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The Driver's Seat: When Less is More

Bentley's new V8 drop-top does a number on its 12-cylinder counterparts.

I’ve never been much for math. I suppose that is why I chose to pursue the path of penning alliterative prose – particularly about inspiring subjects, like the new 2013 Bentley Continental GTC V8 convertible. The car is similar to the recently refreshed Continental lineup, with one notable – and numerical – exception. And so, with scratchpad and calculator in hand, this admitted arithmophobe boldy braves the numbers that distinguish Bentley’s latest drop-top dream machine.

As its name indicates, the GTC V8 has four fewer cylinders than the traditional W12-powered Continental cars. The V8 car is also leaner by about 55 lbs.; more balanced front-to-rear (51/49 vs. the W12’s nose-heavy 56/44 distribution); 40% more fuel-efficient (though hardly “green” at a combined 17 mpg). With a base MSRP of $191,400, a GTC V8 will save you roughly $2,300 over a comparable GTC W12. In the minus column, the GTC V8 gives up 67 ponies and 29 lb-ft of torque to the W12; is three-tenths of a second slower to 60 mph (4.7 seconds); and tops out at 187 mph (vs. 195 mph). Of course, number crunching can never substitute for subjective experience.  

The Continental GTC V8 sits low and wide atop 20-in. five-spoke alloys. The more sculpted sheet metal introduced last year gives the car a noticeably sportier look than previous Conti convertibles. The four-layer insulated fabric top stows effortlessly in just over 20 seconds. Inside, V8 buyers reportedly have fewer choices of hides and woods than their W12 counterparts. However, my test car’s quilted two-tone leather scheme, high-gloss veneers and machined metal accent pieces left little to be desired.  

On the road, the GTC V8 feels large and weighty. Adaptive air suspension and the improved weight distribution tighten things up a tad. However, the GTC V8 never comes close to sports car-like engagement. That said, the GTC V8 does offer a level of explosive performance not typically seen outside Bentley’s limited-run models, like the aptly named Continental Supersports.

A few quick stabs of the throttle and you’re likely to question whether Bentley really extracted four cylinders from this beautiful beast. There is simply no clear loss of power. With its 500 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque, the car’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 also has brains to match its brawn: A cylinder deactivation system shuts down four tubes at cruising speeds to improve efficiency. Speaking of cruising, when set to Sport mode, the eight-speed ZF gearbox is capable of downshifting directly from top gear to third for frighteningly instantaneous passing potential. Bloody brilliant! And then there’s the sound: a supple burble at low rpm’s that quickly builds into a bellowing basso profondo that envelops all available airspace around the car. It was so glorious that I hardly touched the car’s custom Naim premium sound system. (Pity it added a whopping $7,155 to the sticker price!)

To those who may fret over the loss of 12-cylinder bragging rights, I offer three consolations. First, you can lie. The V8 car is distinguished from its W12 counterpart by minor exterior tweaks: red (instead of black) winged “B” badges; a black mesh grille; three-segment lower front bumper; and double-oval exhaust finishers. Second, you can politely remind potential naysayers of Bentley’s history with V8s, including the legendary Speed 8 racecar, which earned the automaker its first Le Mans checkered flag in more than 70 years back in 2003. Finally, you can encourage those 12-cylinder lovers to double-check their math because, according to my calculations, the GTC V8 proves that less can actually be much more.

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