Don’t assume for a second that an extra 21 brake horsepower added to an existing 500 doesn’t matter so much. On the face of it, the new Continental GT V8 S isn’t much more powerful than a standard V8, and you could be forgiven for taking a look at those figures on paper and having a bit of a shrug. Marketing sleight of hand to flog a ‘new’ model in an already strong-selling range.
But within those extra 21bhp is a whole new world for Bentley, and the transformation is more than just a smidgeon of top end bunt: it is nastier, noisier, showier. Bentley, whose general approach has been to offer seamless speed with little more than a politely deferential cough, has recognised that its new, younger, brasher clients want dramatic theatre as well as luxury and comfort.
Well, they’ve now got the whole West End blaring out of the figure-of-eight shaped pipes of the S.
So here we are, in the land of the V8s, America, accelerating like crazy through the Californian desert in an S that sounds like a marginally detuned NASCAR. A searing metallic edge lines the familiar, distinctive whomps of this glorious 4.0-litre twin-turbo engine. Even as we slow to a stop, the pipes spit and woofle malevolently. Somebody at Bentley’s Crewe HQ has been really angry, and taken it out on this car.
Such a change in character isn’t immediately apparent from the outside (when those evil exhausts have been shut down). A discreet gloss-black splitter and diffuser, plus chrome rings around the rear lights, are about the only signifiers of what lies beneath.
In engineering terms, the car has been dropped by 10 mm, and there’s a general stiffening across the board: increased spring rates, revised dampers, considerably firmer bushes, and the rear anti-roll bar is beefed up too. The result is very little discernable difference in Comfort-button cruising. It still rides nicely enough, but there is a bigger change when the dampers are set to stun: it hits ridges in the road much harder than the standard car, and body roll is more controlled through corners. The steering, which has been recalibrated to match the suspension upgrade, has more resistance and precision, but still little feedback. It might be stomping and shouting about its progress elsewhere, but the V8 S is still a bastion of calm at the wheel.
Terrifyingly, the ESP has been adapted to allow more slip angle, and then get the torque back to the tyres quicker once it has done its thing. This raises the prospect of big, lairy slides in a two-and-a-half tonne car which I’m afraid – in a country of long, fast turns and Feds with forward-facing speed cameras on their cars – I chose not to explore.
Being caught at the speeds necessary for such fun, in the fat part of the hundreds, would mean heading for a long spell in a state pen, and I just don’t suit an orange jumpsuit. It really is that epically quick on the right road.
So instead I opted for the job the V8 S is masterful at: a sharp lope, barely slowing for any corners, sweeping past slower traffic, feeling like a million dollars, sounding like the devil, looking very pleased with yourself.
The question is though, what to make of a car that is the best part of £16,000 more expensive than the V8 (and more than £150,000 for the soft-top)? Back in black and white, you’d conclude there is no sense in spending the extra, and yet in the metal the V8 S feels so much more than just 21 horsepower more handy. But £16,000? Well, if you have the funds, then such figures are little more than theoretical numerology anyway, and Bentley reckons that the S will pretty much supersede the V8 as the go-to eight-cylinder model.
It might be that the equation needs to be looked at from a different perspective. The V8 S is as quick as a W12-engined GT, yet more characterful, and as much fun to drive as the even more powerful W12 GT Speed, which is £13,600 more expensive than the S. In that sense, those extra 21bhp look a bargain