Bentley is calling an audible. The company's all-important new and Convertible were expected to arrive in North America soon with W12 engines slung between their front fenders. Instead, they'll arrive under V8 power.
This is the first time that Bentley is launching one of its products in the US and Canada starting with the smaller engine option, and it runs counter to the company's initial plans. In fact, the British luxury automaker hosted North American media in Spain in February to, and at that time, the 12-cylinder model was the only model available for testing.
So what happened? According to a Bentley spokesperson reached by Roadshow:
[Bentley] ... decided further software developments were required to ensure the W12 car delivered our own exacting levels of precision and refinement; as such, the process for certification can now take up to a year. Given the interest [in] and opportunity for the Continental, we've prioritized the V8 model. By focusing on the US market application, it was possible to put a priority on the V8 certification process with the business and the authorities. Certification for W12 is now nearing completion too with deliveries commencing in the second half of the year.
In other words, final tuning and related federalization concerns have conspired to delay W12 models, so Bentley is pulling ahead the V8s. The rest of Bentley's global markets will still get the 6.0-liter 12 as scheduled.
Bentley has subsequently just released pricing for the 4.0-liter V8 model, with the 2020 Coupe starting at $198,500 and the Convertible ringing up at $218,350 before options and delivery fees. For comparison's sake, W12-equipped models had been slated to start at $214,600 and Convertible models at $236,100. Regardless of how many cylinders are under hood and whether the top folds or not, all new Continental GT models bound for North America will carry 2020 model-year designations.
Specs for the V8 include a healthy 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque, enough to propel the heavyweight grand touring coupe to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds (the droptop takes 4.1). Top speed is listed at a heady 198 mph (an academic-sounding 9-mph deficit compared with the W12). The W12, for those keeping score, delivers 626 hp and 664 pound-feet of torque, but it also weighs and drinks more.
While news that the W12 is delayed might disappoint some, Roadshow staff testing of previous-generation Conti GT models (and today's) have consistently found that the smaller, less expensive V8 models are better bets -- not just for cost or efficiency reasons, but also for their favorable handling and power-delivery characteristics. While we media have yet to drive the new-generation Continental GT in V8 trim, we wouldn't be surprised if such models still prove to be the pick of the range.
In the meantime, Bentley dealerships are reaching out to customers and figuring out what they want to do. According to a spokesperson, "Retailers are having these conversations now and there is a mixed split between those who want to wait for the powerful W12 and those whose personality lends itself to the spirited driving of the V8, in addition to those who want their cars immediately."
Given the rarified air that Bentley buyers breathe, we wouldn't be surprised if more than a few customers will end up choosing both: V8 for now, W12 for later.