The 2019 Isle of Man TT Senior winner loves big engines and old vans. Good lad
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£148,800 when new
I spy the entry-level Bentley Continental GT. Well done eagle eyes. I expect you only spotted it because of the name in the headline, though. Erm.. Thought as much. It’s a tricky spot otherwise – the only external identifiers are the quad exhaust pipes (the W12 has one large oval aperture either side) and the badging on the flanks. The message here isn’t that this is a budget Conti GT so much as a differently powered one. A little more efficient, a little less powerful, a little lighter, a little cheaper.
How much more efficient/lighter/cheaper? You asked for it… so, compared to the 6.0-litre twin turbo W12, the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 is £11,100 cheaper (£148,800 vs £159,900 for the coupe), 84bhp down (542bhp instead of 626bhp), and 79kg lighter (2,165kg versus 2,244kg). You missed the bit about economy and emissions. Unfortunately so has Bentley at the moment. Final certification has yet to be announced, so all we can say with certainty is that it will be better than the 20.8mpg/308g/km the W12 manages. It has cylinder deactivation under light loads, after all. But equally, on the evidence of our driving, if you do manage a real world 20mpg while trundling about in your V8, you should count that as a win. First deliveries of the V8 will start late this year, and it will be available from launch in both coupe and convertible guises. If you’re still on your economy kick, then you won’t be wanting the Convertible – it weighs 170kg more than the coupe. Obviously quite a bit of extra bracing was needed to hold the thing together. And the drag factor climbs from a slippery 0.29Cd to a more wind-adhesive 0.32Cd. What’s the V8 like to drive? First things first, you’re not going to notice much drop off in performance. Bentley says the V8 is 0.4secs slower to hit 62mph (4.0secs), but I expect the real world margin is less than that. This is still a very quick car. And that’s without including a ‘for its weight’ proviso. It’s just fast full stop. You do need to let the engine get into its stride more though. Although torque peaks at 1,960rpm with 568lb ft available, you need 2,500rpm on the dial before proper thump arrives. At the other end of the scale this is the highest revving Bentley there has ever been, able to hit – wait for it – 6,800rpm. A Honda VTEC it is not. But then it doesn’t need to be and, in practice, unless you’re autobahning, you’ll be changing up at 5,000rpm. Taking the Conti GT beyond that just doesn’t feel right somehow. The V8 may have plenty in common with the motor fitted to the Porsche Panamera Turbo, but the work done at Crewe to make it feel like a proper Bentley powerplant has been very successful. This is a motor with big lungs and a deep voice. It rumbles and thrums meatily at low revs and when you lift off there’s just the right amount of distant exhaust thunder. It’s not as effortless overall as the W12, but this is an engine you can enjoy using – you never feel short-changed. It’s different, not worse.
Smaller engine, means lighter, means more nimble right? As I mentioned earlier the V8 is only 79kg lighter, which in the grand scheme of 2,165kg, is not a whole lot. This is not suddenly a 911 rival. But nevertheless it is detectably more wieldy than the W12. With the weight having come off the front axle there’s a little less inertia to overcome when it turns, a nip more athleticism to the way it handles and behaves. If you want to get the best from it on a tight road, you’ll need to pull the twin clutch gearbox’s paddles yourself and keep the revs in the 3-4,000 sweet spot to minimise turbo lag and maximise throttle response. Speaking of which, twist the mode dial to Sport as well. Yes, it firms up the ride, but not unpleasantly so, and it sharpens up the accelerator. If only it did the same to the brakes. If you’re ever in any doubt that you’re trying to stop a lot of weight, the brakes will remind you. There’s too much travel before you get adequate response and more pressure than you expect for the retardation delivered. Overall you’re never going to find it deft, but it is a far, far more capable, hustle-able driver’s machine than you first think. Core to this is the standard 48v anti-roll system. Able to apply up to 1300Nm of torque to the anti-roll bars in just 0.3secs, it operates entirely undetectably – until you think about the physics involved and realise the heave, lurch and roll that should accompany vigorous cornering in a 2.2-tonne coupe is completely absent. It’s a very neat trick. What about doing the actual GT business? There’s a lot of unsprung weight here, and that does ask a lot of the air suspension when a wheel hits a pothole edge. A tiny tremor, quickly quelled, makes it through the defences. On more undulating surfaces you’re aware it’s not a complete silken pillow, that there is some support as the suspension starts to rise and fall, but overall the Conti GT’s weight and momentum give it a fantastic cadence – it comes across as calm and capable, but also effortlessly forceful. And very, very quiet. A convincing Bentley, then? Absolutely – I suspect Bentley could have launched it sooner, but hasn’t needed to because W12 sales have been strong and the production line busy. You can see why. The Conti GT is a handsome machine, and by choosing not to downgrade the spec, the V8 is every bit as compelling as the W12. Cracking interior, too. Having said that, there are some options you need to have: the upgraded seats are notably more supportive, the rotating display allows you, at the touch of a button, to replace the centre screen with a row of dials, or just a blank panel. Sounds daft, but don’t underestimate the extra mental relaxation you get from this dash declutterisation. Convertible or coupe? Driving the two back to back, you are aware of a slight dullness to the convertible’s handling. And if you want to cut out turbulence fully you need to remove from the boot, unfold and erect a wind deflector over the rear passenger seats. Which isn’t a luxurious thing to do. Personally I’d have the coupe and drop the pillarless windows, opening up the sides. V8 or W12 then? Toss a coin. Really. They are as good as each other, with very similar characteristics and personalities. If I have a criticism, it’s that Bentley could have done more to differentiate them, to maybe give the V8 a bit more bite, to open its appeal out to a wider audience. But that’s to come – there will be Speed versions and more in the coming years. Even a hybrid, since Bentley has announced that every model in its range will contain some electrification by 2023. Best to enjoy the internal combustion versions while we still can. In which case have the W12. Score: 8 Specs: 3996cc V8 twin turbo, 8spd twin clutch, 4WD, 542bhp @ 5750rpm, 568lb ft @ 1960-4500rpm, 0-62mph in 4.0sec, 198mph max, NAmpg, NAg/km CO2, 2165kg