2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S: First Drive

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How quick is the new Bentley Continental GT V8 S? How powerful?

If this were the Bentley of the past, when it was intertwined with Rolls-Royce, the deflective reply to such questions would be “Sufficient.” And it would be left up to us to agree.

A quarter-century ago, when the imperially iconic Bentley Turbo S was released, company communications reportedly described its output as “Sufficient plus 30 percent.”

If that beast, with its 60-mph times of around six seconds and wallop of nearly 500 pound-feet of estimated torque, was that, based on our recent drive of the new 2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S, we'll call this new, more performance-oriented addition to the lineup sufficient times two.

That coy English delivery has yielded a bit to German forthrightness in recent times, under the auspices of the Volkswagen Group. Today Bentley faithfully follows its traditions in craftsmanship at its Crewe headquarters and assembly facilities, but now it does talk numbers—plenty of them.

First off, power. The 'S' is essentially 'chipped up' and better-breathing, just a little bit versus the normal V8—producing some meaningful change that effectively preserves the wonderfully long and flat torque curve, and raises it a bit through turbo management. This engine makes 521 horsepower, as well as 502 pound-feet of torque (from 1,700 rpm all the way up to 5,000 rpm); for those who want to chart it out, that's 21 hp and 15 lb-ft more than the non-'S' car.

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Heavy, yes. But eye-blurringly quick, and surprisingly efficient

That brings 0-60 mph numbers down to just 4.3 seconds (0.3 faster than the GT V8), with a top speed of 192 mph—jaw-dropping, really, for a car with such girth and comfort. And GTC V8 S convertibles can do almost as well, with 4.5 seconds to 60.

Efficiency numbers, it seemed, were also dropped into the message whenever possible at a presentation of the vehicle to the automotive and lifestyle press earlier this month in Southern California. The GT V8 S returns a commendable 246 g/km in the Euro Combined cycle—or 15 mpg city, 24 highway for us Americans. And who among the Bentley crowd cared about this sort of thing in the past (hint: these are different times, and did you know Bentley's also working on a plug-in hybrid)?

It's been less than two years since Bentley brought back the V-8, and while it's been a game-changer for the brand in the best of ways, with the 'S' it brings performance of the V-8 model that nudges up on the top GT Speed model in every respect. While the flagship engine of the Continental lineup remains the wunderbar twin-turbocharged W12—a torque-churning engineering marvel, and an unlikely surrogate offspring of two VW VR6s—the 4.0-liter V-8 was developed jointly between Bentley and Audi and incorporates all sorts of modern engineering items aimed at increasing efficiency and improving responsiveness.

It really doesn't matter what gear the eight-speed automatic transmission happens to be in at the moment. The majority of the time, the twin-turbo V-8 responds with all the seemingly effortless character and limitless low- and mid-rev torque of its legendary predecessor. Ease into it with your right foot at speed and the V8 S 'wafts' up to easy, stable speed in a way that could trick you up to triple-digit mph if you're not minding the speedometer. Lock the satisfying aluminum shift knob over to the manual gate and you can lock in individual gears and get a grasp of how gobsmackingly strong and on top of its game this engine feels at even 2500 rpm. And with the lack of fluster of the wide rubber and all-wheel drive system, you'll feel like you're becoming one with the seatbacks as you accelerate out of nearly any corner.

Mimics the big-blower V-8 heritage in all but standing starts

There's one exception. Stomp down on the accelerator from a standing start, and the first 10 mph aren't this powertrain's proudest moment. While the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system unfailingly puts the power forward securely on all four tires where it needs to be, the engine feels almost as if it's taking a deep breath before giving the situation its all—and it's the only time, really, that it betrays itself as not being that big-displacement Bentley V-8 of yore.

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