Paul Horrell 06 January 2012

First drive: Bentley Continental V8

Paul Horrell reports on the big Conti’s impressive eight-cylinder debut

Bentley Continental V8

For those that fork out £136,000 for a Bentley Continental GT W12, the price of fuelling it probably isn’t much of an issue. So why has Bentley gone to the immense trouble of developing a brand-new V8 version that’s more economical, but will cost very, very nearly the same?

OK, so having a version with an official 27.0mpg rating instead of 17.1 might make Bentley as a company look more responsible and relevant in this frugal modern world. And by the same token if buyers care about looking profligate (they probably don’t) then the higher economy is attractive.

But even so, which would you rather have: 6.0 litres, 12 cylinders and 575bhp, or 4.0-litres, eight cylinders and 500bhp? Well you’re wrong. The V8 is the one to have. Yes, that surprised us too, but after a steer in a finished prototype (it launches in spring) we’ve no doubts.

OK, so the V8 loses out on power, just slightly, but it still hits nearly 190mph. And because it has a new eight-speed transmission – the W12 has only six – the real-world acceleration hardly lags. And even more surprising, thanks to clever plumbing of its twin blowers, the V8 has almost as much instant low-rev torque as the mighty W12.

See more exclusive pictures of the Bentley Continental V8

And for the small performance loss, the V8 offers that major economy gain. And to answer our initial question, that matters, because although the rich can afford fuel, they still hate standing around at fuel stations. The V8 would get you across France a lot faster than the W12 because you’d be stopped for less time.

To score that huge efficiency gain, the new engine is super high-tech – I’ve explained the details in the new issue of Top Gear Magazine. That technology partly explains why, if you spec your V8 to the same level as a standard W12, they cost about the same. A ‘base trim’ V8 GT is £123,850.

But there’s more to commend the V8. The new engine is a bit lighter than the W12, so it gets re-tuned suspension that makes the car feel more agile and responsive, less prone to understeer.

It also sounds brilliant, a proper deep bubba-bubba bassline giving way to a busy top-end yowl. The sound of the W12 is a bit of an acquired taste but the V8 will impress everyone right from the off.

You can get the V8 in both the GT coupe and the GTC convertible, but the W12 isn’t being killed. Even though the V8 is the better choice for all intents and purposes, Bentley reckons a lot of people will keep buying the W12.

I can only guess that’s because they aren’t actually interested in having the best possible car for long fast drives. They’re interested in having bragging rights. And on that score I have to admit a 6.0-litre W12 still beats a 4.0 V8.

Anyway, in a year or two the W12 too will get direct injection and some of the other efficiency tweaks of the V8, and it’ll get the eight-speed box. And then it’ll re-establish its lead. Bentley knows that if you stand still, you’re going backwards.

See more exclusive pictures of the Bentley Continental V8

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