NORFOLK -- To drive a new 2014 Bentley Continental convertible is to experience how government fiat is changing performance cars. For while a Bentley Continental GT still can be elegant, exclusive and fast, it must also be more efficient. Yes, you can still buy a high-performance Continental GT Speed with its 567-horsepower 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine, but you can now opt for the same car with four fewer cylinders and much of the same muscle.
That would be the 2014 Continental GT V8 S, which has a less potent – but still powerful – 521-horsepower 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 under the bonnet. Most drivers won’t notice much difference when it comes to acceleration. The new V8 S takes 4.5 seconds to reach 60 mph, 0.4 seconds longer than its 12-cylinder colleague. Top speed for the V8 is 191 mph, down 12 mph from its more powerful stable mate.
Unless you’re on a racetrack, you’ll never miss the four-tenths of a second, but you will notice a difference at the pump. The GT Speed returns 12 mpg city, 20 mpg, whereas the V8 returns 14 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. Uncle Sam calculates that’s enough to save $450 in fuel bills each year. However, the bigger savings comes in base price: the GT V8 S costs a cool $25,225 less than the GT Speed. Still missing those extra cylinders?
That said, while the GT V8 S is fast, it lacks a sports car’s brutality. There’s a velvety gentility to its speed, a gentlemanly refinement that offsets its aggressive nature. The V8’s engine management system is capable of processing 180 million calculations per second, allowing this quick car to downshift up to five gears in a single step. Such details can be keenly felt once you bury the throttle. It’s then that the Continental pours out power to all four wheels with an effortless ease, while it sings a sweet mechanical melody that would make Richard Wagner jealous.
Like the more powerful GT Speed, the GT V8 S delivers its power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually by paddles mounted on the steering column. Better yet, 60 percent of the car’s power is funneled to the rear wheels, making it a hoot to drive through judicious use of the throttle. As you’d expect, grip is very strong, particularly in corners. But this is where the car’s 2½-ton curb weight makes itself known. When it comes to handling, this is definitely a heavy hitter, not a lightweight sports car.
Nevertheless, while some lesser sedans can match its speed, few cars can transport you this quickly in such opulent, handcrafted surroundings.
For example, the test car was fitted with the optional $8,435 Mulliner Driving Specification, which includes 21-inch wheels, alloy foot pedals, a ‘jewel’ filler cap and a cabin trimmed in diamond-quilted, perforated leather. But that was just the beginning. The interior was detailed with contrasting stitching ($1,905), deep pile floor mats ($480) with contrast binding ($220), a Naim premium audio system ($7,300), front seat neck warmers ($1,035), heated three-spoke steering wheel ($480) with contrasting stitching ($200), adaptive cruise control ($2,730) and ventilated and massaging front seats ($950). There’s more to list, but suffice it to say, this Bentley carried $32,350 worth of options.
Why so pricey? Consider what’s required to build this car.
It takes 37 hours to cross-stitch a single seat, 15 hours to do the same for the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Ten bull hides are necessary to line a Continental GT interior; cowhides are not used; they typically have stretch marks. Once the approximately 620 components are ready, it will take 150 hours to build the Continental GT and, once it’s painted, another 22 hours to ensure a flawless finish.
In all, Bentley builds in a day what most automakers build in less than an hour. And effortless performance aside, it’s that exquisite quality and handcrafted customization that you’re paying for. This is why the Bentley Continental GT is one of the world’s fastest, most exclusive and comfortable grand touring machines. And for 2014, you can have your speed and fuel efficiency too.
For those who say the best things in life are free, well, they might be right. But odds are, they have never driven a 2014 Bentley Continental GT V8 S. Maybe you should.
Powertrain: 521-horsepower twin-turbocharged V8, eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 108.1 inches
Length: 189.2 inches
Weight: 5,445 pounds
Cargo capacity: 9.18 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 14/24 mpg
NHTSA safety rating: Not rated
Base price: $216,200
As tested: $252,275
Where to buy it: Bentley High Point, High Point, N.C.; Bentley Tysons, Vienna, Va.