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Bentley Continental GT V8 test drive

The Bentley Continental GT is a sumptuous luxury cruiser. Now with a V8 engine, can it also be a nimble and agile sports car?

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The Bentley Continental GT has long been the default choice in the luxurious grand tourer segment. And while the top-notch W12 engine has been retained on the new Conti, the popular V8 option wasn’t carried over from the older car to the new one when it launched last year.

Until now. Bentley has introduced its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine to the new Continental, promising a reduction in overall weight without any decrease in outright performance. The W12 is still available, of course.

We’ve headed out to California to see what it’s like, and whether it changes the Continental GT experience.

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What’s new about the Continental GT V8?

As mentioned, the biggest difference here is that engine. We’ll get to it in more detail in just a minute, but the major changes elsewhere are subtle. There are V8 badges on the car’s flanks, while Bentley’s Dynamic ride – which is standard-fit on the W12 – is an optional extra on the V8.

It’s packed with safety tech, such as active lane assist and traffic jam assist, while retaining that all-important sense of occasion that you get with all Bentleys. The interior is hand-finished, and an optional new revolving infotainment screen adds a sense of theatre to the cabin. But, as with the engine, more on that just below.

How does it look?

The new Continental GT is a well-rounded advancement on the older car in terms of looks. It’s impressive, that’s for sure, and during our time in California it caused many a head to turn and smartphone to snap. The bold front headlights sit either side of a now even larger front grille, while sharp cuts help keep things interesting on the flanks.

   

In our eyes, the rear of the car is the weakest point. The oval lights seem at odds with the shape of the car. But looks are, of course, subjective.

What’s the spec like?

The biggest change to the latest generation of Continental GT is the inclusion of a 12-inch central touchscreen. It houses satellite navigation, media functions and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity too. The infotainment was a weak point for the older Continental, but this is a far better system, thanks to an easy to navigate layout and responsive screen.

And if that wasn’t enough, it rotates. Press a button and the screen turns to reveal a set of analogue dials or do without completely and leave a clean piece of wood trim there instead. It allows you to de-clutter the cabin, and it works well. It’s a little pricey, however; tick the box, and you’ll find an additional £4,770 on the car’s price.

What’s the Continental GT V8 like inside?

The interior of the Continental GT V8 is superbly finished, with high-quality leather meeting metal vents and glossy trim pieces. Ergonomically it’s spot on too, with plenty of adjustment for the driver via the seat and steering wheel.

Does it feel worthy of its £148,000 base price? For sure. There are plenty of knurled controls, and the buttons have a solid feeling to them too.

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 - interior and dashboard | The Car Expert

Our only real issue comes from the passenger’s seat. There’s no real padding on the side closest to the driver, and a lack of grab handle near the gearstick (as you’ll find on a variety of sports cars) or in the traditional position above the window means your legs can quite often bash into the main tunnel when cornering hard. It’s a small niggle, we’ll admit, but it’s a niggle all the same.

In terms of safety, Bentleys are not submitted to anything as vulgar as independent crash testing by Euro NCAP (plus it would be very expensive for Euro NCAP to purchase and then destroy at least four Continentals in the process), but it comes with all the latest safety kit you’d expect of a £150,000 luxury motor car.

What’s under the bonnet?

Under the Bentley’s long, sweeping bonnet is where the biggest change lies. The new 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 produces 550hp and a hefty 770Nm of torque. It means that the Continental GT V8 is good for a 0-60mph dash in 3.9 seconds, only two-tenths slower than the big W12, before running onto a top speed of 198mph. They’re impressive figures for what is still a large car.

It’s down to the placement of the turbochargers inside the ‘V’ of the engine for better response, as well as the car’s all-wheel-drive system which helps with traction. Power is sent to the wheels through an eight-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox.

The engine has been placed further back than before to help with the car’s balance, while three-chamber air springs deliver the best possible ride, as well as also giving the driver the ability to firm them up for more ‘spirited’ driving.

What’s the Continental GT V8 like to drive?

Look at the Continental GT and, upon first impressions, you’d argue that its sheer size would be a limiting factor. Around town, its bulk does indeed obstruct you slightly, with that long bonnet and low-slung driving position meaning low-speed manoeuvres take a little more effort. It’s what you’d expect from a car of this type, though.

But it’s with increased speed where the Bentley manages to disguise its size so well. Turn-in is brilliantly sharp, and thanks to both the wealth of torque at your disposal and the all-wheel-drive system you can pin the throttle at the corner’s exit and find it dragging itself out with brutish force. Even sharper corners feel no match for it, and then when you’re done seeing where its limits lie, it’ll settle down to a cruise in typical Bentley fashion.

It’s when you pick up the pace that things change elsewhere too. The V8 is almost fighter plane-loud in its aural assault on your ears, bellowing and crackling – it’s brilliantly full of character.

Verdict

The Bentley Continental GT V8 is, as the name suggests, a grand tourer first and foremost. But this V8 version goes further than that. The weight shed by swapping the W12 out for the V8 gives it genuine agility in the corners, while the engine’s refinement means it’s still got that cross-country ability you want from a car of this type.

Though many would see the W12 as the ‘top’ engine and therefore the go-to option, we’d argue the opposite is the case. The V8 transforms the Continental GT experience, and means that should you want to exploit a twisty, technical road you can. It broadens the GT’s abilities considerably, which is why the Continental GT V8 is, in our eyes, the one to go for.

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Aston Martin DB11 | Ferrari GTC4Lusso | Mercedes-AMG S63 | Rolls-Royce Wraith

2019 Bentley Continental GT V8 coupe at sunset | The Car Expert

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Darren Cassey
Darren Cassey
Articles by Darren Cassey are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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