Bentley Continental GT V8 : First Drive
'Going forward may not be the answer - maybe I should go back' is the philosophy that governs the spanking new Bentley Continental GT V8 as it not only loses four cylinders from the previous W12 engine, but also resurrects the famed red badge of courage to make this GT superiorly awesome
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The Middle East is more than just a huge patch of desert land. Delve deep into the sand and you will unearth some of the best driving roads on the planet much to the delight of the lucky class of men and women who have the bank balance to summon some really high-end and fast machinery into their garage. Opulence is the key word and the vast expanse of the sandy monotone freckled with oases of sparkling modern cities provides the perfect backdrop for cars like these – the Bentley Continental GT. This marvel of engineering now under the guidance of the mighty German Volkswagen Group truly upholds the British bastion of lavish luxury and driving excellence.
Ever since its conception, the Continental GT has been a statement of everything good that money can buy – the classic Bentley shape interpreted into modern curves, plush interiors teeming with gadgets and technology and of course that massive 6-litre W12 under the hood. But this one is different and it’s the dawn of a whole new direction for the Continental because it has just gone lean and despite its shedding of four cylinders from its previous powerplant, it is in fact better in almost every way!
That big W12 makes way for a twin-turbo 4-litre V8 engine that makes 500 horses at full tap and that’s not bad at all because it amounts to just about 67 units down on the bigger engined GT. But before you go forming opinions about how the GT V8 is down on power now and the sorts, understand that four extra cylinders in two extra banks also amounts to a lot of weight and that weight is concentrated up in the front meaning that it is loading up the front wheels – hence the Continental GT W12’s somewhat whale-ish handling. With that weight now shed from the front it now gives the Continental near-perfect 51:49 weight distribution front to rear and coupled with reworked spring rates, bushings, tuning and customized programming for the air-suspension system, it has given the big GT a huge improvement in its handling characteristics.
It is now sharper, more agile and a whole lot more predictable than the W12 model but despite all that it is still a heavy machine so don’t expect it to perform like some of the supercars out there. It’s not all just about the missing four cylinders though – there’s enough technology packed in the Bentley’s engine bay to put a space shuttle to shame including high-pressure direct injection, low-friction bearings and energy recuperation. The sophisticated engine management system is courtesy the massive 6.75-litre V8 Mulsanne that runs the engine on half its cylinders under lighter loads and when cruising. In fact it even recalibrates the hydraulic mounts to better handle the different vibration frequencies in four-cylinder mode! Thermal brilliance comes in the form of an intelligent rapid warm-up valve that keeps the coolant within the confines of the engine until optimal operating temperature is reached before starting to circulate the fluid normally.
While that may sound like techno-wizardry and PR gimmicks it actually does a great part in massively improving the operating efficiency of the engine which means every molecule of fuel entering each of the combustion chambers burns cleaner resulting in improved CO2 emissions and making the GT V8 go further than the W12 per unit of fuel consumed. The British manufacturer claims a 40 percent improvement in fuel efficiency and emissions over the W12 model thus increasing the range on the Continental GT V8 by over 300km of guilt-free motoring.
All that is helped by a ZF-sourced gearbox specially tuned and equipped with eight cogs as opposed to the W12 model’s six-speed ageing unit. It’s a win-win situation here because not only does the quick change gearbox improve fuel efficiency, it also helps keep the GT V8 up and sprightly, letting you drive in the meat of the torque curve at all times. Its block downshift electronics further lets you shift upto four ratios down at once making it even more responsive.
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