If you're considering buying a Bentley, chances are fuel economy and state of the ozone layer aren't matters that occupy your thoughts with any prominence. So what, then, is the point of the cleaner and cheaper (relatively speaking) V8 Continental GT? Is it to give the company a more environmentally aware veneer as it reduces its average CO2 footprint across the range? Or is it a Continental GT for someone who can't afford a proper one?
At Dh850,000 the V8 is hardly a snip: it's just 150K shy of the full-phat W12 version. Or, in the world of potential Bentley customers, a year's insurance premium and an evening out with mates.
Therefore, it's safe to assume that the only reason you'd buy the V8 is because you'd want one, and not because you couldn't afford the W12.
So should you?
First, let's talk about the smattering of light cosmetic changes that will enable keen car spotters to tell the two versions apart. The blacked-out grille and lower rear valance are exclusive to the V8 model, as are two ‘figure eight' tailpipes and red enamel Bentley badges. In fact, the interior too gets a selection of materials, including two-tone leather seats that are specific to the V8.
The big change, however, is obviously the engine. The 500bhp 4.0-litre twin turbocharged V8 doesn't have the torque-rich guts of the 6.0-litre W12, but thanks to a new eight-speed gearbox it doesn't feel inadequate in the real world. At 4.8sec to 100kph it is 0.2 seconds off its big brother's pace, but lack of forward momentum isn't something you'll be complaining about. There is a healthy surge of 680Nm of torque kicking in as low as 1,700rpm, which makes it extremely usable around town.
A smaller engine also means that both fuel economy and carbon emissions are improved and reduced respectively. It won't be winning any Green Car of the Year awards in a hurry, but it's a huge improvement over the W12. Official numbers claim 10.5 litres-per-100km and a CO2 figure of 275g/km, an improvement of 40 per cent — six of which comes from the gearbox — on both counts over the W12.
Another obvious advantage when you lose four-cylinders is weight. Or reduction thereof. The front suspension now has to deal with 25kg less, which, coupled with retuned geometry, means the nose is a lot more willing to sniff out corners. Pushing on 2,300kg it's still a big old brute, but it's not as likely to plough vacantly towards the outside of the corner as the W12. Rapid directional changes feel slightly more resolved, but the sportiness is all but imperceptible. No idea what Bentley is on about when it claims the AWD system ensures "dynamic sportscar handling."
Also, at full rip the W12 sounds more like heavy artillery rather than an automotive engine, the V8 is much more familiar. It's a good-sounding lump. The hushed burble transforms into a brutal staccato roar, laced with the high-pitched shriek of the turbos as the revs rise. Given a free reign it will hit 303kph amidst a smudge of scenery and a soundtrack fitting of a car as potent as this.
If you can look beyond what can, in the interest of keeping this family-friendly, be tepidly described as ‘saber-waving', the V8 is the engine to have. It doesn't take away from the car's character, but rather adds to it. It sounds great and, if you care about the environment, lumps a less substantial burden of guilt on your conscience. Your mates would approve too.