What would you do if the brand new Bentley Continental GT V8 that you’re about to drive has only 34km on the odometer? With a twin-turbo four-litre V8 engine, fourwheel drive, eight-speed gearbox and 500 horsepower at your disposal, I’d like to think that you would, of course, engage sport mode and floor the throttle—as I did!
Based in Crewe, England but owned by Volkswagen AG since 1998, the Bentley Continental name has been in use since 1952 for luxurious two-door coupes. The modern day Continental that put Bentley into the mass production league debuted in 2003 and was designed by Belgian Dirk Van Braeckel. With curves and arches that wrap tightly around super-sized wheels, the look is both timeless and athletic. This second generation GT came out in 2011 with new body panels and sharper crease lines that evolved slightly from the original.
My first brief encounter with the Bentley Continental GT V8 was back in 2012. On that occasion the Conti was subjected to what any sane owner would not normally do to their pride and joy: a slalom course was laid out on a parade ground to demonstrate the car’s speed and prowess, and people took turns to hammer the car aggressively down the straight into the braking zone then accelerate hard into the slalom. It was great fun but hardly the way to treat a Bentley and there was not enough time to appreciate the car’s other qualities. This time around there is a chance to drive the car again, and in the city but, alas, it’s another short dalliance.
Inside the car you’re surrounded by opulent British craftsmanship with he fragrance of soft upholstered leather and acres of polished wood. This particular car has a glacier-white exterior and an interior of green brown combination leather called Brunel and Burnt oak. Accompanying it is lots of shiny walnut veneer, including a central console with a classy Breitling clock and grapefruit-sized chrome air conditioning vents. A throaty roar compliments the ignition procedure as you sit throne-like viewing the hoi polloi outside.
The sporty three-spoke steering wheel with a big B surrounded by the flying wings logo is a comfortable size, with generous paddle shifters right behind. Seating comfort is a given in the flawlessly hand-sewn, high-backed sports seats with pronounced side bolsters that only require minor seat adjustments. I would love to be let loose for the day on open roads but my chaperone takes me on an unfamiliar route so circumspection is required as the Continental GT is a large car at 4.8 metre bumper to bumper. The default setting for the air suspension is comfort so it was left there.
Light steering guides the Bentley as she glides effortlessly, the V8 engine purring like a gigantic Bengal tiger ready to pounce. When the road opens up, she does so without hesitation, delivering all 660 newton metres of torque at a low engine speed of 1,700 rpm. The only drama emanates from the rising heartbeat of the driver as the scenery rushes past as I zero in on the next gap in traffic. And the handling is excellent for such a heavy car—the steering light and accurate and the brakes super responsive.
For the return journey I drive the Continental Flying Spur and this one comes with Bentley’s flagship W12 engine. The Flying Spur first came out in 2005 as a fourdoor version of the Continental GT and is still one of the fastest luxury sedans in the world. As with the GT, both the V8 and the W12 engines are available. The first thing one notices about this car is the sheer size: at 5.3 metres long and weighing two and a half tons, this car has presence. Then after driving out, anyone in the driver’s seat will be overwhelmed by the immense torque of the six-litre turbo-charged engine. The W12 engine comes from the Volkswagen Group and has four rows of three cylinders coupled to a common crankshaft. In laymen’s terms this results in better engine placement in the engine bay and therefore better weight distribution; not that this is something that will concern owners much. The same goes for the marketing spiel about the engine’s variable displacement system, which deactivates six cylinders at lower speeds or when they’re not needed for better economy.
The V8 is the common sense option—cheaper, lighter and 40 per cent more economical—and the W12 the more aggressive and I daresay enjoyable alternative. Once I’ve had enough of the stately manners and the road opens up, the W12 does not disappoint. The acceleration surge of the twin turbo engine with 616 horsepower is just phenomenal, with no drama or ungainly noise. Pushing it hard on a quiet three-lane highway, the Flying Spur fills up gaps easily, albeit with some signs of untidiness and clumsy body roll, especially when it’s trying to keep up with the more agile GT V8 up ahead. Yet, I must have been doing something right: not a sound was uttered from my chaperones.
No matter which one you choose, a Bentley is something timeless. Both cars look majestic when out on the road, and both offer understated yet startlingly powerful driving performance. Combining hand craftsmanship with sophisticated power delivery and creamy smooth rides, they are also beautifully made. Dream scenario: enjoy the Flying Spur during the working week and be chauffeur driven from one executive meeting to another while cocooned in the lap of luxury and save the more sporting GT for those grand touring weekends.