Racing ahead of the competition
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Bentley unveils its Continental GT upgrade, a car that brings a touch of high-end British class to motor racing
BENTLEY is returning to motor racing this year. But rather than creating a fancy prototype for the job, its comeback will be in a chunky Continental GT, a car thats been purring around the City for more than a decade. The feat has required some engineering effort: this model has been slimmed down considerably, losing a small Volkswagens worth of weight. Not so chunky anymore.
In its first race late last year, the Continental GT finished fourth, despite being unproven – it could even win this time. Now Bentley needs to make its road-faring Continentals as crisp as its racetrack models…
The new Continental GT V8 S is its great hope here, although if at first you struggle to spot the difference, dont worry: so did I. Based on the relatively downsized, fuel-saving 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, it has benefited from a small power boost, a large array of chassis changes and some detail tweaks that ensure it still feels like a Continental GT – just one thats been working out.
The “Beluga” lower bodykit is quite neat once you realise its there, and a combination of 10mm lower suspension and huge 20-inch wheels as standard give it a deliciously squat and powerful stance. Most will probably come with the optional 21-inch wheels, though I suspect that the eyeball-popping Monaco Yellow paint job pictured here, exclusive to the GT V8 S, may prove less popular.
Bentley launched it in San Diego, California, home to some of the most amazing driving roads in the world. If that was unexpected, so too was the newfound edge Bentleys given to the Continental GT. The regular V8, launched last year, always threatened to be a fascinating driver-focused alternative to that purest of sportscars, the Porsche 911. The GT V8 S has finally realised this potential.
You get a sense of this from the first rev of the engine; the exhausts bark and crackle rather than whisper and hum, particularly with its sports exhaust, which Bentley says will be standard in the UK soon.
The 528hp V8 engine (it has 21hp more than standard) also sounds delightful, and gathers speed with consummate ease, achieving 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds. Equally, theres so much pulling power from low engine speeds that youll much prefer the vibrancy on show here over the original, similarly-priced W12 model.
Its all wasted in busy San Diego, though. An air-suspended ride makes light work of Americas aggressively broken roads, and youll never tire of the interiors Bond Street luxury, but 192mph cars need to head into the mountains.
So, an hour later, we were throwing the big Bentley around with Porsche-like vigour and alacrity. Four-seat leather-lined GT cars, nearly two metres wide, shouldnt drive like this – particularly ones that weigh 2.3 tonnes (or two and a half VW Ups) – but the V8 S urges you to try.
It steers with pinpoint accuracy, giving the driver genuine mechanical feedback. It rewards ambitious driving but doesnt demand you fight it – like a racecar, it flows and is in sync with you. Four-wheel drive traction keeps things stable and secure, while the biggest brake discs fitted to any car in the world act as a backup for when spirit finally overflows.
And all the time, this amazing noise echoes around you. The exhaust is a bit quieter if you dont select Sport mode in the racecar-fast eight speed automatic, but wheres the fun in that? So I lower the two tiny rear windows and indulge in rumbling crackles, rasps, pops and bangs that are most un-Bentley. Just the thing to alert the cops, but luckily Gods own mountain pass is brilliantly open and clear.
It is often said in motoring circles that racing improves the breed. This rings true for the Continental GT V8 S and, if this is a sign of things to come from Bentley, bring on the racetrack.
THE FACTS: BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8 S 8-SPEED AUTO
0-62MPH: 4.5 secs
TOP SPEED: 192mph
CO2 G/KM: 246g/km
MPG COMBINED: 26.8mpg
DESIGN Three Stars
PERFORMANCE Four Stars
PRACTICALITY Three Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Two Stars