2013 Bentley Continental GT V8: Drive review

The Bentley Continental GT V8 is the “green” Bentley, if a 500-hp, 5,000-pound car can be green. Bentley’s new turbocharged V8 was installed to achieve a clearly defined objective: reduce fuel consumption, and therefore CO2 emissions, by 40 percent compared with the company’s familiar 537-hp W12. That, and still deliver everything a Bentley is supposed to deliver.

The 500 hp is more than some prognosticators guessed when Bentley announced its V8 two years ago. The 4.0-liter Bentley engine has 20 hp less than its Volkswagen Group sibling in the Audi S8, but 8 lb-ft more peak torque. The two direct-injection V8s share 90 percent of their parts, including block, heads and two turbos with twin-scroll impellers wedged into the V—meaning one air pump for every two cylinders. Differences lie in intake and exhaust paths and electronic management.

In the end, Bentley’s new V8 generates 125 hp per liter. It has just 13 percent less horsepower and 8 percent less torque than the company’s 12-cylinder, with two-thirds the displacement. Fully dressed, the V8 weighs 110 pounds less than the 6.0-liter W12, contributing to an overall mass reduction of 55 pounds in the Continental GT V8.

The engine’s thirst for fuel near full throttle is only one element in the V8′s overall improvement in fuel economy. Reduced displacement and two fewer cylinders account for 16 percent of the total, according to project engineer Richard Haycox, which means other components contribute the remaining 24 percent.

First is a new eight-speed automatic transmission from ZF, which also supplies the six-speed for the W12. The transmission cuts fuel consumption by 8 percent. A cylinder-deactivation mode–enabled by solenoids that slide the cam lobes on the shafts and eliminate contact with valves–shuts down four cylinders at opportune moments and contributes another 5 percent reduction. Other significant elements are the electric variable-rate power steering (3 percent), an alternator that charges primarily during coast down (2 percent), and advanced thermal management that optimizes the circulation of coolant and minimizes pumping (1.5 percent).

The result? EPA numbers are still pending, but Bentley projects a surprising 26 mpg highway—an increase of 7 mpg compared with the W12, or just about 40 percent. Yet the Continental GT V8 still accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, according to Bentley, or just 0.2 second shy of the 12-cylinder, with a top speed of 188 mph (compared with 198 mph).

The V8′s suspension is tuned to generally the same effect as that in W12, with the goal of slightly sharper steering response. One key here is the reduction in mass over the GT’s front wheels, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Visually, there are some fairly subtle changes to distinguish the V8 from the W12. These start with a slightly reshaped front valance, a gloss-black grille and lower air intakes and figure-eight-shaped exhaust tips. The V8 also has unique 21-inch wheel designs and rusty red Bs in the center of the winged Bentley logos. Inside, the center console stops at the rear edge of the front seats, rather than continuing back and splitting the rear seats. The standard veneer is V8-specific Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus, so named because the same wood is often used for the backs of violins.

The Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible V8s will be available in North America sometime after September 2012. Prices will be announced at the New York auto show in April, but Bentley execs say that V8s will start at 10 percent to 15 percent less than the current W12′s. That would put base MSRP for the V8 coupe in the $170,000-to-$175,000 range. The car will available with nearly all bespoke trim and content options available on other Bentleys.

Christoph Georges, Bentley’s president in the Americas, said he would make no predictions on the mix of V8 and 12-cylinder Continental GTs going forward, but he said the V8s will draw new customers to the brand. Given the projected prices, the V8 clearly isn’t a blatant play for more volume on Bentley’s part, but it’s not clear who might buy it (beyond the Chinese, whose government imposes a significant tax increase above 4.0-liters). It might give more environmentally conscious millionaires permission to own a Bentley, or an avenue toward more socially responsible conspicuous consumption.


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