Bentley's new Continental GT V8S makes you sweat, in a good way
S for spice Whether it is a hardtop (above) or a convertible, the new Bentley GT V8S is a swift machine despite its hefty weight. -- PHOTO: BENTLEY MOTOR CARS

Last year, Bentley tentatively introduced a 4-litre V8 engine to the Continental GT range in an attempt to make it more eco-friendly.

The new unit brought down CO2 emission and fuel consumption by a substantial 40 per cent from figures produced by the previous 6-litre 12-cylinder engine.

Much to its delight, what it also did was attract many more people to the Bentley fold. The V8 now accounts for half of Bentley sales.

Concerned that the basic V8 might not be "Bentley" enough, the company began work on a list of upgrades for a special version called the Continental GT V8S. As usual, it is available as a coupe or convertible.

Starting with the engine, Bentley increased turbo boost pressure slightly and then remapped the engine timing, injection and ignition to raise power from 500bhp to 521bhp.

But there is now a freer-flowing sports exhaust that emits a very un-Bentley bark when driven at full throttle. It is not as anti-social as the Jaguar F-Type's, but comes across as a little more vocal and charismatic than the Bentleys we have been used to.

To get the full urgency of this engine, it is best to use the car's eight-speed transmission in Sport mode. This activates a different engine, exhaust and gear-shift map, allowing for quicker response and louder exhaust sounds, and keeping the transmission in lower gears to allow rapid access to the engine's power.

Driven thus, the car exhibits a noticeable sparkle in its stride as it hits the 100kmh benchmark in 4.5 seconds, an improvement of 0.3 seconds over the previous V8.

Top speed rises to 309kmh from 303kmh. Bentley claims this improvement does not come with any penalty in its fuel consumption and CO2 ratings, thanks to an advanced variable displacement system that allows it to run as a V4 when driven with a light foot.

To match the additional horsepower, the suspension is lowered by 10mm and the spring rates have been bumped up by 45 per cent in the front and 33 per cent in the rear.

These are, of course, air springs and they have been carefully tuned to deliver as good a ride as in the normal GT V8, which is amazing considering how much stiffer they are.

The payoff is in handling. The car turns corners flatter and grips more securely, giving it a clear edge in agility, something not usually associated with a 2.3-tonne vehicle.

The convertible also gets the suspension upgrade, but with slightly less stiffness. This gives it a better ride, even in Sport mode, which is rather impressive, as most open-tops suffer from a poorer ride quality.

Though it can also be driven hard, the convertible is better at wafting along boulevards. And California is the perfect setting for this.

There is a slight performance loss with the convertible, which is heavier. It reaches 100kmh in 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 308kmh. Acceleration is blunted by the additional 175 kg of the roof mechanism and reinforcement to the body to ensure it remains "the stiffest convertible in the world".

It is not a hollow boast, as this open-top does not display any body shimmy at all despite its size.

Buyers will be happy to note that externally, there are distinct features that will differentiate the V8S from the V8 (apart from the badging). Bentley has added an aerodynamic splitter under the front spoiler, which runs along the side sills and becomes the rear diffuser.

It has painted the aerodynamic parts and the wing mirrors in what it calls Beluga piano black, creating quite a stark contrast to any other body colour than black. These aerodynamic addenda are not just for show as they lower the car's drag coefficient from 0.31 to 0.30. This helps it attain a higher top speed and not just a mere increase in power.

There are seven new eye-catching colours to choose from, such as Monaco Yellow, Kingfisher Blue and St James Red. It will be interesting to see just how adventurous the new Bentley buyer is, as these are as loud as those found in Ferrari's stable.

With the entry-level V8, Bentley has attracted a much younger owner profile - something which helped push overall sales to a record 10,120 units last year (almost 20 per cent more than in 2012). It aims to do a little better with the V8S.

Though local pricing has not been finalised, it is expected to be about 15 per cent higher than the V8.

Meanwhile, those who want more can still opt for the W12, which will still be available for some time.

CAR INFORMATION

Bentley Continental GT 4.0 V8 S (A)

Price

:POA

Engine Type

:

V8 Twin-Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

3,993 cc

Horsepower

:

520 bhp

Torque

:

680 Nm

Transmission

:

8-speed (A)

Acceleration

:

4.5 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

309 km/h