Stepping into a Bentley has always been like stepping into your favourite pair of slippers. Warm, comfortable and instantly relaxing, but has the brand managed to take the well-worn Continental GT and remarket it as a top performing running shoe? A few years ago I drove the original 2003 coupe, and I loved it, and to this day it has been one of my favourite cars I’ve driven, but I wouldn’t call it “sporty”. It had buckets of power, and when you planted that right pedal it went like the clappers, but it was far from agile (James shared similar thoughts when he reviewed the Continental GT Speed). It was a car designed to get you from A to B in complete comfort, as quickly as possible with no drama. So, what has changed?
Even though to the untrained eye, the Bentley I drove last week was the same as the one I drove all those years ago, the only thing these two cars share is the name, as this time I was driving a 2016 Continental GT V8S. The most significant difference is obviously that V8 part, as this model has the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine pulled straight out of the Audi RS6 instead of the larger, thirstier 6.0-litre W12 unit that has been in the GT since its launch back in 2003. There are some other noticeable changes with regards to the cars overall shape and stance. The newer model has gone through a bit of a diet and come out looking a lot more aggressive and athletic. Typically, like most people, I would consider the V8 a bit of a downgrade from the flagship engine, but in all honesty, this is the engine this car should have had from day 1.
One of the many changes that were made to the V8S over the standard model includes an engine tune adding around 20bhp (500bhp in the standard V8 compared to 521bhp in the “S” model) and 15lb-ft of torque. There are also some body alterations including lowered suspension and front splitter to help agility with the extra power, and also some discreet side sills and a rear diffuser. Other tell-tale signs include red brake callipers and larger 20″ wheels. This particular example benefits from the Mulliner Drivers Pack offering more customisation and extra details like the stunning duo-tone black and cream interior, knurled gear selector and vents, piano black veneers and hand stitching throughout the cabin. It’s a beautiful place to be, and as soon as you sit in the driver’s seat, you can fully appreciate the attention to detail that has gone into creating this exceptional interior.
It’s amazing how different the Continental GT V8S is to drive compared to the last Bentley I drove. Everything about this car feels more alert, more switched on and more responsive. 0-62mph may be slightly slower than the W12 model at 4.7 seconds, but this is a convertible, and it’s barely noticeable. I always thought the W12 sounded good, but the minute you blip the throttle on this, the engine bellows and you get those loud snappy crackles out the exhaust that only a V8 can get right. It’s a sound that gets me weak at the knees. It’s amazing how the noise can affect how the car feels AND how it makes me feel. It doesn’t stop there though, the V8 is around 58kgs lighter than the W12, meaning that weight that used to hang over the front is a lot less and therefore you are getting closer to 50/50 weight distribution, and when you start to go around corners, you can tell.
All of a sudden, the once boat-like Bentley feels more focused and direct, the feedback from the steering is all there, and you have a lot more confidence in the car. It still weighs over 2200kgs, so it’s not going to out corner any supercars anytime soon, but it’s a massive improvement on what it used to drive like. I’m still amazed at how noticeable the change is. The old W12 was a great car with plenty of presence and power, but its market was limited, with this addition to the lineup, the Continental family is so much more appealing. This is, in my opinion, the best Bentley you can buy. It manages to retain its luxurious characteristics while also giving you a sportscar-like feel. The bonus of Continental GT V8S model is that it also a convertible, so as well as being an impressive driver’s car, as soon as the sun comes out, you can lower the roof and cruise along your favourite coastline, where the Bentley stands out.
The Continental GT V8S feels like a real nod the “Bentley Boys” era, where the mentality was to go out and race your cars. Over the years the brand has become more and more of a luxury brand, and as lovely as they are to sit in, they felt like they were losing that rebellious edge they had over Rolls Royce, but now it feels like it’s back. For the first time in a very long time, they have designed and built a car you want to just drive, and with the new Continental GT now available, there’s definitely a bargain to be had.