Bentley Continental GT: V8 or W12, that is the question

Published: 09 September 2020

► Lockdown life with a Bentley
► New Continental GT long-term test
► We live with the latest V8 coupe 

Month 3 of our Bentley Continental GT V8 long-term test: this or the W12?

Three months in and I’m wondering if picking the V8 rather than the W12 was a step down in any way. The twin-turbo 6.0-litre range-topping W12 arrived with the Mk1 Conti in 2003 and is still available today now that the coupe has reached its third generation. But the majority of customers pick the smaller engine – hardly surprising as the price compares favourably (£151,800 plays £163,100) and there are advantages in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions too. Even at this rarefied strata of the market, such things matter. It’s a more modest Bentley for these straitened times.

You’d be hard-pressed to tell from behind the wheel, though. Not once have I felt short-changed by the absence of one third of the engine’s swept volume or hankered for a further four cylinders. 

And if you’re worried about appearances, only a tiny V8 badge behind the front wheelarch gives the game away; and it’s a delete option, so nobody need ever know.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe

Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 16.1mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2
Energy cost 26p per mile
Miles this month 323
Total miles 5710

Diary update: the £4770 Bentley Rotating Display

Bentley Continental GT Rotating Display option

One of the Bentley's party pieces is the 007-style rotating central display, which flips between giant touchscreen, three analogue dials and then disappears away behind the piano black veneer when parked up. It's very cool and the first thing you'll show to new passengers, who'll generally coo and make a reference to one J.Bond Esq.

It's very effective and the precision with which it swivels and slots into place on each turn is mesmerising. You can see it in action in our short video clip in the tweet below.



But we've been pondering it over the first few months and realise we leave it locked on multi-control touchscreen most of the time. Why? Because that's how we operate, well, everything really: sat-nav, stereo, phone operation... It's kinda natural that it spends 95% of its time on this view, as that's what it's designed for.

How often have I used the stopwatch on the analogue dials side? Err, not once. The compass? The sat-nav does this perfectly satisfactorily. And the outside temperature? Well, that's shown on the main instrument binnacle, so I've not needed that either.

I'm left thinking it's a piece of statement design, a party trick to wow passengers. And yourself - I do admit it raises a wry smile every morning when I climb in and the car awakes. But should it be a £4770 option on a car costing over £150k? Maybe not. 

By Tim Pollard

Month 2 living with a Bentley Continental GT V8: poring over the interior

Tim Pollard and his Bentley Continental GT V8

The thing about running your own Bentley is it makes you feel a little bit special every single day. In this job, we get to drive all kinds of vehicles from the sublime to the sub-prime – but the thrill of having a Conti on the drive is very real and still makes me double-take when the St James Red paintjob catches my eye from an upstairs window.

I’ve had ample time to get used to the Mk3’s styling now. The Conti GT has matured into a design clearly comfortable in its own skin. Generations one and two changed little over the years, but this one is noticeably tauter and tighter, a little less blobular than before. It’s a wardrobe that feels deserving of our car’s £151,800 base price.

‘Footballer spec’ and ‘Postman Pat’s gone up in the world’ are two of the less kind comments that greeted our Conti on arrival at CAR HQ. Blame the bright red paint with contrasting £3250 Continental Blackline dark grille, exhaust tips and window surrounds. All chrome is blacked-out for a sinister vibe, but I’m warming to the distinctive colour scheme in an age where so many car parks are clogged with silvers, greys and sludge browns. It’s bright and breezy and brings out the Conti’s sportier side.

It’s no shrinking violet, for sure, and that smoked grille dominates the front of the car. It’s huge – 95cm at the widest expanse of latticework – and has plenty of room to house Bentley’s front parking camera plus myriad sensors for enabling smart cruise control. More on these semi-autonomous features in a future report.

2020 Bentley Continental GT interior: a very special cabin

Climb onboard and the latest Continental is a cinch to drive. Gone are the days where you have to resort to the manual to decipher which button does what in a Bentley, and I’ve found the infotainment system easy to learn. It pairs easily with my iPhone and Blackberry, and tracks down the cheapest petrol locally.

The logic of the touchscreen is exemplary; it’s one area where Bentley is light years ahead of certain Italian thoroughbreds I could mention, and a good example of the Wolfsburg connection really helping out.

It’s telling that two-thirds of this report is taken up just by the quality and design heft of the Continental GT. The feelgood factor is sky-high before you even dab the start button and waken the 4.0-litre V8. We might’ve been limited to short, essential hops during the lockdown and had scant chance to stretch the Continental’s legs, explaining our current average of 16mpg. But the sun is out and, with the promise of better times to come, I can’t wait to plan a proper road trip befitting our car’s DNA.

What I’m hoping for is the opportunity to let it monster a long haul to Scotland for a weekend away or a dash to the south coast for a Goodwood meet; with adaptive dampers set to Comfort, the large 21-inch alloys eliminate most road patter with impressive ease and the pokey V8 can waft or wing it with the best of them. 

This vintage of Conti is full of promise – and I intend to uncork every last drop in my summer of being a Bentley Boy.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe

Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 16.1mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2
Energy cost 26.4p per mile
Miles this month 332
Total miles 5387

Month 1 of our Bentley Continental GT V8 long-term test: the introduction

Bentley Continental GT V8 long-term test

Bentley has quietly sewn up the £100k-£200k pocket of the grand tourer market ever since the first-generation Continental GT launched in 2003. It thrust Crewe into a hitherto unidentified white space in the automotive firmament: the playground of the successful, just-into-six-figures, grown-out-of-Mercedes-Benzes brigade. Now, with the latest Mk3, we’re going to spend a few months finding out just what that’s like.

Having been piloting a humble Ford Focus estate for the past year, I’ve now swapped into another red car of rather different lineage. Our gentleman’s express from Crewe is the more attainable V8 model, not the Continental W12, although our example has had a lot of options (£42,545’s worth!) added to take the list price sailing well past the 12-banger’s RRP. Our car in fact retails within a whisker of £200k. 

It arrived at CAR the same day we were sent home to work as the pandemic swept across Europe, and I can confirm that there are few finer places to self-isolate. As the door thudded closed in the car park, and the double glazing latched into generous seals, I was cocooned in splendid Bentley seclusion. Not many cars at this price can match the sense of occasion of this lounge, lifted by the dual-tone Porpoise and Cricket Ball leather. Sounds a bit of a spiky handful, actually looks elegant.

The hide is pungent and feelsome; none of this thin-to-the-touch, cheap-premium nonsense here. It’s complemented by a deep Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus over Grand Black veneer, whose party piece is the rotating central display – yes, another option costing a jaw-slackening £4770. This James Bond-inspired gadget lets you flick between the wide 12.3-inch touchscreen, a bank of three winningly analogue dials (temperature, compass and stopwatch) or a plain wooden panel, each swivelling into place with chronometric precision. It’s great fun, but we’ll reserve judgment until the novelty’s worn off (if it ever does).

Cleverly, it all feels authentically Bentley, from the traditional, touchy-feely organ-stop air vents to the hewn-from-solid door handles; there are precious few signs that this car hails from the same wider stable as the VW Polo. You may find some of the wilder gadgets a little outré for this most gentlemanly British of car brands (do we really need heated armrests? A steering wheel festooned with 14 buttons?) but this reflects the tech creep that afflicts all motor vehicles nowadays. If successful business types have stepped up into their first Bentley, perhaps they expect the same gizmos they enjoyed on their AMGs and 7-series.

Splendid isolation: CAR magazine's Tim Pollard turns Bentley Boy in the coronavirus lockdown

That first drive home, clutching laptop, chargers and enough notepads to see me through the uncertainties that lay ahead, was a brief glimpse into the Conti’s talents beneath the showroom swoon. Bentley has got first impressions off pat, but as we sailed serenely down an uncharacteristically deserted A1, I realised this long-term test was going to be eerily quiet in other ways too: the V8 is whisper-hushed at a cruise, even when it closes down one bank to operate as a four at light loads, and the soundproofing makes this an exceptionally refined cruiser. Bluetooth telephone conversations are much easier as a result.

Spear off the motorway and the Conti packs some serious punch. It’s hard to believe this is Crewe’s entry-level model, but its 542bhp is as vigorous as it sounds, an accompanying 568lb ft of twin-turbocharged wrench available all the way from 1960 to 4500rpm. It’s like the leather-bound reading room of the RAC suddenly catapulting you into the distance at closing time. I can’t wait to uncover more of this intriguing duality of purpose in the months ahead.

There’s much to find out. Is the V8 a better bet than the ostentatious W12? Can driving a Bentley at a time of national health and economic turmoil be acceptable? Will our car’s winter tyres go off as spring gives way to early summer? Just how much better will my music and podcasts sound on a £6595 Naim stereo? And  is the latest GT a car that’ll propel the legend of WO, Tim Birkin and those famous Bentley Boys well into their second century? Stay tuned for regular reports, as we indulge in a spot of Continental travel of our own making.

More Bentley long-term tests by CAR magazine

Logbook: Bentley Continental GT V8

Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 21.0mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2
Energy cost 26.4p per mile
Miles this month 280
Total miles 5055

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet