2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S first drive
V8 S model sees Continental’s coming of age
Palm Springs, Calif. – It's little wonder that the Brits invented this whole "pace with grace" motif. With the exception of a few outliers — Marcos comes to mind as do some of the stupidly extreme TVRs — almost all recent British high-performance cars have tipped on the grand touring side of supercar. Name a Jaguar (streetcar) of any vintage, any Aston Martin since the '80s, and every Bentley since W.O. was laid to rest and they've always been a little softer, a little plusher than their Italian, American and sometimes even their Japanese counterparts. Yes, yes, we know that Radical SR-8 is a GTP car with a license plate holder and a Caterham so extreme that you need a helmet, but you hardly consider them mainstream automobiles, do you?
No, far more typical is Jaguar's XK, Aston Martin's DB9 or Bentley's Continental GT. All produce prodigious power, go like stink and can unbend the curviest of roads. But none are truly racetrack — or even mountain pass — focused, foregoing that last smidgen of suspension firmness or steering precision in their quest for civility. Though none would be considered anything short of very rapid, neither could they be considered the ultimate in man-machine interface, always stopping just short of teeth-rattling shock tuning. Of course, if you read some road tests, actually insisting on some modicum of suspension compliance is somehow an insult, the grand touring appellation a barely contained jibe. The funny thing is that, with the continual advancements in automotive performance that automakers seem to find — despite the supposed "greening" of fleets — GT cars are now faster than pure-bred supercars of less than a decade ago.
More power, but more than just power
Take the latest iteration of Bentley's Continental GT. A decade ago it was a bit of a big girl's blouse. Oh, there was plenty of power; slap two turbochargers on any six-litre, 12-cylinder engine and it's pretty hard not to make it outrageously powerful. Nonetheless, it was hardly sporting, all suspension compliance and excessive body roll in anything other than a straight line.
Fast forward ten years and though the GT looks pretty much the same save for a few more flares, bumps and skirts, it's personality, at least in this, its most sporting V8 S guise, is not nearly as soft, not nearly as remote as the floaty original. Oh, at 2,295 kilograms, its still a big beast (though that is weighs in at some 55 kilos less than the original), but pretty much everything else has been dramatically invigorated.
For instance, despite dropping of four pistons (but keeping the twin turbos), the 2014 V8 S can smash to 100 km/h in a very mass-defying 4.5 seconds. The Audi-sourced V8 may not boast quite the same peak power — 521 horsepower for the latest V8 compared with the original's 552-hp — but the smaller 4.0-litre V8 actually puts out more torque — 502 lb.-ft. versus 479 — very important when you're trying to motivate more than 5,000 pounds.
S for suspension changes?
Where the changes get more radical is in the suspension department. Compared with even the most recent iterations of the Continental (the GT V8), for instance, the S model sees ride height lowered by 10 millimetres, the suspension's springing stiffened (45 per cent in the front, 33 per cent in the rear) and the various bushes that join the suspension bits to the framework fortified even more. Mated to continuously adaptive shocks, an all-wheel-drive system with a sporting rearward torque bias and a new variable, electronically controlled steering system, it all makes for a car that doesn't understand that it should be more lumbering lineman than lithe halfback.
Roll is much mitigated, more than a Porsche or Ferrari to be sure, but unlike Continentals past, the V8 S feels like an accomplice (rather than the constabulary) when the road gets twisty. The most impressive aspect of the GT's newfound road-holding is the steering feel from the front tires. The stiffened suspension may reduce body sway but it is the much less heralded stiffening of the suspension bushings (up to 75 percent in some cases) that renders the steering more communicative. With a 60:40 rear biased torque split from the all-wheel-drive system, this GT's pointy steering is amazing for a car of this heft. Bentley even offers some carbon ceramic brakes (at 420-millimetres in diameter, the biggest in the biz says Bentley) should you take all this talk of speed seriously. Of course, you could buy a Honda Civic for the bucks ($18,595) they'll add to the GT V8 S's base price ($237,820 for the coupe; $261,690 for the drop-top).
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