First Drive: 2013 Bentley Continental GT + GTC V8, The Bentley Continental gets more pertinent

 

“Snap” is back once again, and this time it’s his proper take on the 2013 Bentley Continental GT and GT Convertible V8 models.

It sure took VW Group long enough to get this done, but finally there’s a smarter and better Bentley Continental with a new V8.

In terms of how well a Bentley two-door with a humungous and thirsty 567-horsepower twin-turbo 6.0-liter W12 engine can sell while green awareness grows….pretty well actually. Sales in the U.S. were up in 2011 by 31 percent and we were the n.1 Continental market worldwide. We should remain safely thus until maybe tomorrow on your calendar, as China storms past us to buy more of everything

Or it may stay neck and neck, now that the Continental GT and soft-top GTC get a second engine: the same twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 with cylinder-on-demand as used in the latest Audi S6, S7, and S8, here tuned for 500 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. One clear advantage is that these V8 cars can travel on average 40 percent farther than the same cars with the old W12, so drivers will have far fewer stops at gas stations and they’ll be polluting far less per mile. And maybe now bicycle advocates will stop spitting on Bentleys.

After a long and sporting drive on the well maintained roads of northern Spain’s affluent wine region, then a series of hot laps at the practically new Circuito de Navarra, I can easily say that this V8 Continental is exactly as the car should have come equipped from the start. Bentley still has a ways to go to get the GT and GTC exactly as I (and they) would like them to be, but this significant step over to eight strong cylinders is an inspired beginning.

For one thing, the V8 Contis now get a really satisfying voice throughout the rev range. From the two twin exhausts with a design that looks like two reposing 8s, the thunder and thrum is nearly constant, what with torque staying at the maximum 487 lb-ft from 1,700 to 5,000 rpm. Even prior to 1,700 revs, though, just pressing the throttle pedal starts the rumbling from beneath the chassis. The bi-turbo W12, due to its way of doing things technologically, just doesn’t provide this fantastic orchestra. The Continental is now appropriately more like a grownup Aston Martin V8 Vantage and remains much more capable than that Aston.

And, yes, I said that this Continental is 40 percent more efficient with fuel. Interestingly, the new engine is directly responsible for just 16 percent of this added efficiency with its fewer cylinders and consequently less weight. Then there’s direct injection, smaller higher-pressure turbochargers, and Cylinder on Demand – technologies that will finally be incorporated into the W12 only in 2014. The Continental GT V8 now uses an average of 18 mpg, while the GTC version reads 17 miles per delicious gallon of premium fuel. The CO2 emissions are down pretty convincingly on both cars as well.

Nearly all of this major improvement can happen only when the cars are driven very casually, obeying all traffic laws and speed limits – a major challenge for me when I have this much drama available to my right foot. The ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with torque converter that almost every luxury big car seems to be adopting these days is an excellent and strong gearbox for the normal everyday drive, even good for a slightly more sporting drive. It can hold higher revs on a lower gear for a certain amount of time when in the “S” sport setting or sequential “+/-“ manual position of the center console lever, and here is responsible for 6 percent of the fuel efficiency gains.

Out on the demanding 2.5-mile track of Navarra, however, the gearbox was giving me a few temper tantrums, to be honest. It had the uncanny ability of sucking most of the good fun out of each lap by upshifting automatically once the tachometer needle reached a few rpm short of the indicated 6,250 red zone. With full power arriving at 6,000 rpm, there was almost no time at all to enjoy it before the transmission decided it was time for the next gear up. Frankly, this is pretty shameful. In fact, at the Q&A we all had with Bentley bosses after the drive, even the Bentley Boys agreed with me and said that solutions are in place for a future Super Sports trim package that holds gears, or perhaps even a different gearbox in the future. I certainly hope so, even if just for the chance of taking a Bentley onto a track and being honestly blown away.

The cylinder deactivation technology that adds an additional 5 percent of the fuel efficiency for this 4.0-liter V8 is called Cylinder on Demand, just as on the Audi S cars in which it was launched at the end of 2011. During the many no-throttle moments of any drive while in the normal “D” setting for the transmission, cylinders 2-3-5-8 cease their valve-lift and combustion phases whenever the “no throttle load” time exceeds five seconds. Once there’s any downward throttle pedal angle change for acceleration, the special cam lobes shift back to engaging these four cylinders. I felt nothing at all and there is no special readout anywhere on the dashboard that lets me know how I’m doing in saving the planet. And this is perfect for such car buyers in my opinion, because research shows that they just want it to work and they don’t ever want to have to think about it. How owners will grow to notice it is in the fewer times they’ll need to go to the fuel station to fill the tank; the theoretical range for these V8 Contis is now 525 miles.

Dynamically, especially as shown on the demanding track, these Continentals are still heavy things. The 385 added pounds of the GTC V8 in particular were quite noticeable out on the Spanish country roads. I personally would not purchase the GTC over the hardtop GT simply because of the noticeable dynamic compromises. (If I had a nice house and garage in southern France or in Santa Barbara, well…) Either car is an improvement over their W12 originals this way, but more needs to be done somehow. Again, the Bentley Boys all nod in agreement to this point.

Nonetheless, the 55 lbs less weight at the nose of the car and freshened 40:60 torque split of the all-wheel drive are welcome touches that render the V8 Continentals more dynamically adept than the W12s. In fact, Bentley has decided to use the red Flying B logo for all of these V8 engine models, a sign that there are much better things to come that will make things less fat feeling. All together, I really enjoyed these twin-turbo V8 Bentleys and cannot wait for the next iteration of both. For now, acceleration to 60 mph for the GT V8 is 4.6 seconds, that for the GTC a respectable 4.7 seconds. Happily, top speed stays just over 185 mph for both, though the wind noise in the GTC should limit the soft-top car to 155 mph. But I am not the boss, of course.

What Bentley needs to do next with these cars is give them a more sophisticated dynamics package, such as used at distant VW Group relative Porsche with the Sport Chrono Plus technologies that really combine all the dynamic features into one interface instead of leaving everything separate all over the dashboard and console. That Porsche relation is also becoming less distant now that legendary former Porsche R&D boss Wolfgang Dürheimer now runs Bentley and new hire Rolf Frech now leads Bentley R&D, having been at Porsche prior to this where he originated…you guessed it…Sport Chrono Plus. Frech just looked at me after I shared my thoughts and said, “Don’t worry, Billy; you can be sure this is the way we are going in future.”

Bentley seems to think that the Continental GT and GTC engine split will be 50/50 between W12 and V8 twin turbo purchases. I say that’s wrong and that the split will quickly be seen as around 25:75 in clear favor of the better V8 powertrain and packaging.


{Bentley Continental GT + GTC V8}

Price: $180,000; GTC – $200,000

Deliveries start: mid-April 2012 in U.S.

Motor: 4,000 cc, 4-valve

Power: 500 bhp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 487 lb-ft @ 1,700 – 5,000 rpm

Transmission: eight-speed ZF automatic w/shift levers on steering column

Fuel capacity: 23.8 gallons

MPG avg. city/hwy: 18 mpg; GTC – 17 mpg

Performance: 0-60 mph 4.6 seconds, v-max 188 mph; GTC – 4.7 sec., 187 mph

Length x width x height: 15’9” x 7’3” x 4’7”; GTC height – 1 mm less than GT

Wheelbase: 9’0”

Curb weight: 5,060 lbs; GTC – 5,445 lbs

Cargo space: 12.6 cu ft; GTC – 9.1 cu ft

[ Billy “Snap” MacGillicuty – Bentley Continental V8 words; David Shepherd – Bentley Continental V8 photos]

 

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