The 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 Is a Different Sort of Driver's Car
Picture your ideal driver’s car. You’re probably imagining something small and lightweight, with a just-right amount of power and grip. The Bentley Continental GT V8 embodies none of these qualities.
Bentley claims a curb weight of 4773 lbs for the Continental GT V8. It has more than 500 horsepower and the means to turn that power into speed with shocking ease. It has a farm’s worth of leather and huge slabs of varnished wood in the gorgeously trimmed interior. Disciples of Lotus founder Colin Chapman—he who proclaimed “simplify, then add lightness”—would look upon it and weep.
And in spite of all that, the Continental GT V8 is joyful to drive. A look at its construction give us clues as to why.
The third-generation Continental GT rides on the same platform as the Porsche Panamera, though the Bentley is slightly shorter and wider. In V-8 form, it uses the same 4.0-liter twin-turbo engine as the Panamera Turbo. It makes 542 horsepower along with 568 lb-ft of torque from 1960 to 4500 rpm. With a redline at 6800 rpm, it’s actually the highest-revving engine ever put in a Bentley.
This V-8 is paired with a Porsche-sourced eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and a rear-biased all-wheel drive system. Three-chamber air springs and adaptive dampers are standard, while Bentley Dynamic Ride—active anti-roll bars driven by a 48-volt electrical system—is a $5359 option.
Good ingredients, but it’s what Bentley does with them that makes the Continental GT V8 so special.
With the previous Continental GT, the V-8 was the enthusiast’s choice. The W-12 model was nose-heavy; the lighter V-8 made for a better-handling car.
That previous-generation car was a product of Audi engineering philosophy—engine and gearbox tightly packed at the very front of the platform. The new one moves the engine rearward, with both V-8 and W-12 models achieving a 55:45 front-rear weight distribution. The eight-cylinder’s reduced cooling demand and shorter standard-equipment list add to the weight savings.
And with this new generation, the V-8 is still the enthusiasts choice. With its twin-scroll turbos sitting inside the vee, throttle response is excellent, and Bentley-specific exhaust tuning gives this V-8 character that’s missing in a Panamera Turbo. It’s not loud, but bassy and growly, with an insistent thrum that encourages you to open the throttle just a little bit more. The engine pairs beautifully with the dual-clutch transmission. Thanks to what Bentley says was a lot of programming work, it nearly matches the refinement of a torque-converter auto, while offering crisper, quicker shifts.
At Bentley’s media drive event in the Napa Valley, all the available test cars were equipped with the optional active anti-roll-bar system. Their effect is like having the hand of god under the car, catching it almost instantly to cancel out any impending body roll. It’s surreal—the car just doesn’t roll, pitch or dive nearly as much as you expect from a car that weighs this much.
The Continental GT offers four driving modes. Comfort and Sport do what you’d expect; Custom is driver-adjustable. The only mode you really need is called, simply, Bentley. Life is better in Bentley. The suspension is tuned to provide an optimal balance of comfortable ride and competent handling, with excellent body control. Sport is just a little too stiff, though not unbearable, and Comfort is just a touch too floaty. Twenty-two inch wheels are available, and while they look great, they spoil the ride. Stick with the 21s.
It’s a surprisingly sporty, engaging car, with well weighted, accurate steering and a reassuringly firm, easy-to-modulate brake pedal. Some cars shrink around you and hide their mass. This doesn’t. Instead, the Continental GT V8 just treats its weight and size like a non-issue. It’s not a car that inspires you to tear up the canyons. It encourages fast progress across open, flowing roads. Down Highway One, a hundred miles north of San Francisco, it feels just about perfect.
It’s hard to imagine wanting the W-12, especially when it costs $16,100 more (though it comes with more standard equipment, including those trick anti-roll bars). Owning a 12-cylinder car comes with some clout, but in every experience behind the wheel, the V-8 is more than enough.
This is a truly fast car, but there’s nearly no sensation of speed. The number on the speedometer is almost always higher than you think it’s going to be. If you get pulled over, just tell the officer you couldn’t tell how fast you were going because the car is just so damn refined. Other than some light noise from the big Pirelli P-Zero summer tires on our test car, very little sound enters the cabin. Even the engine note is subdued, a mild tune coming from the rear of the car with the exhaust valves open in Sport mode.
Just like before, the Continental GT V8 is available as a coupe or convertible. The soft-top adds nearly $20,000 to the coupe’s $198,500 MSRP, and 374 pounds to its weight. Those are big numbers, and not in a good way. The convertible is quite nice to drive, though unsurprisingly, it inspires more relaxed cruising. Refinement is excellent, especially with the roof closed.
As nice as the Continental GT V8’s driving experience is, it’s easily matched by the gorgeous design. Over its life, the Continental GT has gotten better and better looking, and this third generation represents a huge leap over its predecessors. It’s confident without being ostentatious. And as one of the only cars on sale today without an angry face, it has a timelessness about it.
The interior is exquisite, too. So much so, it’s hard to write about it without resorting to cliche. So here goes: The leather is buttery, and all the detail work, from the stitching on these Mulliner-package-equipped car to the machined aluminum center console trim, is stunning. The optional, $6365 rotating display in the center stack offers three faces: a Porsche-sourced infotainment screen, a trio of analog gauges, or a stately wood panel. It’s a delight.
This is a luxury GT first and foremost, but one that engages, rather than isolates, the driver. It’s so good, it questions the very definition of a driver’s car. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so narrow-minded.
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