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

Bentley Continental GT V8

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.

Bentley Continental GT V8

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.

Bentley Continental GT V8

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.

Bentley Continental GT V8

Add that up with the sharper handling gifted by the lighter front end, the all-wheel drive system with a Torsen differential and 40:60 rear-biased power split and you know that the V8 is as much fun around a race track as it is comfortable around town and fast on the open highway. With the 500 horses peaking at 6000 rpm and the peak torque of 660Nm staying at the summit between 1700 and 5000 rpm, the Continental GT V8 makes the 100km/h mark in 4.6 seconds which is just 0.2 seconds off on the massive W12.

Considering the inherent advantages in range increase and cleaner emissions, it seems Bentley’s got a winner on their hands with the GT V8. This isn’t the Bentley you buy when you can’t afford the bigger W12 – this is the one you buy when you know you want a better Continental than they’ve been selling all these years and that’s saying a lot because the W12 has been one of the best cars that money can buy.

Bentley Continental GT V8

The Bentley Continental GT V8 isn’t one for the posers though because when you opt for the smaller engine, the world will know. Back in the 1920s when WO Bentley was making some of the fastest cars on the planet he had a very simple method of distinguishing his 4.5 and 6-litre models from the smaller 3-litre ones. While the higher capacity machines adorned the Bentley logo with the ‘B’ encircled in black enamel, the smaller ones used a red backdrop. The same philosophy has been resurrected with the Continental GT V8 and this one sports the red badge not only on the hood and the boot, but also on the hub caps as well.

That’s a little piece of history right there that the GT V8 brings with it and along with that comes the slightly reworked air dam on the front, black valance at the rear, cloth headliner and pillar trim, Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus wood, a single front arm rest and a shorter centre console for the rear bench. But the most distinguishing factor apart from the subtly different front grille is the set of figure-of-eight chromed exhaust tail pipes – so if no one recognises the V8 creeping up from behind, they’ll definitely known when you blow past, especially because of that distinct snarl courtesy reworked intake and exhaust manifolds! Of course all this will come at a price that is most likely to be something around 10 percent lower than what you’d shell out for the W12 which makes the GT V8 an over-one-and-half crore rupee machine.

Bentley Continental GT V8

Everything’s customisable though and you could have the boys from Crewe in the UK get your V8 painted and trimmed-up to mimic a W12 including the fabulous 21-inch six-spoke tuning fork wheels, but the one thing that Bentley will not do is replace the red badge with the black one – it’s sort of a safety switch to keep the identity and therefore pride of ownership of the bigger W12 intact as both models continue selling side-by-side.That just makes the Bentley Continental GT V8 a worthy younger sibling to have selling in showrooms for the sort of buyer who isn’t just passionate about his cars, but about calculations as well. And for those who believe in cubic capacity above everything else, there’s always the W12.

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