Rancho Santa Fe, California - While much of the country is dealing with the latest cold front and snow dump of the never-ending winter of 2014, we are with Bentley in this upscale enclave in the foothills north of San Diego to drive the 2014 Continental GT V8 S coupe and convertible. The people who live here, in lushly landscaped gated communities nestled among orange groves and equestrian fields, are Bentley customers. We see two privately owned Continentals—one coupe, one convertible—on the road outside the Rancho Valencia resort. We encounter even more Bentleys during our three-hour drive to Palm Springs, where we lunch at Twin Palms, the mid-century modern ranch home once owned by Frank Sinatra. If Ol’ Blue Eyes were still with us, one could imagine that a Bentley Continental GT might reside in his driveway, too.
Masters of the Universe
In the eleven years since the Continental GT debuted and ushered in the modern era of Bentley under Volkswagen Group ownership, it has established itself as one of the more obvious answers to the question that bold-face entertainers and celebrities, professional athletes, captains of industry, and the merely rich eventually ask themselves: What can I drive, now that I’ve had multiple Mercedes-Benzes, Porsches, and BMWs? What car will combine power, performance, exclusivity, luxury, utility, and day-to-day drivability while still telegraphing my status as a Master of the Universe?
This is a group that tends to be bored easily. They constantly seek new rivals to vanquish, new obstacles to overcome, and new trinkets with which to amuse themselves. Bentley understands this psychodynamic, and that is why, over two generations of the modern-day Continental, Bentley has predictably rolled out new versions of its popular two-doors. The Continental GT V8 S, which follows up the Conti eight-cylinder model from two years ago, is a sportier iteration intended to appeal to a more demanding driver and/or to relieve the boredom of those existing Bentley owners who simply desire something new.
S is for Subtle
When the V8 S arrives in dealerships this spring, even Continental GT owners will be hard-pressed to distinguish it from the other Conti GT models. Like the regular V8, the S has exhaust pipes in a sideways figure-eight shape, plus Bentley winged badges with red, rather than black, centers. The S rides 10 mm (less than half an inch) lower than the stock V8 model, and the car is accentuated by a delicate front splitter, side sills, and a rear diffuser finished in black. Naturally, the S gets its own set of 20-inch wheels, and their open-spoke design reveals red-painted brake calipers. Script-style “V8 S” badges on the front fenders complete the subtle makeover.
S is for Substance
The V8 S treatment is much more than just a trim job. The twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 gets a power bump from 500 hp to 521 hp, and torque rises from 487 lb-ft to 502 lb-ft, available from 1700 rpm. The ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifting carries over, but the chassis is significantly upgraded: the steering is retuned for more precision and feel, and there’s a bit less camber at the rear wheels. Front and rear spring rates increase by 45 and 33 percent, respectively, while bushings and the rear anti-roll bar are far stiffer. The Continuous Damping Control system and the stability control system have both been recalibrated. The standard brakes are huge, with 15.9-inch front and 13.2-inch rear rotors; the optional carbon ceramic brakes increase rotor sizes to 16.5 and 14.0 inches while also decreasing weight (and unsprung mass) by some 44 pounds.
S is for Speed
Bentley claims that, with the increased power of the V8 S, the coupe now does the 0-to-60-mph sprint in 4.3 seconds (versus 4.7 seconds for the V8) and reaches a top speed of 192 mph, up from 187 mph. The convertible has a top speed of 191 mph and takes two-tenths of a second longer than the coupe to hit 60 mph.
A 360-mile Day Trip
Our drive route through the eastern San Diego suburbs, up into the hills to the village of Julian, and along Banner-Grade Road skirting the Volcan Mountains Wilderness Preserve reveals a sharper, more involving Continental GT. The light yet precise steering belies the fact that the V8 S weighs 5060 pounds in coupe form and 5446 pounds in convertible form (the same as the regular V8). Body control is very good for such a big car, yet the ride doesn’t suffer a bit. The only complaint we can summon about the powertrain is that smooth throttle tip-in requires careful application of your right foot.
The V-8 engine itself weighs about 55 pounds less than the twelve-cylinder engine, so there’s less weight hanging off the front axle of the car, which makes any of the Continental GT V8 models better tools for diving into corners and making time on fast, challenging roads like Ortega Highway. Long, open stretches of two-lane or freeway remain the Continental GT’s favorite playgrounds, however, because that’s when you really unleash all that torque and enter Bentley-Land, where speed and serenity combine in a way that you experience in few other cars.
Leather or Sky Above Your Head
Our Kingfisher Blue convertible test car is loaded with options, including the Mulliner trim package that adds quilted leather upholstery and increases wheel size to 21 inches. With the tightly fitted, triple-layer top in place, we easily forget we are not in the coupe. Top down, we pull the gearshift lever into S mode, grab the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, and rip up and down through the gears, making the optional sport exhaust bark and howl, causing teenage onlookers to beckon for more.
Open Your Wallet. Widely.
As usual, a glance at the options sheet for the Continental GT V8 S reminds us that there is nothing remotely inexpensive about Bentley ownership. Although the base prices of the V8 S coupe ($196,500) and convertible ($216,200) are only $11,800 and $13,100, respectively, more than for their non-S counterparts, examples as opulently equipped as the cars you see in these photographs cost tens of thousands more. Bentley is not the only automaker to charge five-figure money for carbon-ceramic brake rotors, but an extra $1215 for a rear-view camera, a piece of equipment that’s now common in $20,000 Hyundais, is indefensible. That said, it’s difficult to summon much sympathy for those who are fortunate enough to be able to buy a Bentley.
An Object of Desire
We come away from our time with the 2014 Continental GT V8 S with a rekindled appreciation not only for the sensory feast that these cars provide but also with the realization that the V8 S is the best-driving Continental yet. Do us a favor, though, when you buy a Continental GT, regardless of engine or body style: Ignore the boring (mostly black) examples that North American dealers generally have in their showrooms, delay your gratification for a couple of months, and delve deeply into the Bentley color and trim palette. Then you can custom-order a car that is a bright, shining jewel. After all, if you live where Bentleys roam, you’ll want to stand out from the crowd.
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