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ROAD TEST: Bentley Continental V8
There must have been a bullfrog-sized lump in Bentley CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer’s throat when he announced late last year that the new Continental range would reduce fuel consumption by a whopping 40 percent. That was the easy part. The tricky bit was not reducing performance levels along with it.
Up until now the Continental GT (coupé) and CTC (convertible) models have had no problem with power. All 423kW and 700Nm of it.
The issue was that their hulking 6-litre bi-turbo W12 engines were sucking the Earth’s petroleum resources dry, and Bentley was taking a lot of heat for it. Luckily for the grand British marque, its parent company Audi/VW had the perfect plan up its sleeve.
Dürheimer, who’s well connected in the German supergroup’s inner circles, must have known it too. Audi’s new 4-litre twin-turbo V8, that’s just been added to three of its biggest cars to make them sportier “S” derivatives, would go down a treat in the two-ton-plus Continental range and all the high-technology that comes along with it would reduce average fuel consumption figures enough to appease all the bleating Save the Planet foundations out there.
DON’T CALL GREENPEACE YET
So, the new Continental V8 range, that’s now available in South Africa and on test here, has waxed the fuel consumption issue.
On paper anyway. Bentley claims it’ll drink 10.5 litres per 100km, which is almost exactly 40 percent less than the W12 at 16.5l/100km. But for the duration of our test, we could only return an average of 18.1l/100km. Don’t tell Greenpeace.
We’re happy to turn a blind eye though, because the second half of the promised equation has turned out fantastically.
In Bentley spec, the Audi-derived V8 makes 373kW and 660Nm. It’s good for a top speed north of 300km/h, and a dash from 0-100km/h happens in 4.8 seconds says Bentley.
That’s only two tenths slower than the healthier W12 version’s quoted figures. And, if Bentley may have fibbed a little about its fuel efficiency, it certainly has about its performance figures too. But this time for the better.
We recorded an actual 0-100km/h time of 4.4 seconds at Gauteng altitude, which is substantially quicker than what Bentley quotes.
And on top of that, it was more than a second quicker in the same field than the W12-powered GTC we wrote about earlier this year. In short, the new Conti GT range with this engine is an improvement from the more expensive (R2.8-million versus R3.2) W12 versions that Bentley says it will have a hard time selling going forward.
In general the car’s more sporting in this guise, and that’s a good thing for a sporty two-door coupé. Where the W12 whirrs and surges its weight around as if it’s effortlessly shoved along by the hand of God, the V8 drives in a more conventional nature. And by conventional nature, I mean you can actually hear the thumping engine’s revs rise and pause between gears, and a hefty prod of the gas pedal will result in an old-school “kick-down” sensation felt in the seat of the pants.
For good reason too. The Conti V8 gets a new eight-speed automatic transmission that’s more in tune with the engine’s sweet spots and power curves. The W12’s older six-speed’s a little recalcitrant when it comes to changing gears, and would rather let the engine’s massive torque do all the hard work in whatever ratio it feels best.
It’s a relatively small engine displacement-wise, but you’d never know by the way it asserts itself. Half throttle is enough to pick up all of the coupé’s 2.3 tons and set it down moments later further down the road, and fully opened taps almost defy physics laws. It feels lighter than its bigger sibling too, and though you can feel the inertia behind it, it somehow feels like there’s much less momentum than in the W12 which strangely weighs only 25kg more.
Bentley wanted to make its Continental GT better in certain areas with its new V8 model. But, in the end improved it in every conceivable way. Here’s tangible evidence that bigger’s not always better. -Star Motoring
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