By Richard Yarrow
We’ve all had that ‘if I won the lottery’ conversation, either out loud with friends and family or in our heads. What would I buy, where would I go on holiday, would I ever come back? The answer to those questions, for me, is this Bentley Continental GT V8 S, somewhere warm that I could drive it to, and probably not.
First launched in 2003 to near-universal acclaim, the Continental GT turned Bentley from a niche luxury brand into a global performance car player. The all-new second generation model debuted in 2011, sharpening the design and improving on almost every other aspect.
From the drawing board, part of the programme was the arrival of a second engine option, a 4.0-litre V8 engine to sit below the 6.0-litre W12. At ‘only’ 500bhp – rather than 553bhp from the W12 – it’s no shrinking violet, and has proved extremely popular with customers who want improved fuel economy and a car that’s notably lighter at the front end.
Perhaps inevitably, Bentley couldn’t leave it alone so now we get the V8 S, available as a coupé or convertible. The most obvious change is the extra 21bhp, so now it’s 521bhp, but no one driving it on a public road will notice. What’s far more evident is the work that’s gone on under the skin to improve the all-wheel drive powertrain.
The sports suspension has been lowered so the S rides 10mm lower to the ground. Also, the suspension and damping have been revised and stiffened, while the steering has been recalibrated. Bentley’s desire was to offer a more engaging and responsive behind-the-wheel experience, and I think they’ve succeeded.
On the road, the V8 S is an astonishing machine which offers a truly spirited ride. You can simply select D on the eight-speed automatic transmission’s knurled-finish gear selector and do nothing else, but you’re missing out on half the fun. Switch it to S mode for a sharper throttle response, gears held for longer and faster shifts between them. The V8 S will sprint to 60mph in just 4.3 seconds and power on to a top speed of 192 mph, though I only have Bentley’s word for that.
What hasn’t changed is the engine’s clever variable displacement technology. It means the twin-turbo unit has the power to automatically shut down four of the eight cylinders when cruising, reducing fuel consumption. When more power is required, the engine seamlessly switches back to eight. The result is official Combined Cycle fuel economy of 26.8 mpg and CO2 emissions of 246 g/km, or 25.9 mpg and 254 g/km on the convertible. Bentley reckons you can get more than 500 miles from a full tank of petrol.
The V8 S also benefits from a distinctive styling upgrade to mark it out from other Continental GTs. The new front splitter, side sills and gloss black rear diffuser are certainly striking, but also boost aerodynamic performance by reducing front-end lift and providing greater stability at higher speeds. My test car, a coupé, came with gloss black door mirror caps to complement the look. Add in the black grille with single chrome divider bar at the front, plus the ‘figure of eight’ exhaust at the back, and you’ve got a stunning looking machine.
As always with Bentleys, it’s the last word in elegant and sophisticated luxury. The cabin is completed in soft-touch leather – mine had the optional contrasting stitching – wood veneers, polished metals and deep-pile carpeting, all hand-crafted in Bentley’s factory in Crewe.
Externally, 20-inch ‘open-spoke’ alloy wheels are unique to the V8 S, revealing distinctive, red-painted brake calipers behind. My car was actually riding on optional 21s, which look stunning and don’t compromise the ride at all. Subtle ‘V8 S’ badges are applied to each front wing and door sill, and as with other members of the Continental V8 family, the famous Bentley Wings badges feature a red centre.
Needless to say, all this doesn’t come cheap. The V8 S is £139,000 and mine had another £40,000 of options. I suppose that could be back-of-the-sofa change for a lottery winner…