2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 coupe first drive review

If you’re spending six figures on a car, chances are you don’t like doing things in half measures. Flying in the face of this fact, Bentley is betting that buyers of its opulent Continental GT will be interested in downsizing. Bentley is launching a measly 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 option alongside the flagship 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12. The V8 is (slightly) less expensive, and more fuel efficient, but also less powerful. This isn’t about pragmatism, though.

Bentley is to , Bentley tries to make its cars sportier and more engaging than those of its august rival, all without sacrificing luxury. The Continental GT V8 is supposed to offer the most engaging driving experience of any current Bentley.

To find out if a less-powerful car can actually be more fun, Bentley invited Digital Trends to spend a day driving the 2020 Continental GT V8 from California’s Napa Valley to Silicon Valley. Coupes like our test car start at $198,500, or $16,100 less than a W12 model. But the price rises quickly once option boxes are ticked. Notable options on our test car included an $8,800 Naim audio system, $6,364 Bentley Rotating Display, and the Touring Specification ($8,385) and City Specification ($5,360) packages, which add various driver aids.

Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Fewer cylinders, same style

Unless you pop the hood, on the outside it’s hard to tell a V8-powered Continental GT from a W12 model. The only giveaways are quad tailpipes and subtle “V8” exterior badges. Everything else is the same – which is not a bad thing.

Bentley is all about combining traditional luxury with a dose of sportiness, and the Continental GT’s exterior styling conveys that perfectly. It’s a very big car with an upright, formal grille. Round headlights give the car a slightly retro look. But the big wheel arches (Bentley offers wheels up to 22 inches in diameter to fill them) encased in pronounced fender creases (made by heating aluminum panels to 932 degrees Fahrenheit and molding them into shape) add some visual muscle. Bentley was also quick to note changes in proportions from the previous Continental GT, which took a lot of effort to achieve.

“These are very expensive millimeters,” Peter Guest, Bentley product line director, said of the shifts, which included a shorter front overhang and an altered wheelbase that created more room between the front axle and doors for a classic cab-rearward silhouette. It all adds up to a car that looks much tauter and more athletic than its predecessor.

One gets the impression that “plastic” is a dirty word at Bentley.

But a Bentley is really all about the interior experience. The quality of the materials and the craftsmanship provide the sensation of sitting in an English aristocrat’s parlor, and put most other cars to shame. Almost everything you touch – even the turn signal stalks – is real metal, wood, or leather. One gets the impression that “plastic” is a dirty word at Bentley.

Here’s an example of Bentley’s attention to detail. Our test car also sported Côtes de Genève, a type of machined aluminum treatment on the center-console trim panel usually reserved for fine Swiss watches. Grooves are cut into the metal to precise specifications by human craftspeople, not robots, creating a high-quality piece with a handcrafted feel not normally seen in modern cars. It’s too bad all of that shiny metal also blinds the driver when the sun is at the wrong angle.

Classy tech

Interior classiness wasn’t a problem for the previous-generation Continental GT, but its lack of up-to-date tech was. Bentley corrected that with the Continental GT W12, and those tech features carry over to the V8 model.

2020 bentley continental gt v8 coupe review 7
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The Continental GT V8 is available with a digital instrument cluster, heads-up display, and a 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system based on Audi’s MMI. That’s a pretty solid foundation, and we found it as intuitive to use this time around as when we sampled it in a Continental GT W12 convertible recently. However, Bentley only offers Apple CarPlay, so Android Auto users are out of luck. While we liked the digitally rendered gauges, we felt the map graphics were a bit basic for a $200,000 car.

Most other parts of the experience perfectly live up to the price tag, though. For instance, the central touchscreen is there when you need it, but with the optional Bentley Rotating Display it disappears when you don’t. That eliminates a major distraction while driving, and the blemish of a blank screen when the car is off.

Bentley wasn’t as clever when it came to driver aids. The Continental GT V8 has them, including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and night vision, but they’re optional extras, and nothing you won’t find on other, less expensive cars.

As with the Continental GT W12, the V8 model gets three audio system options: the standard, unbranded system boasts 10 speakers and 650 watts, the mid-level Bang & Olufsen system cranks things up to 1,500 watts, with 16 speakers, while the range-topping option is an 18-speaker, 2,200-watt, Naim system. Our test car had the Naim system. Its party piece is a series of bass transducers under the front seats that let the driver and front passenger feel the music as well as hear it. Specifically, it felt both like getting a massage and like driving over a washboard road. We found the system impressive overall, but the best sounds in the Continental GT still come from the under the hood, not from the speakers. 

Beyond numbers

This is one case where the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

The Continental GT V8 has plenty of power, and can reach improbable speeds very quickly, but on paper the more expensive W12 model of course trounces it. The 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 generates 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque, but the 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 makes 626 hp and 664 lb-ft. The V8 coupe can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, according to Bentley. That’s very impressive for a car weighing the equivilant of a small cottage at nearly 5,000 pounds, but the W12 is 0.3 second quicker. The V8 coupe can top 198 mph, according to Bentley, but the W12 can do 207 mph.

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 coupe first drive review
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Those few tenths of a second and miles per hour don’t mean much when you’re behind the wheel of this rolling palace. The Continental GT V8 is the better of the two engines to drive. The V8 is only a bit lighter than the W12, but it makes a massive difference in steering feel. Removing that little bit of weight from the front end makes the car feel livelier, and more eager to turn in when cornering. The V8 sounds better, too. It’s both louder and more menacing than the W12, giving some attitude to this otherwise buttoned down luxury cruiser. It’s like pairing brass knuckles with a Savile Row suit.

The transmission’s tendency to second-guess the driver contradicts the Continental GT’s sporting mission.

Like the Continental GT W12, the V8 model gets standard all-wheel drive and an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Bentley opted for a dual-clutch gearbox instead of the traditional torque-converter automatic to achieve faster shifts, albeit at the risk of refinement. It seemed like a worthwhile tradeoff: we didn’t notice any particularly rough shifts, and the dual-clutch gearbox was indeed quite fast. We just wish it would hold gears in manual mode. The transmission’s tendency to second-guess the driver contradicts the Continental GT’s sporting mission.

The Continental GT V8 also gets the Bentley Dynamic Ride active suspension system from the W12 model and the Bentayga SUV, although it’s not standard equipment. A 48-volt electrical system powers electric motors, which manipulate the anti-roll bars. The system essentially tugs on the body to counteract roll in corners, but can also disengage the anti-roll bars in Comfort mode to enable a smoother ride. The system is key to making such a big, heavy, car dance through corners, without compromising the ride quality Bentley customers expect.

Bentley Dynamic Ride also contributes to one of the most remarkable things about the Continental GT: it’s one of the few cars where changing the driving mode actually makes a difference. In Sport mode, acceleration goes from quick to ferocious, and the suspension stiffens up appreciably. Comfort mode makes road imperfections disappear, albeit at the expensive of handling sharpness. The default Bentley mode offers a good compromise between the two split personalities.

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the Continental GT V8 are not available at this time, as U.S. deliveries won’t begin until later this year. The V8 will likely be more fuel-efficient than the W12, owing to its smaller displacement. But given the overall size of both engines, “less of a gas guzzler” is probably a more accurate description.

Rivals

The Bentley Continental GT has a small group of rivals, each offering a slightly different take on the big luxury coupe concept.

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 coupe first drive review
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Mercedes-AMG S63 coupe (base price: $170,445): The S63 is also powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, but it has more power (603 hp and 664 lb-ft). The Merc is quicker to 60 mph than the Bentley (3.4 seconds) but has a lower top speed (186 mph). Mercedes offers more elaborate infotainment tech and more driver aids, but Bentley can claim a nicer interior and sharper handling.

BMW M850i xDrive (base price $112,895): It’s a similar story to the big Merc here. BMW’s flagship coupe has less power than the Bentley (523 hp, 553 lb-ft), is quicker to 60 mph (3.6 seconds) and has a lower top speed (155 mph). BMW also offers more infotainment tech and driver aids at a lower price than Bentley, but the 8 Series also feels like more of a commodity product.

Rolls-Royce Wraith (base price: $322,500): Rolls-Royce doesn’t do an entry-level V8 version of its coupe, so the only engine available in the Wraith is a 624-hp V12. But despite the extra cylinders, the Wraith takes 4.4 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill. While a Rolls is still the ultimate status symbol, the Wraith is also a much older design the Continental GT, with less current tech.

Aston Martin DB11 V8 (base price: $198,995): This Aston uses a version of Mercedes-AMG’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, making 503 hp and 513 lb-ft of torque. The Bentley is 0.1 second quicker to 60 mph, and has a higher top speed, but the Aston has a much sportier character, bridging the gap between grand tourer and full-on sports car. However, that negatively impacts the interior, which is cramped and generally underwhelming compared to the Bentley cockpit. The Aston also lacks a touchscreen.

Peace of mind

Bentley offers a three-year warranty with unlimited mileage. The Continental GT shares many components with the Bentayga SUV, and the V8 engine is less complex than the W12, but overall this is still a very complicated car that requires a high standard of maintenance. Crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are not available at this time.

How DT would configure this car

Our ideal Continental GT V8 coupe would be equipped similar to our test car. We would add the Bentley Dynamic Ride suspension system, Bentley Rotating Display, the Naim audio system, and the Touring Specification and City Specification packages, in order to gain driver aids.

Buying a Bentley is about more than accumulating a long list of options, though. Bentley offers 17 standard exterior paint colors, and up to 70 colors in its “extended range.” On the inside, customers can choose between 17 leather hide colors, nine veneer trim options, and contrast stitching. There is no excuse not to go wild with colors, and make a car unique.

Conclusion

What it lacks in raw power, the 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 more than makes up for in character. The V8 engine adds an extra layer of sensation to this stately coupe, and still offers more grunt than most drivers will ever need, anyway. In the Bentley, less really is more.

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