2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 first drive review: A more athletic grand tourer

Here's a little life hack for all you hifalutin Bentley buyers: Get the V8 engine. It was true of the last-generation Continental GT and Flying Spur, and it's true now of the Bentayga SUV. Bentley's less-expensive V8 models are simply more satisfying to drive, and don't sacrifice one hand-crafted inch of style or substance.

Perhaps the best example of Bentley's V8 goodness is found here, in the 2020 Continental GT. The 626-horsepower, W12-powered Continental is already a goddamn delight. But the lighter, more eager V8 loosens the GT's collar, turning this grand tourer into an athlete that's far more eager to please.

The V8 engine is a familiar one: Bentley's twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter unit, which makes a stout 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque. Working with a buttery-smooth, eight-speed automatic transmission, the GT V8 Coupe can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in a scant 3.9 seconds. The GT V8 Convertible does this same sprint in 4.0. Regardless of body style, the GT V8 is three-tenths of a second slower to reach 60 mph than the W12-powered variants.

But what's three tenths of a second, anyway? Stomp on the GT V8's throttle and you'll be hard pressed to quantify that loss of on-paper performance. Peak torque is delivered at 1,960 rpm, and the V8's aural quality is so much more exciting than the W12's. This car pops and crackles as it shifts through the gears, the burble on overrun so robust it borders on being uncouth -- and I mean that as a compliment.

Like the W12, the Continental GT V8 puts its power to the ground via variable all-wheel drive. The Conti will default to rear-wheel drive while cruising in order to run as efficiently as possible, but splits the power between the front an rear axles while cornering or when you're really giving it your all. You can't actually feel the AWD system working, there's just tons and tons of grip exactly when and where you need it. Drive the GT in Sport mode and it'll default to a 20:80 front-rear split, but that doesn't turn it into a tail-happy hooligan. Give the gas pedal a stomp at the apex of a super-tight hairpin and the big boy's rump pretty much refuses to step out, those big, 21-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zero summer tires offering incredible traction on dry pavement.

The standard, three-chamber air suspension gives the Continental GT its hallmark cosseting ride, but this comfort doesn't come at the expense of handling. That's especially true with the 48-volt Dynamic Ride antiroll system -- standard on the W12 and optional on the V8 -- which keeps the Continental remarkably flat at all times. It doesn't wallow through a corner, and there's no exaggerated nose lift under hard acceleration. Combine all this with beautifully weighted steering and some seriously powerful brakes, and the Continental GT V8 is as fine a grand tourer as its W12 counterpart, but at the same time, an even better sports car.

What else has changed? Thankfully, not a whole lot. The V8 models get new 20- and 21-inch wheel designs, and the W12's oval shaped exhausts are now split into a pair of better-looking, dual-outlet pipes. The only other way to spot an eight-cylinder GT is to notice the "V8" badge on the front quarter panel, where the 12-cylinder cars say "W12." And if you're worried about the neighbors snickering as you drive by with only eight cylinders under your hood, just step on it. The V8's rortier exhaust note will shut 'em up.

Otherwise, the V8 models wear the same shapely lines as the 12-cylinder Continental GT Coupe and Convertible variants. I still love poring over the details of the crystal-like headlamp housings, and adore the way this car looks in profile. The shape is unmistakably Bentley Continental, but it's sleeker, wider and much more graceful than its predecessor. 

Step inside and the GT V8 models are as lavishly appointed as their W12-powered kin, every swath of leather lovingly hand-stitched, every metal air vent plunger a tactile pleasure. The diamond knurling on the dials feels absolutely superb, complemented by the textured Cotes de Geneve brightwork that lines the center console. Not a single bit of luxury has been compromised between the W12 and V8 models; this is one of the finest automotive interiors you can buy today.

The $6,365 Bentley Rotating Display is a must-have piece de resistance, if only for its ability to change the look of the cabin with the push of a button. When the car is off, the display shows a flush-mounted panel, allowing you to focus on the true beauty of the interior design. Turn it on, and it can show either a simple trio of dials, or flip it once more, and you'll have access to the massive amount of tech that's housed in Bentley's 12.3-inch multimedia display.

The Continental GT's interior is simply exquisite, right down to the last detail.

Richard Pardon/Bentley

Infotainment duties are handled by a Bentley-skinned version of the Porsche Communication Management software, meaning Apple CarPlay is standard, but Android Auto isn't available. The touchscreen is as simple and wonderful to use in the Continental as it is in, say, a Panamera, and offers a wealth of functionality inside a crisp, bright display.

Speaking of shared tech, the Continental's digital gauge cluster is another familiar bit of greatness. It may have Bentley colors and fonts, but Audi's fantastic Virtual Cockpit is what's doing the heavy lifting. A full suite of driver assistance tech keeps the Continental at the top of its safety game, with adaptive cruise control, a full-color head-up display, night vision, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring all part of the $8,385 Touring Specification pack.

Even though the W12 debuted in 2018, the GT V8 will be the first Continental to arrive on our shores later this year. When it lands, it'll carry a $198,500 starting price (or $218,350 for the Convertible), some $16,000 less than the W12. That means the Continental GT V8 isn't just a more engaging steer than its 12-cylinder counterpart -- it's a better value, too.

And therein lies the greatness of the Continental GT V8. With no sacrifice in luxury or style and an even better behind-the-wheel experience, less is definitely more.

Eight cylinders or 12, the new Continental GT is a real stunner.

Richard Pardon/Bentley

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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