2013 Bentley Continental GT first drive, MadridEnlarge Photo
Whenever I land in a strange place for one of these first drives of a new car, the first task at hand is to keep moving. Get off the plane, off the shuttle, and get out of the hotel room before jet lag lures me for "a short nap" and proceeds to take the rest of the day--the rest of the trip--hostage. I use my luggage as a human shield, dodging in quickly and walking right back out for at least an hour, to try to get some context, and some sunshine, because body clocks work better when they're on local time.
When last I tried this, in stunning Croatia, where last we left Bentley's GTC in the embrace of a late warm fall day, I didn't evade the gravitational pull of the pillow quite as neatly. You'd be surprised how many Croatian TV stations stop broadcasting after 2 a.m.
Today's context: Madrid. Spain's in something close to a depression, but the economic exuberance of the past 20 years, the relics of breakneck gentrification, are in full flourish. Magnificently restored old buildings butt up against wide boulevards that wouldn't look out of place in the Texas Metroplex, and Madrid's absolutely littered with arcane pieces of public art that make you find an un-busy corner, to stop and wonder what creative influences and substances were at work. Something as handcrafted as a three-story Calderesque mobile in a hotel is mundane in today's Madrid. Art as a commodity is its own art form.
Why Bentley would choose Madrid and northern Spain to launch its new V-8-powered Continental, on one of the most brutally cold days I've ever felt in a Mediterranean climate, isn't immediately obvious. It only begins to make sense as I lock in on the fifteenth or twentieth modernist sculpture, perched between fits and starts of amazing graffiti. Like these works of public art, Bentleys "pop"--stand out crisply--and the image shifts by gradients along with their surroundings. On a winding lane and a half in Britain, they're the jewels left in the crown, unhocked. In Orange County they could be taxis, so prevalent in gated communities, choking off easy exits from big Starbucks parking lots.
Here in Spain, the clash between Bentley's classic design language and ultramodern details and technology is welcomed warmly. Despite their dramatic ultra-luxury stance, so bullish and big, the Continental GT V8 and its companion GTC convertible fit in here, even more so where we're headed eventually--the Circuito de Navarra test track, and the Marques de Riscal hotel, a Gehry-designed bauble that in my sleep-deprived state, looks something like a rhythmic gymnastics tournament if it were held during the Northridge earthquake.
Hotel Marques de Riscal, SpainEnlarge Photo
Available in both coupe and convertible body styles, the new V-8 in the Continental makes 500 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. Coupled to a new eight-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive, it's remarkable for a few reasons. One, despite being down anywhere from 44 to 131 horsepower against the W-12 that still bears the Continental standard, it's only a few tenths shy of the twelve's acceleration numbers -- 4.6 seconds from 0 to 60 mph, versus 4.3 seconds, according to Bentley's figures.
The new drivetrain also delivers 500 miles of driving range on a tank of premium unleaded fuel, and ekes out 40 percent better mileage than the 2008 Continental GT--18/26 mpg or thereabouts, if the EPA cycle holds true. How it gets there is a combination of cylinder deactivation, direct injection, and lower internal friction--along with the extra gears in the transmission, which can also drop down four gears in a single change, if so called for.