Bentley Continental GT review: back in black
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2020 Bentley Continental GT V8
- Lots of character in V8
- Extreme refinement
- Agile when you want it to be
- Not much lighter than W12
- A few cheesy cabin details
- It’s a lot of money by any measure
The Bentley Continental GT is the kind of car we don’t strictly need in New Zealand.
Like it says on the box, it’s a Grand Tourer: designed to get you from the City of London to Milan for a couple of days of business meetings, with the assistance of massive motorway networks and equally massive three-figure speeds.
Needs and wants are different things, so there are plenty who want and can afford a Continental in NZ. Since it’s unlikely Kiwi owners will be able to spend hours with the accelerator pressed to the Deep Pile Overmat (yes, that is a thing on the specification sheet), it’s desirable for a machine like the 2.1-tonne GT to be able to cope with slower, more sinewy life on NZ tarmac.
The new V8 model could well represent the best-case scenario.
The third-generation Continental GT was launched in 2018 with a 6.0-litre W12; it’s the Benters way to wait a dignified amount of time and then introduce the V8.
Hilariously, this is the entry point to the Bentley range but costs $335,000 ($40,000 less than the W12). It loses 63kW but gains two exhaust pipes; where the W12 has dual oval outlets, the V8 gets four smaller ones.
The V8 is 50kg lighter than the W12, which is not a lot. But it’s been removed from over the front axle, so it’s noteworthy. With 0-100kmh in four seconds neat, the V8 is just 0.4sec behind its bigger-capacity sibling.
And of course it sounds like a V8, which many prefer to the warbling electro-pop of the W12.
Our test Continental GT V8 had a long, yet strangely financially unspecific list of options that somehow added up to $433,000 – almost $100k over the starting price. Let’s not get bogged down in that; just think of it as a customised car that costs $400k.
This Bentley blends super-luxury comfort with a nimble gait remarkably well. That should not surprise, because it has the resources of the Volkswagen Group to draw upon. The twin-turbo V8 engine is similar to that found in top-line Audis and Porsches, for example.
The whole platform is shared with the Porsche Panamera and benefits from a similar three-chamber air suspension system. Among the arm’s length list of options on our car is Bentley Dynamic Ride, which is essentially the 48-volt active anti-roll bar technology we first saw on the Audi SQ7. And so on.
In normal drive mode, the Continental truly is whisper-quiet. It’s a coupe with limousine-quality refinement.
The V8 has epic performance and revs to an un-Bentley-like 6800rpm; the eight-speed gearbox can be as busy as you like and still not get flustered.
But the biggest surprise is how much it changes character when you twist the knurled dial (there’s so very much knurling in a Bentley cabin) around to a more sporting setting. You get a growling V8 engine note and a chassis that combines enormous grip (optional 21-inch wheels with mixed-size 265/40 front and 305/35 tyres on our car) with communication and agility.
There’s technological trickery at work, I know. An excess of power combined with endlessly adaptive suspension, rapid-fire detachable anti-roll bars and an intelligent all-wheel system. So it’s no purist sports car. But boy, can it dance around corners when you want it to.
This is such a thoroughly modern performance coupe that the grandfather-clock cabin detail you might normally associate with a Bentley seems unnecessary. It’s outgrown that kind of thing.
The new model mostly avoids it. There’s still an excess of leather and shiny stuff, although I suspect you can configure the interior pretty much any way you want. There are crisp and colourful virtual instruments, although an analogue clock remains in the centre console.
That’s quite a nice touch, although the Bentley Rotating Display (again, an option) crosses the line. It’s highly polished wood on one side with three sparse analogue dials, but at the touch of a button it rotates around to reveal a digital infotainment screen. It’s all a bit cheesy.
But that’s a choice; that’s what this car is all about. You can choose how you want it specified, you can choose how you want to drive it – and it always seems to rise to the occasion. Luxury you expect, genuinely sporting flavour at the flick of a dial you do not.
Who’d have thought a menacing “Blackline Specification” colour scheme for the exterior would seem appropriate for a massive Bentley coupe? But this one wears it so well.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8
ENGINE: 4.0-litre twin turbo petrol V8
POWER: 404kW/770Nm, 0-100km/h 4.0 seconds
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, AWD
ECONOMY: 11.8l/100km (WLTP)