2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S

2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S 2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S
First Drive Review

It’s been said you have only one chance to make a good first impression. And if the occasion were selecting just the right kind of contemporary Bentley in which to arrive at the front door of Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle, might we suggest the Continental GT V8 S? Sure, there have been two generations and many permutations of the Continental GT during its 11-year run—the Woolf Barnato model of the GT Le Mans Edition was a particularly interesting one—but the Continental GT V8 S occupies a sweet spot in the line. In Bentley-speak, the “V8” designation means it is powered by the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 instead of the twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12. The “S” could be Sport or Special or Speed…your choice.

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Normally, the V-8, turbos nestled in the vee between the cylinder banks, provides 500 horsepower and 487 lb-ft of torque from 1700 rpm. But in the S, those numbers rise to 521 and 502, the 0-to-60 time sliding down to a claimed 4.3 seconds in the coupe and 4.5 with the heavier convertible. All of this works through a ZF eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, power split 40 percent front and 60 percent rear. To match the power and image, the S’s ride height is 0.4 inch lower, and spring rates are increased 45 percent up front and 33 percent in the rear. Firmer suspension bushings and a stiffer rear anti-roll bar finish out the chassis mods. Bad boy, indeed.

The Continental’s shape, born of Dirk van Braeckel’s Bentley studio in Crewe, England, has evolved, but it hasn’t changed significantly—and that’s a good thing. As a coupe or convertible, it remains a modern landmark design. S-model details, such as a shiny Beluga black front splitter, side sills, and rear diffuser, add some aero touches. A gloss-black radiator grille, 21-inch seven-spoke wheels at the corners, and four proud exhaust-pipe outlets trumpeting from the rear convey the required attitude. A note about the convertible top: You forget it’s there. The sound level and the sense of security are like those of a coupe, thanks to a thick three-layer design with a seven-bow rigging that lays waste to the classic term “ragtop.”

At idle, the twin-turbo V-8 is so quiet and isolated it feels as though it were equipped with a stop-start system. It’s not, and when you flatten the accelerator, the exhaust grumbles, and a few taps of the ZF automatic’s shift paddles later, 120 mph arrives. It’s when the road begins to meander that you remember the Bentley’s weight. The variable-boost steering weights up nicely enough for diving into curves at higher velocities, but a body in motion (approximately 5100 pounds for the coupe, 5500 pounds with the convertible) tends to stay in motion, and you need to adjust for the momentum. The car feels lighter through the controls than it reacts on the road, so you compensate by turning in a bit earlier and tucking in the nose before getting back on the go pedal. Once you get the hang of it, the Continental GT V8 S is a very satisfying country drive. Yet when it comes time to return to civilization, and the likes of traffic, speed zones, and potholes—plus the odd castle or two—the Bentley maintains its bearing as a luxury car.

What price prestige? You’d need $199,225 for the coupe or $219,925 for the convertible to open negotiations, and then there’s the options list. The coupe you see in the gallery lists for $244,645, thanks to such extras as the $13,875 carbon-ceramic brakes, $1905 contrasting upholstery stitching, and $1215 backup camera. Hey, if you have to ask…