Bentley Continental packs efficiency, power in V8 engine

The 2012 Bentley Continental. The 2012 Bentley Continental. Photo Credit: Handout

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Nobody gets a pass any more, not even the folks who cater to the recently derided one percent.

It is the reason that a company like Bentley, whose customers are solidly insulated from the 99 percent, cannot be profligate even as it seeks to deliver the finest goods available.

It is a major reason that it develops an automobile like the 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8, which now becomes the storied company's entry-level motorcar, though it competes in the exotic super car category.

Of course, in automobiles as in many things in life, a certain amount of relativity is involved. That is clearly the case here. Nobody would expect Bentley to produce an inexpensive 40-miles-to-the-gallon economy car when its entire history has been characterized by catering to the gentry, with all of their whims and demands for the best.

But it can be fairly said that the company's latest efforts, relatively speaking, take a new turn in the road. Its modern hallmark has been the 12-cylinder engine, until now the power for all the Continental models, of which there are currently eight.

The six 12-cylinder variations remain, augmented now by their less-powerful and less-expensive garage mates.

That, too, is relative. A company must have standards, after all, so the new V8 models are every bit as extravagant, capable and oozing with power as the ones with four more cylinders.

Check the specs: The GT V8 delivers a whopping 500 horsepower with 487 foot-pounds of torque, from a mere 4.0 liters of displacement, aided by twin turbochargers that force cubic acres of air into the cylinders to mix with the directly-injected gasoline.

That's enough to propel this car, which weighs more than 2 1/2 tons, from zero to 60 miles an hour in 4.6 seconds. It's marginally slower by several tenths of a second compared to the 12-cylinder models, but the setup -- augmented by a new eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability and cylinder deactivation that allows relaxed cruising on four cylinders -- delivers 17/26 miles to the gallon on the EPA's city/highway cycle.

Now it's likely true that your average Bentley owner could care less about fuel economy. When you spend well north of $200,000 for a GT V8 coupe and tack on an additional $17,400 for the convertible variant, you're not likely to fret much over the price of gasoline or miles to the gallon.

However, Bentley has learned that its customers dislike having to stop often to re-fuel. So the new V8 models now can carry their owners for up to 500 miles on a tankful in sumptuous surroundings of supple leathers and polished wood veneers.

And even though Bentley owners may not be crusaders for environmentally responsible behavior, they appreciate not being regarded as overtly socially irresponsible.

To avoid this image, they depend on the maker of their prestigious machines, and this is where the new V8 models come in.

In truth, they give up little with the new cars. It's likely that some enthusiasts among them might actually prefer the V8s. There are few things in the motoring world that emit sounds more satisfying to the ear than a well-tuned V8 engine. This has been true since the early days, when the rumble of a stock 1936 Ford V8 captivated aficionados and ordinary humans alike.

Bentley has taken this to a new level by designing an exhaust system specifically to transmit and even enhance the crackling sounds that flow from the new dual tailpipes, fashioned in the shape of a horizontal figure eight.

The new V8 is similar to the one that powers the flagship Audi A8 and S8 models. Both Audi and Bentley are part of the Volkswagen group, currently the fourth-biggest producer of motor vehicles in the world, so jointly developing the new engine made economic sense. But the prideful Bentley engineers insist that their frosting on the basic cake makes the motor pure Bentley.

The eight-speed automatic transmission, which also can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering column, takes maximum advantage of the V8's power. Shifts are nearly imperceptible and computer controls keep the engine in its most efficient range.

There's an adjustable suspension system should you wish to tighten things up a bit for a turn around a racetrack or forays onto mountain roads. But the comfort setting is just fine, thank you.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: 2013 Bentley Continental GTC V8 two-door convertible.

Engine: 4.0-liter V8, twin turbochargers, 500 horsepower.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.

EPA passenger/trunk volume: 95/7 cubic feet.

Weight: 5,150 pounds.

EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 17/26 miles to the gallon.

Base price, including destination charge: $191,400.

Price as tested: $217,795.
 

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