2013 Bentley Continental GT V8: Less is More?

Okay, take my favorite ultra luxury Sports Tourer, the Bentley Continental GT, strip out the rock solid W12 motor, and insert a lower powered V8. Recipe for disaster? Negative. Cheapens the brand? No way.

Perhaps this is the classic, textbook case of “less equals more,” as the 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 is such a terrific automobile, I would reckon that the Bentley Boys from Crewe, United Kingdom have another major sales success in the making.

Madrid and Logroño, Spain served as the backdrop for driving this latest Bentley masterpiece. We arrived via motorcoach to the superb “Circuito de Navarro” racecourse near Logroño, stepped off the bus and listened to a song I’d never heard in a Bentley before. Yes, I’ve heard similar songs written by other players: Corvette ZR1, Lexus LF-A, Audi R8, Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin Vantage V8 and others. If I could somehow translate the aural audacity of the song I heard in Logroño, it would read like this:

“You thought I was in this game for comfort and fun, but now you know who’s really number one, as there is plenty of power in this gun.”

The sound was of three Continental GT V8s warming up for our track time, and the fury unleashed by those three under full power was mesmerizing. Forget I was freezing my tail off under Europe’s surprisingly harsh winter. I stayed outside watching the warm up laps to get my blood pumping for my turn behind the wheel.

When time came to volunteer for who would go on the track first among the 15 or so journalists present, my hand shot up quickly, and I asked to ride in the Dragon Red GT V8. What I did not know at the time was the red car was the only right hand drive model of the three, and I had never driven at speed on a track on the “wrong” side of the car!

After the requisite safety briefing, I donned a helmet and under the instructive eyes of a pro driver, hit the course. Circuito de Navarro is a very fast track, with long, sweeping turns and a straight where you can really open up. Such is a formula for disaster if you are in a car not up to the task.

Let’s start with pure performance. The 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 is furnished with a 4-liter motor outfitted with twin turbochargers and outputting 500 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque (the bulk of this prodigious torque is available beginning at just 1700 rpm). Power is channeled to the tarmac through Bentley’s corporate all-wheel drive system (think Audi quattro), and a very impressive 8-speed automatic transmission with paddleshift capability. Zero to sixty miles per hour comes up in 4.6 seconds, with a top end of 188 miles per hour should you feel the need for ultimate speed.

Coming out of the pit lane, I quickly got the 5,060 pound GT V8 up to speed. Touch the brakes to distribute weight and dive into the corner. Hit the sweeping turn with your foot fully planted and watch as the big GT slides effortlessly using the throttle. Was I in a Bentley or a BMW M3? The beauty of it all was just the week before, I had been in the M3 at Laguna Seca Raceway, and while the racetrack edge goes to the M3, one must factor in that the big Bentley weighs in at about 1300 pounds more than the Bimmer. Tossing around a big, powerful car like the GT V8 was pure fun.

Back to Navarro, more aggressive turns, and then a straight with a pretty significant bump. No loss of composure here. A final series of turns, and then on to the straight, where the sounds of V8 fury are again unleashed with a full assault on the go pedal. No issues driving on the wrong side, as my instructor and the Continental GT V8 had my back.

So we’ve established that the GT V8 goes hella fast and corners well, but what is all of this worth if your car cannot stop safely and securely? On the racetrack, or on the roadway, clamping down from 140 plus miles per hour can create so much heat that brakes can fade away to the point of not being able to safely stop you.

So Bentley did the needful, dispatching the car with available Carbon Ceramic brakes with rotors so large at 16.5 inches, they’re bigger than the wheels on most economy cars. Braking is forceful and fade free, even after mad romps around the track.

Style wise, the new GT V8 is very much a Continental GT. It’s distinguished from its 12 cylinder brethren by a radiator grille in gloss black mesh bordered by a thin chrome rim. The lower grille features massive air intakes for engine breathing and brake cooling, divided by strakes into three distinct segments. At the rear, figure eight exhaust pipes and a blacked out lower rear valance convey the power at hand. In contrast to the black enamel winged “B” emblem on W12 models, the new GT V8 features a red winged “B,” reviving a badge hierarchy of earlier Bentley models from the 1920s.

Inside, you still get the full luxe Bentley treatment. I was particularly impressed with the sonic quality of the “Naim for Bentley” audio system with its crisp highs and pounding lows. Even the “lesser” base system comes with eight channels and eight speakers, 15 GB of storage for music, six disc CD changer and iPod capability. As one would expect in a Bentley, leather, wood and polished metal abound inside. This is one well crafted motorcar.

After an impressive day at the track, we drove around Spain’s scenic countryside. Again, the V8 did not disappoint, as Bentley estimates the new V8 is 40% more fuel efficient than the W12 equipped GT. I love the W12, but is does not sound as wicked as the V8, even though it’s a faster, more powerful motor. Ride quality is excellent, and you can dial in the fun factor using the adaptive damping system. Full “Sport” was our mode of choice to tackle the myriad switchbacks we encountered during our drive.

So is less more? At an expected price about $20,000 cheaper than the W12 GT, I’d have to say yes. Unless you are a status freak, you’ll miss nothing from going “down” to the GT V8. It’s all Bentley, and that means it is very, very good. Should you desire the top down experience, the GT V8 is also available as the GTC V8 Convertible.