Bentley Continental V8 S Review

Expectation can be a dangerous thing. It brings with it the pressure to succeed and the possibility of failure. When it comes to cars, a sure-fire way of generating plenty of the ‘E’ word is asking almost half a million dollars for the privilege. Add in 95 years of provenance as one of the world’s leading premium marques and you’ve got one hell of a promise to fulfil.

It’s a relief, then, to report that Bentley’s new Continental V8 S does exactly what it says on the box, offering supreme comfort with a sporting bent. It’s a somewhat unique proposition, a cut above similarly-powered coupes like the BMW M6 and less overtly sporting than offerings from Maserati or Aston Martin. A Ferrari or Lambo? Far too brash. The new Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe? A formidable rival, but perhaps a touch Teutonic.

Landing in Australia at $405,600 for the coupe GT and $446,000 for the convertible GTC, the S asks for around $25,000 more than the standard V8 models yet undercuts its W12-powered sibling by a mere $3K. Why offer two separate yet similar models at virtually identical prices?

The answer is character, the difference between the two never more apparent than when the V8 S GT emits a loud whoompf on start-up. Even without the retina-searing Monaco Yellow paint job, one of two signature colours for the V8 S (the other being that worn by the GTC, Kingfisher Blue), prospective Continental owners who wish to remain discreet would be best advised to investigate the more subdued W12.

Introduced in 2013, the Audi-derived 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 produces 389kW/680Nm in S form, up 16kW/20Nm over the regular V8. It has plenty of high-tech features like direct-injection, turbochargers mounted within the vee of the engine to improve response and variable displacement to shut down four cylinders on a cruise, but thankfully the noise it produces is resolutely old school. 

Hushed to a whisper on light throttle openings, sink the pedal into the deep pile carpet and the ZF eight-speed auto drops as many as five gears and a thunderous roar escapes the twin ‘figure of eight’ tail pipes.

Bentley claims 0-100km/h in 4.5sec for the coupe (4.7sec for the heavier convertible), which is perhaps a little ambitious, but it feels much faster than you’d expect from something weighing 2220kg. The convertible struggles a little out of slower corners, as even 680Nm takes a while to motivate 2395kg.

True speed freaks will no doubt still crave the giddying rush that only the 467kW/820Nm GT Speed can provide, but you’d have to be truly addicted to acceleration to forgo the V8 soundtrack.

Weighing as much as a Range Rover Sport, you’d forgive the big Bentley for being a bit continental in its handling characteristics, but it’s nothing of the sort. You’re really only conscious of its weight when you go in a bit hot, at which point you become very conscious of it very quickly. That and when the pungent aroma of brakes makes you acutely aware that the enormous composite rotors (420mm front; 356mm rear) are working very hard indeed.

Part of the solution has been to stiffen the GT’s chassis, with spring rates increased 45 per cent front and 33 per cent rear, 70 per cent stiffer bushes, a 54 per cent stiffer rear anti-roll bar, and a 10mm drop in ride height. This stiffness has not come at the expense of ride quality, as even on optional 21-inch wheels both cars smother bumps superbly, at least with the four-stage adjustable dampers set in either of the softer two settings. Such is the combination of comfort and control, the two stiffer settings seem redundant.

Though the V8 is 25kg lighter in the nose than the W12, weight distribution in the Coupe is still an unfavourable 57.5:42.5 front-to-rear (the convertible is slightly better balanced at 55.7:44.3) so it’s the front that inevitably gives up first in tight corners. But we can’t imagine too many owners are going to be flinging their Bentley around winding mountain passes, and as the corners open out the Continental comes into its own. It’s beautifully balanced and the rear-biased all-wheel drive system provides plenty of grip and confidence.

While there’s no doubt a diet wouldn’t go astray, the crew from Crewe are adamant weight is one of a Bentley’s defining characteristics, and there is a certain appeal to driving something that feels so substantial. The steering is weighty, the brake pedal firm and the bodyshell feels to have the integrity of an underground bank vault. Bentley claims the GTC is the world’s most torsionally rigid convertible, though back-to-back with the GT it does suffer a little over high-frequency bumps.

It also isn’t quite as capable in the bends as its hard-top sibling, but it does offer the driver better access to the bellowing exhaust and passers-by the chance to enjoy the beautifully crafted interior. Too often cars like this are let down by parts-bin fittings, but the Bentley’s cockpit feels special enough to almost make you forget the infotainment screen comes from a $40K Volkswagen.

Each of our test cars has a very different interior treatment, though what they share is an eye-watering optional extras list. The Coupe’s carbon-fibre centre console comes as part of the $36,965 ‘Extended Sports’ package, which also includes those composite brakes and the should-be-standard sports exhaust.

Then there’s the ‘Mulliner Driving Specification’, which adds those 21s, Bentley emblems in the headrests and diamond-quilted hide for $16,916; the premium Naim audio system adds $15K, the look-at-me paint job $11K and contrasting interior stitching another $4K. The total? $502,055 plus on-roads.

The classier, more subdued GTC is equally stacked to the hilt for a final ask of $544,810. Should equipment like massage seats, adaptive cruise control and a rear view camera be standard at this price point? Probably, but it’s difficult to imagine many customers haggling over a couple of grand. The full lists can be found on our website if you’re really curious.

For those that prefer their luxury coupes to be of the more wafting variety, the more raucous V8 S may be a step too far, but for our money it perfectly encapsulates what a Bentley should be: very fast and very comfortable but with a slightly rough edge. It’s like a character out of a Guy Ritchie movie, the automotive equivalent of a well-dressed gentleman who is hard as nails underneath the Saville Row suit. And we didn’t expect that.

Bentley Continental GT V8 S
Engine: 3993cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 389kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 680Nm @ 1700rpm
Weight: 2220kg
0-100km/h: 4.5sec (claimed)
Top Speed: 309km/h
Price: $405,600

Score: 4/5

Bentley Continental GTC V8 S
Engine: 3993cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 389kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 680Nm @ 1700rpm
Weight: 2395kg
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)
Top Speed: 308km/h
Price: $446,000

Score: 3.5/5

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