Unfortunately, the flying-B brand has been having some difficulty meeting certification requirements for its alluring, all-new, 12-cylinder-equipped Continental GT coupe and convertible, which have yet to appear in the States, despite a full two years having lapsed since their unveiling. Fortunately, to stem the tide of demand, the crew from Crewe has certified a version of the Porsche-designed 542-horsepower, 568 pound-feet 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 from the Panamera for use in their new two-door, backed up by an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. It will be available for purchase here, this fall — before it is offered to any other market — by those with 220,000 spare dollars.
Even more fortunate, we just had the chance to drive it through the coastal, mountainous and curvy vineyard regions of Northern California, and we can assure you that, while we still believe Bentley GTs deserve twelve cylinders, eight is the new baker’s dozen.
Unless you’ve spent extended time piloting the Continental GT W12 through some of the most beautiful mountainous regions of Europe and America, as we have, you might not notice the one-third reduction in cylinders, or the 84-horsepower depreciation in output. According to Bentley, the less powerful but lighter motor adds only 0.2 seconds to the 0-60 run (3.8 versus 3.6 for the coupe, 3.9 versus 3.7 for the convertible) not enough of a differential to tip our own internal accelerometer. It also foregoes cresting 200 mph like its bigger brother can, not that there’s anywhere you can hit these speeds safely in America anyway.
The V8 also, as referenced above, subtracts a couple hundred pounds from the total weight of the GT, not that this matters all that much in a vehicle that weighs 2.5 tons, but it does take a modicum of gravitational pressure off the front axle. Is it noticeable on first blush? Maybe if you believe that the Conti GT is a gram scale and you’re a famed street-level cocaine dealer in some bad ’90s movie. The difference you likely feel here is not weight, but suspension and powertrain tuning, which, a product specialist told us, edges a bit more athletic. Compared to the W12, it does feel slightly bitier in the corners, in the way that the Mercedes-AMG S63 coupe feels in contrast to the S65. It’s almost like it wants you to know that it’s not the most expensive one, but it’s trying harder, and you’re wise for having made the choice.
Don’t worry about the cushy ride suffering, whether you’re rolling on the standard 20-inch wheels, or the 21s or 22s we experienced. Credit here goes to the Bentley Dynamic Ride system. First seen on the Bentayga, this adaptive, computer-controlled, 48-volt-powered system helps keep the Conti’s steamroller tires firmly planted on the ground without rattling your teeth. And it does it without causing the prodigious body to roll about like some catamaran piloted by your niece’s drunk frat bro boyfriend on family vacation. Though this system is optional on the V8, all of the fixed-head and drop-top versions we drove in California featured it, and we can say with certainty that it does the trick of helping to remediate the boulevardier’s heft.
Not that this car ever drives smaller than it is. It is sporting, but not exactly sporty. Of course, that isn’t the point for a brash occasion vehicle like this. It’s not supposed to be nimble, though it is far more nimble than one would expect. It’s especially striking on winding mountainous passes, where the ample low-end torque and adaptive all-wheel drive provides instantaneous corner-exiting response. Driving it is not unlike that trick of yanking the cloth out from under a fully set table. Not only do you feel like you’re getting away with the impossible, you feel adroit, impervious. The best part? The sensation is imminently repeatable. Just grab and pull, and everything shreds away.
The intimation of litheness may be augmented by the car’s exhaust note. Unlike the bombastic, but strangely distant sonic boom of the W12, the V8 has a far more immediate soundscape, one that burbles and growls and occasionally pops off on overrun in an almost lupine yip. In the same way that you can shift the mood of a video by laying over different musical scores, the Conti V8 proves that you can modulate a vehicle’s sensibility by changing the soundtrack. And in the feedback loop of contemporary six-figure supercars, where everything is amazingly competent anyway, these proximal cues make a big difference. Or maybe we’re just aurally conditioned for V8s here in the States. Whatever the cause, Bentley expects that 75% of American Continental GT buyers will choose the V8.
Which brings us to the other big choice: coupe or convertible? We’ve ignored it up to this point because the cars are identical, save the fact that the Convertible looks a bit stumpy with the top up. It’s far more inviting when it’s retracted, which takes 20 seconds. Weather is a non-factor in your choice, because in addition to a Beaufort 11-level HVAC system — with traditional chrome organ-stop vent pulls, darling — the convertible has heating elements in the seats and in the steering wheel, and even breathes hot air down the your neck via a vent in the head rest.
What the droptop does afford is greater access to the V8’s glorious noise. And while, given the car’s extremely high beltline, you may look a bit odd while sitting in it — like you’re neck-deep in a $220,000 bathtub — the body does leave exposed the most relevant part of your body: your ears. After a couple days with this car, we wished we had a dozen. Or eight.
Bentley Continental GT Information
– 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 First Drive Review –
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