As Bentley celebrates the centenary of the company founded by Walter Owen Bentley in 1919, the new third-generation Continental GT V8 arrives for the U.S. market. The best-selling model in Bentley’s storied history, the Continental GT that launched in 2003 combined the luxury expected from a Bentley with the power and driving dynamics of a Grand Tourer. The 2020 model stays true to that grand combination — yet adds a sporty twist.
When W.O. Bentley formed Bentley Motors in 1919, he aimed to build “a fast car, a good car, the best in its class,” and the new Continental GT follows that principle with a powerful new twin turbocharged V8 engine, revised exterior design and ride and handling improvements. Although this thoroughly British automaker became part of the Volkswagen Group in the late 1990s, Bentley continues to design and build vehicles in Crewe, Great Britain.
The original Continental GT debuted with bold, distinctive styling and the overall look continues into the third generation, although the newest revision is more taught, crisp and refined. The sculpted body uses a new process called Super Formed technology, which heats the aluminum skin and allows for more precise yet complex body lines. At the rear, oval taillights and crisp lines add to a clean, precise stance.
The new Bentley Continental GT V8 comes in either coupe or convertible form. The car has no specific trim packages, allowing each owner to choose the options and tailor the car to personal preferences. Seven standard exterior colors are available, with an extensive palate of additional color choices, both subtle and bold, including Orange Flame; Jetstream II, a beautiful light blue metallic; and Alpine Green, a moss green metallic. Starting price for the Continental GT V8 coupe is $198,500 and the convertible starts at $218,350.
Both the 2020 Continental GT V8 coupe and convertible have subtle V8 badges on the front fenders and quad exhaust tips; up front are latest-tech LED Matrix headlights. Standard wheels are 20-inch, 10-spoke painted alloy wheels with nine other optional choices offered — up to 22 inches in diameter. The convertible roof can be configured in one of seven fabric colors, including an authentic tweed finish. The convertible top can be opened or closed in 19 seconds while the car moves at speeds up to 30 mph.
The Continental GT V8 derives power from a new 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged engine that produces 542 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque at 1960–4500 rpm. Twin-scroll turbochargers dwell within the V of the engine, between the cylinder heads; four of the eight cylinders can be deactivated in certain conditions to improve fuel efficiency. The 4.0-liter V8 gets combined with an 8-speed dual clutch transmission and active all-wheel drive, allowing the hulking Continental GT V8 coupe to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds (4.0 for the convertible) and achieve a top speed of 198 mph. The Continental GT V8 shares the 4.0-liter V8 and dual-clutch transmission with the Porsche Panamera Turbo. (Why, you might ask? The Volkswagen Group owns both Bentley and Porsche.)
The driving dynamics of the Continental GT V8 range from comfortable grand tourer to high-performance sports car, and the driver can choose between four drive modes via the Bentley Drive Dynamics selector: Bentley (automatic), Sport, Comfort and Custom. Three-chamber air springs are standard and Continuous Damping Control continuously adjusts damping forces by constantly monitoring the velocity and distance between the wheels and the body at each corner. The optional intelligent Dynamic Ride System includes 48-volt active anti-roll control.
The front-to-rear torque split in the 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 varies within the active all-wheel-drive system depending on driving conditions, with a standard bias to the rear axle. The Continental GT V8 uses rear-wheel drive as much as possible during normal driving conditions for efficiency and dynamic performance.
Continental GT V8 buyers can tailor the interior to their own tastes with a wide variety of high-quality, natural materials. The 20-way adjustable leather seats can be covered in a single color, or with one of four two-tone leather options along with a choice of contrast stitching, piping and hand cross stitch in a diamond-within-a-diamond pattern. New Crown Cut Walnut trim is offered with a choice of other wood veneers in different tones and finishes.
An optional feature located at the center of the dashboard, the three-sided Bentley Rotating Display includes a 12.3-inch touchscreen on one side, which rotates to wood veneer matching the rest of the interior trim when the vehicle is turned off. The third panel includes three round analogue dials displaying outside temperature, compass and stopwatch.
Smooth and powerful, the Continental GT V8 is a fantastic grand touring car with maximum torque available below 2000 rpm; it moves smoothly and quickly from a standstill, with power always on tap. Although the size and real-estate-level price of this behemoth might be intimidating at first drive, we found it very easy to get comfortable behind the wheel of the Continental GT V8. In Bentley drive mode the GT V8 ride is comfortable and well-controlled, the steering and throttle are responsive and the Continental GT V8 feels like the perfect choice for an extended road trip.
Another surprise is how quiet the interior of the Continental GT V8 convertible can be even during acceleration. According to Bentley, the interior sound level in the new GT convertible with the top up is quieter than the interior of the previous GT coupe. The Continental GT V8 convertible is also comfortable with the top down — conversational tones can be heard, and wind noise is not intrusive (at least in the front seat) at highway speeds.
A vehicle that eschews subtlety, the 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 shines even when cloaked in subdued hues. That said, this car attracts attention in any guise — especially Orange Flame. The interior is so comfortable, refined, and detailed that it envelops the driver and passengers in luxury — with a decidedly sporty flair.
Probably the biggest surprise of the 2020 Continental GT V8 is its transformation after the driver selects Sport drive mode. Weighing in at nearly two and a half tons, all indicators point to a vehicle that is anything but a sports car. Throttle response, steering weight, shift speed and exhaust note are all ratcheted up several notches, and the Continental GT V8 is a fantastic drive on winding coastal highways. With the adaptive suspension and 48-volt anti-roll control, the car remains flat in corners and the active all-wheel drive directs the power where needed.
For a car that radiates sophistication as a smooth and comfortable grand tourer, the 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 can be equally as fun on curvy mountain roads and coastal highways. In Sport mode the exhaust note sounds intoxicating during both full-throttle upshifts and rev-matched downshifts. Bentley engineers did an excellent job tailoring the dual-clutch transmission for optimum performance during instantaneous upshifts at speed, while still ensuring smooth launches from a stop as well as comfortable low-speed cruising — not an easy balancing act.
The only issue identified during our drive with the Continental GT V8 was some initial trouble getting used to the brakes. After a couple of abrupt brake applications (and apologies to the co-driver), we discovered that initial pedal pressure didn’t slow this two-ton Continental GT soon enough; thus a progressively-pushed pedal ended up braking too aggressively. This might simply be a bit of driver error; that said, a little more progressive brake pedal feel would help.
For folks seeking the combination of a comfortable grand tourer and a sports car, it would be hard to find a better combination than the 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8. The design is bold and distinctive, and the interior and exterior can be tailored to specific tastes thanks to a wide choice of colors, wheels, materials and options. For those fortunate enough to be shopping in the ultra-luxury segment, the Continental GT V8 delivers both a premium luxury experience as well as the high performance of a sports car.
Pros: Perfect combination of elegance and sportiness; powerful twin-turbo V8 engine; coupe or convertible.
Cons: High price of entry; only a few will be able to enjoy this car; touchy brake pedal feel.
Bottom Line: A luxuriously smooth grand tourer that acts like a sports car when desired.
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