Added poise and punch sharpen Crewe’s capable cruiser
If there has been one constant refrain from customer to company in the decade since the new generation of VW-financed Bentley models went on sale, it is a desire for more sporting models.
Of course Bentley is doing just fine as it is, selling more cars last year than in any other during its history – twice as many as it did in the depths of the 2009 slump. Even so, for those who want their winged Bs to adorn the front of cars that are not necessarily that much faster but are certainly far more fun, Bentley now presents S versions of its V8-powered Continental GT and GTC coupé and convertible.
The headline number – an additional 21bhp for the 4-litre twin-turbo V8 – is actually almost irrelevant, because in a car that already had 500bhp and weighs 2.3 tonnes, you’ll notice it most on paper where it is claimed to knock 0.3sec off the 0-62mph time. Far more important is the recalibrated transmission, the less intrusive ESP and suspension that’s been modified in every respect from its dampers to its bushing. The front springs are more than half as stiff again, as is the rear anti-roll bar. The rear springs are a third stiffer, the dampers programmed to give more resistance in both bump and rebound while all bush rates are up by as much as 70 per cent.
What else is up is the price, by an average of about £16,000 so that this V8 model is actually now more expensive than the cheaper of the two 12-cylinder Continentals also on sale.
Is it worth it? No and yes. There’s little these modifications bring to make the convertible GTC a better car. Yet it’s a little sharper but without the sporting brief, lower weight or structural rigidity of its closed GT brother, much of the gain is either wasted or traded for a deterioration in ride quality that’s simply not worth it. In standard trim this car is an effortlessly able Grand Tourer and given that you’re never going to get very nearly 2.5 tonnes of convertible to handle like a sports car, there seems little point in trying.
The fixed-head GT presents a very different case. With a massively stiff platform upon which to work, the changes in the suspension can really be felt: indeed, I’d say I’ve never driven another front-engined car of remotely commensurate weight that felt so agile. There’s more feel from the chassis and steering as they respond to the additional loadings the car is now able to generate, and it even adjusts its line reasonably smartly if told to do so by the accelerator. A Bentley you can steer on the throttle? You might not believe it, and nor did I at first, but you can.
Die-hard Bentley fans are hoping this is a mere amuse-bouche before the real game-changing Bentley Continental comes along. This one will not be based on its GT3 racer, because that would be impractical, but it will be inspired by it and informed to the extent that it will be rear-drive only and not merely a few dozen kilos lighter but a few hundred.
I know none of this officially and most at Bentley are keeping tight-lipped. But I know a nod and a wink when I see one, and I’ve seen enough to know it’s something being taken very seriously indeed right now in Crewe.
Engine: 4.0 litres, 8 cylinders
Power: 521bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 502lb ft @ 1700rpm
Transmission: eight-speed paddle shift, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 192mph
Economy: 26.8 mpg