2013 Bentley Continental GT/GTC V8: A few touches away from perfection
Ultra-luxe model misses interior comforts as engine drones.
Maybe I’d set my expectations too high but I was anticipating perfection. I wasn’t behind the wheel of an automobile, after all; I was at the controls of meticulously handcrafted rolling sculpture: the 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8.
Don’t get me wrong; I can’t say I wasn’t awestricken by the prospect of piloting what is considered to be the pinnacle of automotive extravagance, the crème de la crème of four-wheeled opulence, but after coming down from my ultra-luxury-car-induced high, I became a nitpicking curmudgeon.
The Continental GT V8 coupé and its convertible sibling, the GTC V8, are powered by a new, 500 hp, 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8. The engine was designed in conjunction with Audi and is the same engine that powers the S8, though it is tuned specifically for the Continental to produce more torque at low revs. Like the Audi, it features cylinder deactivation and is capable of running on four cylinders at light loads to reduce fuel consumption. The engine drives all four wheels in a 40/60, front to rear split through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The V8 does not supplant the 6.0-litre W12 but rather offers a more fuel-efficient (40 per cent better fuel economy) and cleaner-burning variant at a lower price. With prices starting at $191,400 U.S. for the GT and $210,500 U.S. for the GTC, the V8 models undercut the W12s by about 10 per cent (Bentley publishes Canadian prices in U.S. dollars).
There are subtle exterior clues that distinguish the sportier V8 from the 12-cylinder flagship model, though you have to be a Bentley faithful to pick them out. These include a gloss black grille, a lower, more aggressive front valance, red enamel Bentley badges and the tail pipes, which are formed like the figure eight laid flat.
There are five optional specification packages available and my GT test car is adorned in the Mulliner Driving spec; its luxuriant cabin beckons with striking diamond-quilted leather seats and burr walnut veneer trim. However, you should plan on taking a fair amount of time when ordering a Bentley because although the GT and GTS are offered in a choice of seven exterior colours and four interior leather colours, you can also pick from the 17 exterior colours, 17 leather colours and various interior veneers available on the W12.
My first beef with the new Bentley is the engine sound. Bentley engineers have tuned the exhaust system using switchable valves in the mufflers to provide different sounds under different conditions. You can sample this by simply shifting the gear changer to the right (manual mode) while idle, and the sound immediately changes in tone from a restrained hum to a luscious, masculine bellow. Hammer the gas pedal and the engine sounds like it’s breathing fire, emitting an enraged bark. That’s all good.
It’s when you tread lightly while leaving a stop or when accelerating normally around town, while the engine is running on four cylinders, that the sound is out of kilter. The problem is that it just sounds like it’s not running on all cylinders.
Audi remedied this on the S8 by using the sound system to emit opposing sound frequencies to cancel out the droning burble. Bentley has taken no such measures.
This is mostly noticeable in the GTC with the top down, otherwise with the top up or when driving the GT coupé, the interior is so well isolated from exterior noise that the offbeat exhaust is almost imperceptible.
Despite the odd sound, engine vibration is very well controlled through switchable hydraulic engine and transmission mounts, making the transition from V8 to V4 and back smooth and unnoticeable.
Another one of my gripes is that for the price of admission, this automobile should have every comfort and convenience feature available as standard equipment. Where’s the heated steering wheel? And why would the folks at Bentley taunt me by picking me up at the airport in a Mulsanne with those wonderful massaging and reclining rear seats and not include back-rubbing comfort in the GT’s front seats?
The car is also heavy, the GT tipping the scales at 2,295 kg and the GTC at 2,470 kg. Despite its heft it is admirably quick from 0-100 km/h, the GT accomplishing the task in 4.6 seconds and the GTC in five seconds flat.
It also manages itself admirably on winding roads — at a modest pace. Although my hosts allot some track time at the Monticello Motor Club in New York state, I don’t really want to go fast in a Bentley, even if it is the sportier Continental GT. I put in a few laps and the car manages a spirited pace with poise, its adaptive air suspension keeping it level through turns and electronics curbing oversteer and understeer with moderate stealth.
My true driving pleasure, however, comes while gliding along the winding back roads in nearby Milford, Pa., allowing some time for bystanders to gawk, point and admire as I drive by. And they do. Yes, the Bentley has unleashed the whinger in me, but it set free the narcissist as well, and I desperately want to be seen driving it despite its minor imperfections.
2013 Bentley Continental GT and GTC
PRICE: $191,400 U.S. (GT); $210,500 U.S. (GTC)
ENGINE: 4.0 L twin-turbo V8
POWER/TORQUE (hp/lb.ft.): 500 hp/487 lb.-ft.
TRANSMISSION: eight-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: 10.5L/100 km (GT); 10.9L/100 km (GTC)
COMPETITION: Aston Martin Vantage S, Maserati Gran Turismo S
WHAT’S BEST: Even I look good in one
WHAT’S WORST: Awkward sounding engine at low speeds
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Bentley tags the GT models as “cool” and “youthful” in press literature.
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