost much the same and use the same engine so it’s down to which of the VW Group’s top offerings you prefer. The Porsche is a bit lighter, a bit more nimble, but arguably not as aesthetically pleasing, a concession to four-door practicality. And it doesn’t have those small but significant distinguishing luxury features, like diamond knurling and the like.
So is the base Conti the best? For dynamics, unquestionably, it just feels right, but there will always be those who hanker for the exotic allure of the W12.
Model Bentley Continental GT V8 Price $357,000
Engine 3996cc, V8, T/DI, 404kW/770Nm
Transmission 8-speed twin-clutch, all-wheel drive
Vitals 3.60sec 0-100km/h, 11.2L/100km, 258g/km, 2213kg