12 - 4 = Great
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I've been wasting plankton and wearing top hats for about 30 spins around the sun now, but it wasn't until piloting the 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 down Santa Monica Boulevard that I was finally called a fat cat.
The epithet, hurled from behind the cowering mustache of a fixie-riding hipster weaving through the stopped traffic with a carelessness we'd avoid on a vehicle without brakes, stung.
This is, after all, the V8 version of the Continental GT, a car that gives up 2 liters, four cylinders and 67 horsepower to the W12 that's long been the darling of the 1 percent. The V8 Continental is lighter, cheaper and returns 40 percent better fuel economy.
Fat cat? In the meager, 18-mpg combined, $176,725 V8? The injustice couldn't stand. When the light went green, the pedal went down; hipster-cyclist was in for the lecturing of his life.
Addition by Subtraction
It's here, at wide-open throttle, that the 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 and its 500-horsepower, twin-turbo, 4.0-liter separates itself from the 6.0-liter W12 living under the hood of every other Continental on the road today. Crack the throttle open and the GT V8 responds with a low, burbling growl and a tremendous leap forward. That said, nobody will confuse this Audi-derived (it makes 512 hp in the 2013 Audi S8) V8 for any of the free-revving, racecar-derived engines used in so many of the Continental's competitors.
Thankfully, what the V8 lacks in character, the eight-speed ZF-built automatic makes up for in performance. In Sport mode, a quick kick of the accelerator sends the transmission into full-on attack mode, downshifting up to five gears with a wicked quickness. From there, upshifts are dual-clutch fast, but with that pleasant kick and shove that accompanies a torque-converted shift. Track testing only confirmed what our butts have been telling us for days: despite a 67-hp deficit, the 500-hp V8 is faster than the W12.
Getting the 5,107-pound coupe out of the hole couldn't be easier. With the transmission in Sport mode, you simply power brake it to get the engine spinning and then let it fly. Sixty mph comes up in 4.2 seconds (4.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) en route to a quarter-mile time of 12.4 seconds at 113.2 mph.
The last Continental we tested, a 2012 W12 weighing only 59 pounds more, took 4.7 seconds to hit 60 (4.4 with rollout) and lugged itself across the quarter-mile line in 12.9 seconds at 109.8 mph.
Open the hood of a 2013 Bentley Continental GT and the first thing anyone with a passing knowledge of vehicle dynamics will notice is that the engine is nearly entirely ahead of the front axle line. And the first thing anyone with a passing knowledge of vehicle dynamics will feel about that is disappointment. With fewer cylinders and less weight up front, however, this new V8 GT teased us with potential never to be fully realized.
Like the W12, the nose-heavy V8 Continental bends to the whim of momentum and defaults to understeer. Drive it too hard and you'll soon find yourself piloting the world's most well-appointed lawn dart. Making matters worse, our car was fitted with the Mulliner Driving Specification Package. This $12,230 option adds goofy 21-by-9.5-inch rims with 275/35ZR21 Pirelli P Zero tires that fill out the wheel wells, but offer all of the compliance of steel-soled shoes. The package also includes alloy sport pedals and an insanely heavy, jeweled fuel filler cap.
All of the excitement of the acceleration testing was scrubbed off in the slalom and skid pad where we managed a best speed of 66.4 mph — 1.1 mph slower than the heavier, less-well-balanced W12 — and circled the pad at 0.84g. It redeemed itself slightly in the braking tests where it turned in a short, precise stop of just 111 feet, although with its optional carbon-ceramic rotors and 8-piston front calipers we expected slightly better numbers there, too.
Thanks to full-time all-wheel drive, automatic transmissions, sticky tires and preposterous weights, Continentals have always been easy to drive up to their limits. The V8 is no different in that regard, but with lower limits and higher expectations, we left the handling portion of our testing wanting more.
Try as we might, the 2013 Bentley Continental GT can't be explained or rationalized on paper or with any battery of testing. Trying to do such things would force us to rationalize how a less powerful, lighter car could be faster in a straight line, but handle worse. Or to acknowledge that the shifter gate is just a duded-up version of the one found in the Jetta and that the infotainment system would be laughed out of any Audi dealer. And then we'd have to justify that after a few hundred miles of truly mixed driving, both casual and spirited, we averaged only 14.4 mpg.
Things only get worse if you try to rationalize the window sticker: $13,600 for carbon-ceramic brakes; $3,810 for adaptive cruise control, $3,675 for an extended center console that further delineates the rear seats, eliminating one of the few visual differences on the interior between the 8 and the 12; $1,865 for the contrasting stitching; $640 for a space saver spare; $470 for a heated steering wheel plus $180 for more contrast stitching on said wheel. Oh, and don't forget that $12,230 Muliner Driving Specification package we mentioned earlier.
Do the math that no Continental GT buyer will have to do to make this decision and you're looking at a base model car loaded up to $214,025.
Fat Cats Rejoice
None of that matters when you're sitting in the amazingly well-appointed, hand-stitched interior with leather seats so supple you'd swear the cow was still wearing it. The engine is devilishly smooth and the Continental deceptively fast and even with the performance-robbing 21-inch wheels, the GT V8 rides like a hovercraft over the most abused pavement.
Even the ultra-light steering seems designed from the get-go to coddle the driver and to isolate rather than inform. At a 70-mph sustained cruise, the Continental registered just 61.6 decibels inside the cabin; at 120 mph our meter shot up to all of 62.5 dBs. We've measured cars that were louder at idle.
The 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 may be the cheapest car in the Bentley lineup, but nobody will notice. Not your accountant. Not the guy at the gas station and certainly not bike-riding hipsters.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.