Just the right combination of engine and equipment, with a light sporting garnish, ensures the V8 S continues to be the Continental GT of choice.
The Bentley Continental GT is diversifying as it gets older. Specialising, you could say. Having appeared in simpler W12- or V8-engined guises, the third-generation car now comes in GT Speed, GT Mulliner, GT Azure, GT V8 and GT V8 S forms – each one a car of slightly different priorities. And before you get to all of that, of course, you still need to decide if you want a GT coupe or a GTC convertible; not an easy call to make in this bruiser-cruiser’s particular case.
The V8 S is the joker in the pack; a GT with a turbo V8 that’s sweeter-revving and more demonstrative-of-character than Bentley’s long-serving (and retirement-bound) W12, but which also has just the right cabin- and systems specification to optimise its driver appeal. Crewe introduced the idea midway through the lifespan of the second-generation GT in 2014, and it proved a winner right off the bat; our favourite Continental GT of that issue.
The funny thing is, mechanically at least, there isn’t much to separate a third-generation Continental GT V8 S from a V8 with just the right options. The model gets Bentley’s 48-volt active, automatically detaching anti-roll bars (dubbed Bentley Dynamic Ride) as standard; a choice of 21- or 22-inch alloy wheels; red-painted brake calipers; and a specially tuned active sports exhaust for an added dose of audible V8 charisma.
The adaptively damped air suspension and power steering systems are calibrated just as they might be in any other V8; and the active torque-vectoring rear differential and four-wheel steering systems of the GT Speed have been left on the shelf. So this is a Conti GT that Crewe intends to give a noticeable but marginal return on driver appeal; and not to undermine the case for ownership of any of the pricier derivatives.
Outwardly, it’s with black body trim in place of the usual chrome that Bentley identifies the appearance of the V8 S. The radiator grille, mirror caps, headlight surrounds, trim badges and window trims are all black; and you can have matt black wheels to match, if you like (though I’m afraid I wouldn’t).
Within, the car gets fluted sports seats, a special sporty display theme for its digital instrument pack (borrowed from the GT Speed), and a new mix of leather and ‘dinamica’ suede for its upholstery, which can be ordered in a number of colour combinations. S badges appear on the fascia and the sill plates, and are embossed on the seat headrests.
The car’s suede steering wheel rim is a particular tactile highlight for me; but it’s only one part of an interior of so many layers of sensory allure, from the cool metallic touch of the chrome column stalks, to the reassuringly weighty click of the heater controls. Bentley remains in a league of one when it comes to spellbinding material richness. The GT could sit you lower at the wheel, but hardly any more comfortably; and the way the car surrounds you with every infotainment and display technology you might want, but integrates every one so discreetly, really is masterful.
The driving experience gets off to a great start simply by doing absolutely nothing to annoy. You might not imagine that a high bar by which to measure any luxury car; but with speed limit reminder buzzers now being added to the list of active safety systems of so many new model introductions (which need to be deactivated before you can just drive without fear of intrusion or distraction of some kind), it’s an increasingly rare quality.
Mercifully, Bentley’s lane-keeping and autonomous emergency braking systems are off until you turn them on, and remain that way even when you cycle the ignition. It’s bliss. There may be no better measure of a truly dedicated luxury brand in 2023 than how well it filters out the low-level annoyances of more typical modern motoring.
And even with its sporty brief, the GT V8 S is capable of filtering a lot more besides; even in convertible form. The duality of this car really is striking. In comfort mode, the engine’s quiet, the transmission smooth, and the air-suspended ride supple and absorptive, tripping up only over the sharpest of broken edges, and very seldom letting vibration shudder through the open-top body structure. Through the cloth top, you can hear more of the world outside on a long-distance motorway cruise than you might though so much hide and aluminium – but even so, cabin sealing is impressive for the vehicle type.
Flick the car into Sport mode instead and the V8’s newfound rumble-and-bark is like a dinner-suited Endeavor Morse at choir recital. The car’s gearbox, suspension and steering take on added keenness, bite and edge; perhaps a shade too much in the suspension actually, at least for some surfaces. But if you mix and match your system settings in Bentley’s ‘custom’ drive mode, taking ‘noisy’ for the pipes but ‘comfy’ for the springs, you can settle on a compromise that hits an endearingly sweet spot. It makes this a really lovely GT to travel in; a pacey, responsive and enjoyable car to drive at least fairly quickly and keenly; and a rich and delectable one to listen to while you’re doing it.
That rivals still offer greater sporting dynamism and handling appeal is something even Bentley’s Continental V8 S can ultimately do nothing about. But for their extra performative drama and tactile material flourish, and a level of driver appeal boosted without compromise to the GT’s supreme luxury credentials, the GT- and GTC V8 S probably remain the peachiest Continentals of them all.