Road Test: The 2017 Bentley Continental GT V8 S
Words and images by leading motoring journalist Mark Gallivan, a member of the Irish Motor Writers’ Association.
A long goodbye
The second generation Bentley Continental GT is no more. After it’s unveiling at the 2010 Paris Motor Show the new car’s production ran up to this year, and aside from some specialist variants, it has been superseded by the newly launched third generation Continental GT based on the MSB platform shared with the Porsche Panamera. It was a crucial decision by Volkswagen which owns both companies because it allows for the platform’s three different modules – the floor, rear and front body to be produced using different components.
We’ve seen the new Continental GT and it’s a striking new design lexicon led by John Paul Gregory while still keeping the unmistakable shadow and footprint of Bentley’s best-selling car.
Now though, the hand of progress has caught up with the second generation car and placed a gentle hand on its shoulder. I have always had a tremendous degree of affection for the old GT bruiser in a way that other ultra luxury GT cars somehow missed the point. Others like Aston Martin’s DB9 or Audi’s R8 may have been either respectively delectable or imminently practical but neither ever conveyed that proper sense of old luxury no matter how hard they tried. Mind you, Continental GT had stayed on at the party since 2003, a full year before Facebook was ever heard of. We all knew the day would come when a new car would break cover and now that it has we hatched a plan.
“How about testing the car in the depths of winter and heading up north to Scotland?”, we thought. This would be a proper wart and all send-off and an opportunity to see how it tackles two days hard driving. Little did we know back in sunny September how the seemingly benign British weather would conspire to make this particular trip exhausting and exhilarating – both at the very same time.
The trip started with a red eye flight into Manchester Airport and meeting the nice lady from Bentley. As handovers go it was speedier than most; pleasantries were exchanged and I was on my way in minutes. It was a typical late November day, blindingly bright sun with a freezing wind just after a recent shower so I was more than keen to slide into the car and get warm. No matter how many times you’ve done it, stepping into a Bentley is guaranteed to be the nicest part of your day. That is unless you live somewhere like The Connaught Hotel in London, which none of us do.
One thing I’ve always appreciated about the second generation car was the simple interior. Everything may appear old school – particularly the gear level housing looking suspiciously like it came from a D3 Audi A8, but there were never any unfathomable controls or menus within menus to baffle one with unnecessary inconvenience (technology that’s seemingly all the go these days). All that is needed to enjoy your Bentley is in there – nothing is added for the sake of throwing technology inside the interior. I recall driving a Continental GT back in 2015 and being frustrated with the delay in paring my smartphone. This time it was done in an instant. So it wasn’t the car that was the weakest link after all, it was me. That was a recurring theme that would frequently surface again during my two days of driving.
The car in question was a 2017 Bentley Continental GT V8 S with just about 1,300 miles on the clock. Priced at €149,800 (incl vat) this 2,750 kg car is a heavyweight but warping the laws of understood physics it reaches a top speed of 192 mph and hits 0-60 mph (your honour) in 4.3 seconds. A lot of this is to do with the engine – a thumping 3,993cc V8 powerhouse with 680Nm of torque not to mention the four-wheel drive system that never breaks traction no matter how hard your right foot stomps on the accelerator.
It was time to leave Manchester Airport and point the car towards Dumfries in Scotland. That meant the joys of motorway driving on the M61 and then the M6 mixing with everyday traffic like trucks, sales reps and families making their own way north. Visibility is good and it wasn’t difficult to comprehend and all the controls that whirred and clunked with fluidity that subliminally whispered high quality. Granted, I have sat inside the new Continental GT’s interior and the high-sided centre console is a perfect foil for most ultra-luxury cars but it is festooned with many buttons that makes the old car a model of simplistic usability. Soon enough the gliding motorway cruise was in interrupted by light winds while driving past Crooklands near the Yorkshire Dales. Soon enough the weather deteriorated into rain and whipping side blasts that were almost storm strength.
Ahead on the M6 I could see cars in the middle lane slowing as they were being buffeted so hard they were veering into the inside lane. If one memory of the trip stays with me it’s the Continental GT’s steadfast steering. While in most cars there is a flat spot at twelve o’clock giving a minuscule play either way when travelling in a straight line somehow Bentley has engineered the steering so precise that it’s as resolutely unwavering as Michel Barnier looking at a Brexit divorce settlement. This again gives the impression of a car that will slice through the harshest weather condition like a battering ram and will continue on completely unperturbed. I’ve personally owned a Mercedes S-Class in the past and it never pulled that trick off.
It’s after 2pm by the time I reach Dumfries and check into the Hotel. Already the Bentley has caught the eye of the Hotel’s staff. “Now there’s something we don’t see here, everyday. Are you travelling on business; maybe visiting friends?” It was patently clear the receptionist really wanted to know what I did for a living and just how I got to earn sufficient money to drive a spanking new Continental GT. During the five or so minutes while checking-in the car is referred to several times.
After the bags were dumped in the room I was off again, with the promise of afternoon tea at the Western House Hotel in Ayr, about 60 miles away. Back in the Bentley and onto the A76, I drove through small villages and towns like Sanquhar, famous for a post office that’s reputably the oldest working one in the world, having been established in 1712. As much as I’d like to get out and look for it, the temperature reading on dashboard says two degrees Celsius so I decided to stay cocooned in the quilted leather of the Continental’s excellent seats. People stare and point as the big car grumbles and booms up the main street – up here in Scotland visible displays of success are a curiosity and raise an eyebrow or two.
After an uneventful drive up I’m sitting beside a roaring fire of the Western Hotel’s main lounge enjoying tea and sandwiches. I’m contemplating, given sufficient money, which car would I ultimately like to own as an everyday, do-it-all car luxury car and my mind it set: it’s the Continental GT, ideally the V8 S version I’d driving. Whereas a big BMW, Mercedes or Audi is a default choice, none of them translate the depth of exceptional living that a Bentley can. One word sums it up: integrity. Jump in any ultra-premium German saloon and the high quality plastics abound where your hand goes looking inside crevasses, but never in a Bentley – the materials, components are the very best you will touch in a car outside of a Rolls Royce. Can a €149,800 car be worth it is this day and age? I say yes, in the same way that buying a Linn Hi-Fi transmits more warmth and natural sounds but for significantly more money than top-end sounds system: it’s the luxury of enjoying the very best you can be, rewarding yourself of the struggle by getting there in the first place.
By the time I’m leaving Ayr it is getting dark and I’m relishing the prospect of the drive back to Dumfries at night. A succession of long dark roads on the A76 act like a spectre chasing video game with roads snaking left and right; twisting ones through forests with trees lit up by the headlight and the barking of the V8’s exhaust against stone walls while been chased by an eager 5-Series BMW driver wondering if the “old man” Bentley could really outrun Bavaria’s finest.
Stomping on the accelerator up through the gears to a corner, break hard, down two gears, hold the power, keep holding it through the long bend and rising until a straight appears and stomp on the accelerator again. This wasn’t a drive back to a hotel but workout in the world’s most luxurious gymnasium under crystal clear skies and a bright moon – a heart-thumping this way – that way hallucinatory video game that mesmerised me by how a car so big and heavy turned into such a game companion. The four-wheel system eventually proved too much for the exhausted BMW driver somewhere outside Carronbridge and he or she peeled back resigning themselves to the fact that whoever was behind the wheel of the Bentley would utilise the 4.0-litre V8’s walloping torque to great effect – Crewe proved a bit too much for Munich that eerie, cold night.
The promise of a cold night in Dumfries was as good as its word and Friday morning broke with a severe white frost and a hard stillness that hurt your face with numb cold. After breakfast and settling the bill the proprietor wished me safe travels and I turned and walked toward the door “..and mind that Bentley of mine, now won’t you?”, just letting me know in his own mischievous way that the posh car was still on his mind.
When I got to the car it was covered in a hardened frost and after blipping the key fob to open it, I gingerly open the driver’s door to be met by a crackling of ice against the frameless windows. All of them were frosted over and instead of scraping them with a credit card I ran the engine and let the defrosting button do its work. Within minutes the seats are piping hot and windows defrosted – impressive stuff.
I had about one quarter of a petrol talk left so I decided to put visit the nearest filling station add some premium unleaded. The pump clicked off showing €50 and…then…2 pence. What happened next was the perfect display of how the price of a Pound is never forgotten up North. “That-ull be fift-ah punds…and two punce, please.” I handed the man in the filling station a fifty pound note. Eyeing the spanking new Bentley he leant over the counter, lowering his voice – “I’ll a wait until ya give that extra two punce.” Clearly, London is a longer cultural journey to Scotland than many of us fully realise.
Time to head south to Manchester and back on the A75 I immediately run into a big problem. Traffic slows and then it stops near Cleughbrae.
Time passes; ten minutes, then twenty minutes and emergency vehicles pass on the opposite side of road. Clearly there had been an accident and the stillness and waiting in the car gives me time to properly appreciate how nice car’s interior is. It has a CD player (many new cars don’t these days and leave you connecting your smartphone to access your favourite music). There are issues though. The rear seat legroom for adults is non-existent. The Naim audio may be simple to operate but it lacks the depth and sharpness of anything that’s fitted as standard in a BMW 5-Series. The gear selectors behind the steering wheel are set too high and far away for easy reach. Add to the personal gripes would be the steering that’s remarkable heavy when completing a three point turn.
Eventually, I give up waiting and turn around joining the A709 to Lockerbie and hooking up with the A74 (M) and a straight run south for lunch in Burgh by Sands for lunch. After a delicious meal it’s time to get back on the M6 and head south to Manchester. The effortlessness way in which the Bentley both separates you from the outside motorway grind behind its double-paned side glass and how it yet remains such an engaging companion is uncanny. By the time I skirt the edge of the Yorkshire Dales the weather gods have one last surprise in store for the Bentley. With around one hour’s driving before Manchester Airport the clouds gather and darken with sprinkles of rain. This continues for a few miles and then the heavens open.
At 3.45pm on a November afternoon it’s almost pitch dark with rain turning downright torrential with difficult driving conditions on the three lane motorway made worse with the lane markings becoming virtually invisible with standing water. Cars slow down, trucks weave with high-sided winds that batter everyone driving south. It’s then the torrential rain turns into a storm and it’s clear that one unplanned move from lane to lane by a driver would have serious consequences for everyone. All time the Bentley remains unimpressed, unmoved even, by the storm raging outside. The car continues on with a complete distain for the conditions outside. After roughly 45 minutes the storm passes and I’m faced with the evening rush hour slog to Manchester Airport and into Terminal 1 short term car park. I find a space far away from other cars, park up, kill the engine, release the seatbelt and get out. Scratching my head, exhausted and relieved I take at the car and it’s virtually unmarked.
Like I said earlier, I thought the Bentley Continental GT is the car I’d like to own for everyday driving – now I know it’s the car I’d want for everyday driving. Beautiful, comfortable, effortless, engaging, fun and when you need it, a stalwart of steadfastness when a semi-hurricane is raging outside. What a glorious farewell to a remarkable car.