In introducing its Continental GT V-8, Bentley boasted that it’s capable of driving from New York to Toronto, 850 kilometres, on a tankful.
In continental terms – this being a car created with global markets in mind – Bentley secondly stated it’ll motor from London to just shy of the Swiss Alps.
Other $200,000-level cars run out earlier. The Aston Martin Virage S and Ferrari California run on fumes around Dijon, France, Bentley’s presentation charted, the Porsche 911 Turbo before the 600-km mark at Dijon, and the Maserati Gran Turismo even earlier.
This claim to fame was decidedly non-traditional for Bentley, the firm that has made its reputation with the likes of the Mulsanne Turbo, in 1982 the first performance high-luxury sedan.
The GT V-8’s acceleration, 4.8 seconds to 100 km/h, faster than a Porsche Boxster S, and its top speed, 303 km/h, are fabulous. But these claims came second to range in the media introduction.
Prices on premium pumps are of little concern in this market segment. But the more significant factor is that government regulations apply to all manufacturers regardless of social strata, forcing them to address consumption and, in Europe particularly, carbon dioxide emissions. Bentley committed in 2008 to reducing consumption/carbon dioxide by 40 per cent and the 2013 Continental GT V-8 is the product of its labours. The 40 per cent refers to a direct comparison with the 2008 Continental GT.
Still as massive as when the Continental was introduced in 2003 with 12 cylinders, still feeling and sounding as powerful as a sudden summer storm, the new V-8 model may salve the conscience of environmentally concerned buyers. It’s the only Bentley Americans can buy without paying a gas guzzler tax (the coupe; the heavier GTC convertible is taxed at $1,000).
The key to the engine – developed with Audi, Bentley’s corporate cousin under Volkswagen ownership – is that it runs on four cylinders once up to speed. Not that you notice, because acceleration is instantaneous as all eight cylinders come into play.
Despite the elegance of this car, driving it brings out the rowdy in just about anyone. Particularly the convertible version, top down, the three stages of the exhaust building in impact like Canada Day fireworks – a sort of microsecond ‘pffft’ as the four cylinders grow to eight, then a longer deep roar finally becoming a whine as the engine gives its all.
A week’s fuel savings might disappear in a single Sunday drive – with repeated bursts of acceleration on a hitherto tranquil country road absolutely addictive.
Audi went to great lengths to silence basically the same powertrain in its new S8, going so far as to employ an interior noise-cancelling system. Bentley, on the other hand, glories in the pandemonium. It’s as though the Bentley Boys, those fun-loving racers of the 1920s, embraced Noyzboyz, the Scarborough shop famous for its loud pipes, and inspired Bentley’s engineers to produce the loudest luxury car on the planet.
“The engine does impart a character to the car,” said Brian Gush, Bentley’s top executive in charge of powertrain and motorsports, among other responsibilities. “And it’s a little extrovert.”
Gush’s efforts also increased the twin-turbocharged V-8’s torque, over that of the Audi, albeit minimally with 487 lb-ft propelling the GT V-8 forward against 479 in the Audi. “It’s essential in a Bentley that you feel massive torque when you press on that accelerator pedal,” Gush said. “This we’ve been able to achieve, while still fulfilling our commitment of 2008.”
That said, cruising effortlessly at a steady speed may be when the GT V-8 is most beguiling. A drive from Toronto to Montreal, at 504 km leaving 40 litres in the 90-litre tank, would be an exercise in stress reduction. Driving a GTC V-8 convertible as we did, on country roads in Pennsylvania and New York, brought the realization that this Bentley need not be pushed to its limits to entertain. It’s elegance in motion. People stare and wave. You’ve made their day as well as your own.
Lapping on a race track, the Monticello Motor Club, completed the presentation. Bentley typically takes prospective customers through the experience, with its own instructors/salespeople coaching the novices in breathtaking hot laps. Capable as they are, the Continental GTs and GTCs felt h-e-a-v-y as 2,295 kilograms of curb weight resisted changes of direction and stability control inhibited power (instructors did not permit us to turn off the stability control).
Some U.S. journalists questioned Bentley officials on the point of adding a V-8 to the lineup. Who’ll buy it when the 12-cylinder Continental is only a few thousand dollars more? A better-informed question might be, what is the future of gas guzzlers in the wider world?
In China, taxes have increased hugely this year on engines with displacements over four litres. That is why the Bentley/Audi V-8 actually measures in a few cc below four litres. Europe is increasingly insistent on carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre meeting ever-lower standards.
The Bentley GT/GTC reflects the future, while maintaining the Continental’s expression of timeless style. That it goes much further between fill-ups than other examples of ultra-conspicuous consumption is only part of its achievement.
Tech specs: 2013 Bentley Continental GT V-8, GTC V-8
Type: GT two-door coupe or GTC convertible
Base price: $191,400 coupe, $210,500 convertible; destination charge, $2,725; Canadian prices in U.S. dollars
Engine: 4.0-litre turbocharged V-8 with variable displacement and direct injection
Horsepower/torque: 500 hp/487 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.8 city/8.3 highway for GT; 15 city/9 highway for GTC; premium gas
Alternatives: Aston Martin Vantage S, Porsche Panamera, Maserati GranTurismo S