A smaller engine and a slightly smaller price tag will bring the Conti marginally downmarket.Old luxury brands tend to evolve at a snail’s pace, maybe because their (often old) buyers aren’t the most accepting of change. Nevertheless, survival of any carmaker depends on its appeal to varying generations, ultimately making change inevitable. Bentley took a gigantic step off the beaten path when it introduced its 12-cylinder “starter” Bentley, the Continental GT, in 2003. The swoopy coupe, which later spawned the GTC convertible and Flying Spur sedan, was hugely successful and is currently in its second generation (although it’s hard to tell by looking at it). Now, with world economies even closer to the brink of turmoil, Bentley is taking the next step in its evolution and introducing the entry-entry-level Bentley, the 2013 Continental GT and GTC V-8 models.
We reported a year ago during our first sampling of the second-generation 2012 Conti GT that a V-8–powered model with a lower price was in the works. While Bentley has yet to share what exactly that price will be (we figure on at least $10K less than the W-12 GT’s $195,495 base), the company has released most other details prior to the V-8’s debut at the 2012 Detroit auto show. Displacing 4.0 liters, the direct-injection, twin-turbo V-8 is a version of the mills found in Audi’s upcoming S6, S7, and S8. Here, the engine is tuned to produce 500 hp at 6000 rpm and 487 lb-ft of torque from 1700 to 5000 rpm. It will send power through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. The power numbers aren’t all that far from the 567 hp and 516 lb-ft produced by the twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W-12 currently in the Continental, and neither is Bentley’s prediction of a sub-five-second sprint to 60 mph and a top speed over 180 mph. Credit what we figure will be a slightly lower curb weight, which also will help improve fuel economy, but perhaps not as much as the new cylinder-deactivation system that transitions from eight- to four-cylinder mode under light loads.
A few subtle cues distinguish the V-8 car. In front, the most notable change is a mesh grille now rendered in black rather than chrome, plus a slightly revised lower fascia in which the three air inlets are now more evenly sized. In the rear, the chrome exhaust finishers resemble a figure eight and are connected by a black finishing panel. All of the Bentley “B” logos on the car front and back are surrounded by red paint rather than the traditional black.
A full list of options and standard equipment has yet to cross our desk, but we don’t expect a whole lot less on offer than what can be had in the existing Conti. We do know it’ll have an Eliade cloth headliner and a new Fiddleback Eucalyptus wood veneer, along with the option of two-tone leather seats. Twenty-inch wheels will be standard, with 21s an option.
With the V-8 Bentleys being so close in output to their 12-cylinder siblings, it’s entirely possible that the “lesser” (and lighter) model could become the sportier or even preferred one. We know it sounds pretty good and look forward to some time behind the wheel.