2012 Bentley Continental GT V8 Review

Baby Conti upstages its big brother

By Imthishan Giado 

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8

[Read Fraser Martin’s review of the same car here]

It’s a sad sign of the times when even luxury manufacturers are forced to downize their offerings. What is a Ferrari or Lamborghini without its wild beating heat, that raging monster under the hood that lunges for the horizon? That argument, it seems, is lost. With the news that Maranello and Stuttgart’s next supercars will be hybrids, the inmates are truly running the asylum.

And so we come to this latest product of the movement, the new Continental GT V8.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8

As the name suggests, it’s a Continental but with a V8. An all-new V8, actually: a 4.0-litre twin-turbo unit which will be offered alongside the traditional 567bhp 6.0-litre W12. The object is – what else – to offer better fuel economy than the admittedly catastrophic figures provided by the W12, while shaving some weight off the front end which would no doubt improve handling as well.

But there’s a problem with this theory.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8The problem is, we’re not talking about a Honda Civic here. Like all luxury products, the Conti is not intended for everybody. Dubai is practically infested with the things and I highly doubt any of its owners were really concerned about fuel consumption of 17l/100km when they signed the cheques for their new Bentleys. No, the real reason this car has been phenomenally successful across the globe is because it’s an insane over-achiever, a car for all seasons and all reasons which no rival really comes close to matching, let alone surpassing.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8

Take for instance that interior. Updated last year, it’s one of the best places to be outside of a Rolls Royce, all sumptuously soft leather, gorgeous shapes and crystal clear switchgear that responds with the crispness of a velvet gloved-touch from Blake Lively. There isn’t a non-dead cow-wrapped panel to be found and if it looks like metal, chances are it is metal.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8

And then there’s the fact that this is a supremely comfortable GT car, eminently capable of ferrying four in absolute comfort and their luggage to the four corners of the country at warp speed. The Aston Martin DB9 can’t do that. The Mercedes-Benz CL is comparatively downmarket. BMW 6-Series Coupe? Don’t make me laugh.

So really, by tinkering with the formula Bentley can only get it wrong.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8Visually, there’s little to differentiate the ‘lesser’ V8 car. One of the easy giveaways is the red Bentley badging on the wheel caps and the nose; the other is the unique flattened eight arrangement of the tailpipes. But it would take a very determined car-spotter indeed to pick out the two in a lineup. Frankly I wanted more – or perhaps less, if I was picking up a W12 instead.

Settling into those gorgeous diamond-quilted seats and turning the key (yes it’s also a smart key) for the first time I was all set for a king size helping of disappointment.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8
But it never came. Instead, what came out of those squashed tailpipes was something very new and very welcome: a very distinct, bassy woofle, a syncopated beat of defiance. Blip the throttle a little bit…yes, it’s still there. Give the full beans and this car positively roars. 

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8Pulling away, its obvious that the Bentley (and Audi, but hush) engineers have delivered something special. The old W12 was the definition of effortless motion, but this V8 feels so similar that  the differences are barely noticeable. . With 487 lb ft of torque available from just 1700rpm, the Continental pulls like a steam train in that bullish Bentley way all the way up to the red line. But from 2000rpm, the car exhibits a very noticeable lift in performance as the turbos come on boost. This is no bad thing, believe me.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8The new engine employs every trick in the mill-makers book including direct-injection to achieve 500bhp, a very impressive output for just 4.0-litres or two milk jugs side by side; keep in mind, a mid-2000s Shelby GT500 needed nearly six litres and a supercharger to create the same punch. ZF has supplied an all-new eight-speed automatic which keeps the fuel bill down, but that’s not all. With displacement on demand it can also turn off four cylinders to become a V4 for those highway runs. If you really, really listen you can feel the changeover but overall the refinement is extraordinary.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8

Except when you don’t want it to be. At the flex of your foot, the Continental becomes a hard-charging bruiser, that V8 roar echoing off the skyscraper canyons. The engine weighs 25kg less than the W12 so as you’d expect, steering feel and turn-in are considerably improved. As you approach the limit, it will still default to safe understeer but for the most part this big Brit feels impressively agile through the bendy bits, and planted on the rest.

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8

It’s not all lilies and roses; there are a few complaints to be had. For one thing the brakes lack a bit of initial bite which is not what you really want when bombing around with 500bhp at your disposal. Secondly the radio is a magnificent Naim unit but the Bluetooth integration is confusing, clumsy and counter-intuitive, requiring you to register through the steering wheel controls rather than the main display. Finally, despite the Bentleys roaming our streets the A/C remains pitifully inadequate to the task of cooling this massive pressure cooker of a cabin.

My advice is, park it in the shade.

Verdict

2012 Bentley Continental GT V8

I stand completely and utterly corrected. This is a magnificent motor mated to an enormously capable car, very nearly as fast as its W12 cousin and considerably more frugal as well as being nearly $30k cheaper. It’s so good, in fact, that it flips conventional wisdom on its head and calls into question the existence of the W12 car which sounds like a boosted Passat in comparison. I can’t think of a single reason to now buy that car, except if you have a violent aversion to money.

If this is what downsizing can do, sign me up for the two-litre Bentley Blower in 2020.

[Now read Fraser Martin’s review of the same car here]

Specs

Price: AED700,000 ($190,585)
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, 500bhp @ 6000rpm, 487lb ft @ 1700-5000rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 4.6 seconds, top speed 297kph (limited)
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four wheel drive, 10.9L/100km
Weight: 2290kg

Verdict Frugal fun for filthy rich few

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