Bentley Continental GT V8 S Details:
Electronics: 8" touchscreen | 30GB hard drive
+ Pros: Hand-finished, luxury interior | Effortless, dynamic performance | Massive grip | Rousing soundtrack
- Cons: Price | Weight
Nearly 6000 miles, two flights and a full day later, I wearily arrive at Rancho Valencia in San Diego, CA. Today, it could be renamed Casa Bentley, because the British firm had taken a sizeable portion of the luxury resort to launch its Continental GT V8 S to the world.
The futility of an entire day's travel from the UK, where the V8 S is built, isn't lost on me. Yet Bentley sells a lot of cars in the USA and, despite our preconceptions that Californian roads are hopelessly dull and rigorously speed-enforced, previous experience dictates only half of that to be true...
"Rigorously" might be pushing it, but the cop-count is high on American roads, as I found to my cost last time I was in the Palomar Mountains surrounding Palm Springs in an Aston Martin Vantage V12 S - 75 in a 55mph zone, around a corner the lawman reckoned was too tight for the posted limit. I wasn't about to argue, even if he was wrong. I'm guessing you're not overly sympathetic, either?
The fine was due payment, and Bentley's invite couldn't have been more timely: the route for the Continental GT V8 S drive passed within a few miles of Hemet Court House where I've an appointment with a cashier!
But first it was lunch at Frank's place. Bentley managed to have Frank Sinatra's Twin Palms pad available for our pleasure. I don't know his persuasion for cars, but I think Frank would dig the Bentley. It certainly looked good on his driveway.
Like Frank, Bentley has stuck to a winning formula with the Continental GT. Nobody buys one for its outright sporting prowess. Sure, it's fast; anything with a 528hp V8 biturbo is going to be - even if it's hauling a substantial 5060 lb of leather, finely finished knurled, brushed metal and mirror-sheen wood veneers. This Continental GT is different, though, taking the "entry" V8 model and adding more pace and poise for not a great deal more money.
The W12-powered Continentals might be where the big money goes, but since the V8 arrived in 2012, the smart choice has been the smaller cylinder count. It might be a unit borrowed from Audi, but the W12's origins were a Volkswagen sedan anyway... and in the Continental V8 S the power's been increased. Not much, in truth, the 21hp increase added to the standard V8's 507hp. Torque's up too, with 15 lb-ft more, and just 14 lb-ft shy of the 6.0-liter W12.
Armed with its extra grunt, the V8 S records a respectable 0-60mph time of 4.3sec to match its W12 relation.
With less weight over the nose than the W12, Bentley is billing the V8 S as a more entertaining and involving driver's car. To achieve that, the chassis engineers were busy, lowering the ride height 10mm, the dropped springs giving an increased rate of 45% front and 35% rear.
The damping, too, has been altered to improve response, while the bushings are significantly changed; the front are some 70% firmer. The rear anti-roll bar stiffens by 54%, while the calibration of the Continuous Damping Control and steering system, and static toe and camber changes, further alter the V8 S dynamics.
The results are tangible. Where the V8, W12 and W12 Speed's predominant characteristic is to pummel through the bends with the sizeable grip and mighty corner-exiting traction afforded by the 40/60 front/rear split AWD system, the V8 S does things differently. There's more finesse to the chassis now, as the steering's weight has been improved, so there's something to feel at the rim rather than simply the quality of the leather and hand-stitching.
The corner the CHP officer suggested was incorrectly limited was again tackled and 55mph didn't feel too brisk, although the concern for a Groundhog Day-type ticketing experience tempered my enthusiasm somewhat!
It was the tighter, more demanding roads of the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve that revealed the car's change in character. Tighter, switchback bends, downhill turns approached on the brakes, or trail braking to the apex revealed superior agility and poise than the rest of the Continental GT line-up. Grip levels were high, although physics will dictate if you're over enthusiastic or wildly optimistic with entry speed.
It was impressive to note how quickly you could get on the power, and doing so not only rewarded with immediate accelerative force, but was also accompanied by a more rousing tune from a reworked sports exhaust.
The gearshift, a traditional automatic tranny, was immediate and smooth; its ability to pick from its eight ratios was so good you rarely needed to resort to the paddle shifters.
Fourteen years of testing cars wasn't enough to discern the difference the 21hp increase made, nor the 14 lb-ft creep in torque, but the V8 S always felt prodigiously, effortlessly and illegally fast.
Frank's place lived up to expectations, the crooner having a fine taste in architecture as well as music. His party house in Palm Springs, attached pool house and cleverly designed canopy that casts piano-key shadows alongside the grand piano-shaped pool, left a lasting impression. Only Frank's recording equipment, which allowed him to put tracks directly onto vinyl at home, gave away the home's age.
There are obvious parallels with the Bentley, which felt gloriously and expensively appointed inside, but had an entertainment system seemingly of similar vintage. The sat nav and interface felt old but elsewhere the cabin remains as appealing as ever, from the beautifully tactile chrome organ stops on the vents, to the lovingly hand-finished, perfectly stitched soft leather, the Continental GT feels exceptionally luxurious at this price. Nothing comes close to replicating the quality and solidity inside.
Leaving Palm Springs for the courthouse appointment sees the Continental revert to type and chew through boring miles with supreme comfort and unflustered ease. The chassis, for all its newfound athleticism, still affords the sort of supple ride the Continental's badge alludes to. It remains a supremely capable Gran Turismo in every sense of the word.
The visual changes to the V8 S add to its appeal, with a lower front spoiler, side sills and rear diffuser helping to better manage the airflow and reduce lift. Black gloss insets on the grilles, the pinched exhausts (their shape describing a figure-of-8), S badges and 20" wheels with red brake calipers hint at the greater driver appeal - without shouting about it too loudly. This is a Bentley after all.
It's perhaps not the best conveyance for arriving to pay a speeding fine. So while a colleague waits outside, I empty my pockets at the courthouse metal detector, clutching a ticket and wallet filled with cash. Leaving, that wallet some $367 lighter, it's difficult to be too upset, given how the fine was achieved, the amount of times I've dodged previous fines, and my current transportation.
On the homeward run along the Californian coast, past Laguna Beach to San Diego, with some 350 miles covered, the trip was well worth it. Bentley's continual refinement of the GT range has finally created the car it arguably should always have been, with a breadth of ability that's genuinely difficult, if not impossible to match. Much like Frank, really.
2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S
4-litre twin-turbocharged direct injection V8 with cylinder deactivation
eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with Quickshift and block shifting, column-mounted paddle shifters
eight-piston calipers, 405mm rotors f, single-piston, 335mm r, (optional carbon-silicon-carbide 420mm, cross-drilled rotors f, 356mm r)
four-link wishbones f, multi-link r with self-leveling air suspension, anti-roll bars, Continuous Damping Control
Wheels & Tires
20x9.5" wheels, 275/40 R20 tires
528hp at 6000rpm
502 lb-ft at 1700rpm