Power up: Bentley's Continental GT evolves into the V8 S
There's an apocryphal story that usually crops up in any piece about Bentley's sporting aspersions. Allegedly, the Italian engineer Ettore Bugatti is said to have referred to the original racing Bentleys as 'the fastest lorries in the world'. Bugatti – who knew a thing or two about making big, fast cars – was making a jab at the sheer scale of Bentley’s famous ‘Blower’ race-cars, titanic machines that dominated motor racing in the late 1920s and early 30s.
Bentleys are still big. The company’s shifting ownership ensures that only a spiritual connection to this era remains, but it’s a link Bentley Motors isn’t willing to forego. Bentley still stands for sporting muscularity, crunching together massive powerplants and chrome, wood, leather and carbon fibre to make the automotive equivalent of an oversized wristwatch. You have to have the solid self-belief to make it work as an extension of your personality.
The Continental GT is the mainstay of the modern Bentley range. An all-new car is promised for 2018, but the current machine is the result of over a decade's honing and refinement, resulting in a hugely capable grand tourer that continues to epitomise the brand's approach. Originally built with VW’s impressive ‘W12’ engine, it’s been available with the lighter and more sonorous V8 since 2013. In many respects, the smaller engine makes this a better car – certainly a livelier one. Now there’s also a V8 S, which channels even more power with even more sporting accoutrements – carbon fibre trim, carbon ceramic brakes and a noisier exhaust. Throw in a few choice bits of custom trim courtesy of Bentley’s Mulliner division, and the price swiftly ratchets up into supercar territory.
Yet even in this aggressive iteration, the V8 S is still much more of a GT. There is power in abundance – a surfeit, if we’re honest – which enables this massive motorcar to accelerate to 60 in around 4.3 seconds. This kind of display is a guilty pleasure, as it is in most cars, and it’s also rather undignified. The Bentley is at its best when the power is kept simmering just beneath the surface, and the hushed qualities of the ride become apparent. The occasional snarling outburst is (hopefully) easy to forgive.
Although it feels slightly perverse to do so, the GT V8S really is a car you can use every day. The benefits of Bentley’s VW parentage shine through in the everyday functionalism of the interior, despite being effectively buried beneath layers of knurled, stitched and chromed materials, creating an almost overpowering aura of automotive traditionalism. It’s testament to the fundamental rightness of the original design that the GT has been able to evolve so effectively and retain such high levels of desirability.