With a 500hp V8, Continental GT finds its voice

It is difficult to imagine the phrase “base model” applying to anything with eight cylinders, 500 horsepower and a starting price equal to nine Mini Coopers. But Bentley’s Continental GT V8 is just that, the entry point in a range that climbs all the way to the fearsome Continental GT Speed – a model with 12 cylinders, 616hp and a starting price equal to 11 Mini Coopers.

And while most manufacturers’ base models are threadbare affairs with drum brakes and crank windows, the V8 is every inch a Bentley, and quite possibly the most engaging Continental of them all.

Vital Stats

Bentley Continental GT V8

  • Base price: $177,500, inclusive of $2,725 destination charge
  • As tested: $210,805
  • EPA fuel economy: 15mpg city, 24mpg highway
  • Powertrain: Twin-turbo 4-litre V8 engine, 500hp, 487lb-ft, eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
  • Standard equipment: Leather upholstery, eucalyptus veneer trim, power adjustable front seats, 8in high-definition display with GPS navigation, bi-xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, automatic rear spoiler
  • Major options: Hallmark paint ($4,395), Mulliner Driving Specification ($12,475), carbon fibre package ($5,385), sports exhaust ($2,480), contrast stitching ($1,905), red brake calipers ($1,495), rear-view camera ($1,215), power trunk closer ($955)

The heart of the beast is a twin-turbo 4-litre V8, an engine sourced from Volkswagen Group peer Audi (different-spec versions power a handful of Audi models, including the wicked new RS 7) and built in the German automaker’s sprawling engine factory in Györ, Hungary. In the Continental GT, the engine – matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive – produces 500hp and 487 pound-feet of torque, the latter cresting at a very usable 1,700rpm.

Bentley claims the V8 consumes 40% less fuel than its 6-litre W12. Forty percent. Direct fuel injection and that highly intelligent gearbox help, but the engine’s most clever feature is its ability to operate as a 2-litre V4 in low-load situations, when electric actuators separate the cams atop four of the cylinders from their respective valves, shutting them down. The result: US models return 15mpg in the city and 24mpg on the open road – not unimpressive for a car of such girth and capability.

Of course, at 5,060lbs, the V8 coupe is no lightweight, yet Bentley claims it will sprint from zero to 60mph in a brisk 4.6 seconds, and press on to a top speed of 188mph. These figures are three-tenths of a second and 10mph slower than the W12-powered coupe, but the V8 manages to feel quicker nonetheless, something that has much to do with the car's crackling exhaust note. What the V8 fails to deliver to the seat of the pants, it more than delivers to the ears – abetted in no small measure by the tested model’s redesigned mufflers, revised pipe architecture and re-tuned mountings brought by the $2,480 Sports Exhaust option.

Bentley is clearly proud of this exhaust system; before the V8’s launch, the company released a teaser video called “The New Sound of Bentley”. Deep and gurgling at low revs, the note grows more urgent, even downright angry, as the engine approaches its 6,000rpm power peak. The tone is dramatically different from that of the imperturbable 12-cylinder Continental, and as such, taunting this beast, even at low speeds, is a source of endless delight (and a compelling reason to lower its windows and show off that lovely pillar-less roofline). There may be pricier versions of the Continental GT, but perhaps none – including the aforementioned Speed –sounds quite so delicious. That said, Bentley is presently rolling out an even more raucous V8, the Continental GT V8 S, with 521hp, 501lb-ft of torque, and, if it can be believed, even more aural intensity.

It is unlikely that such a hefty, expansive car could ever feel truly agile, but the GT V8 comes tantalisingly close. The front axle carries 55lbs less than the 12-cylinder car, and Bentley’s engineers seized that small opportunity to revise the suspension tuning accordingly. Turn-in is quick and precise, and body motions are predictable, but on the open road, no surprise, the ride is Bentley-plush.

Of course, such all-around excellence comes at a price. In the US, the car starts at $177,500, a figure that skyrockets with remarkably little effort. The tested model carried 1.5 Mini Coopers worth of options, headlined by the $12,475 Mulliner Driving Specification, a package which includes 21in machined alloy wheels and a plethora of interior goodies – drilled, polished and knurled metal bits; diamond-quilted hide; and a touch of tasteful embroidery. Bottom line: $210,805.

And yet, for those of a certain station, such matters as price are of minor consequence. There are few better ways to demonstrate your success than by commissioning a Bentley, and with Crewe’s mellifluous Continental GT V8, the Joneses will not only know that you’ve arrived, they’ll hear you coming.