Time was when you could be born, grow up, get married and have children between launches of genuinely new Bentley products. Now you seem barely able to pop to the pub for a swiftie. After the new GTC and the Supersports ISR (Ice Speed Record), this is the third Bentley in as many months with a claim to being new, at least in part. And it is by some distance the most important.
Whether Bentley likes it or not – and for reasons that will become clear, they may not – this new bottom of the range Bentley is going to transform the buying habits of its clientèle. On paper introducing an engine with only two-thirds of the cylinders and capacity its customers have come to expect might seem problematic. But when you see what can now be done with four litres and eight cylinders, relative to what has been achieved in the past with six litres and 12 cylinders, only the most myopic will fail to appreciate what’s on offer.
Like the 12, the new V8 is sourced from within the VW Group. It produces an even 500bhp and uses a clever cylinder deactivation system that turns it into a frugal V4 at part throttle. Coupled to an eight-speed automatic gearbox (the big engine soldiers on with the old six- speeder) and a host of other efficiency savings, the V8 offers the same acceleration as all bar the most recent W12s yet uses 40 per cent less fuel. Forty per cent! If a normal car manufacturer found one quarter of that saving for no loss in perceived performance, you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself over the bombardment of champagne corks.
It starts with a distant snarl, instantly more characterful and promising than the flat woofle of the W12. If you go slowly at first, you notice how skilled each gearshift is, and it pulls from low revs with damn near the same conviction as the W12. No lack of low-end torque here. When you really want to see what it will do, jam your foot to the floor and you’ll find performance to match that of any Continental GT that predates last year’s facelift.
It sounds wonderful when extended and Bentley have retuned the chassis from front to back to help make the car appeal to a younger audience, and it has worked brilliantly. It’s better balanced and feels more precise and therefore easier to place. In a vehicle of this size on British back roads, that is an important consideration.
This is Bentley’s best product in many years. The reason this might prove problematic is that it is also its cheapest and, I speculate, that brand new 4-litre engine with all its clever technology will be quite expensive for Bentley to buy relative to the 10-year-old W12. Bentley thinks that half of all the Continentals it sells will continue to be W12-powered, and if you consider likely demand for such cars in places such as Russia and the Middle East, I guess that’s possible.
But if ever there was an example of less being more this, surely, is it.
Engine: 4.0 litres, eight cylinders, petrol
Top Speed: 188mph
Power: 500bhp at 6000rpm
Fuel/CO2: 27mpg, 246g/km