Bentley is planning to add a 4.0-liter V8 model to the Continental GT range after it retools its elegant coupe for the 2011 model year.
The sportier-looking GT will be revealed at the Paris motor show late this month with the familiar W12 power. The V8 hits the market as a '12 model in about 18 months.
“The V8 is our hedge against fuel-price spikes, carbon-dioxide-related legislation and uncertainty in the global supercar market,” Uli Eichhorn, Bentley's technical director, said at a recent press event.
Eichhorn said the 4.0-liter V8 is an all-new engine co-developed with Audi and is yet to appear in a production model. Bentley promises that the new V8 will be built in Britain, like the W12. At the moment, its power output remains a secret, as does its induction.
But given Bentley's enthusiasm for turbocharging, the likely output figures to rate between 350 hp and 400 hp, extending the GT's appeal into market segments where the W12 can't compete.
The current Continental GT has been in production for seven years, and 23,000 cars have been built. Length and wheelbase are unchanged, as are the seating positions and height, indicating substantial carryover.
New body design
Covering these familiar underpinnings, though, is a very cleverly designed new body. The work of Dirk van Braeckel and Raul Pires, the new GT hunkers down onto its standard 20-inch wheels with a much more aggressive attitude than that of the outgoing car.
Helped by slightly wider front and rear tracks (up by 1.6 inches at the front and 1.9 inches at the rear), the changes are subtle but add up to a significant transformation of the GT into a much sportier, sharper-looking sports coupe. The grille and hood are set lower, which emphasizes new power bulges over the front wheels, and the glasshouse extends rearward into a shorter rear deck lid. Together these changes visually stretch the new GT so that it looks longer and lower, even if the tape measure says it isn't.
Taut styling lines are drawn onto this subtle shape, made possible because a new manufacturing technique that allows for tight folds in the metal. Gliding around Bentley's design studio viewing garden, there's a much more untamed look to the new GT. Where the outgoing car impressed for elegance and simplicity, the new one pleases with poise and purpose.
Inside is a striking interior that builds on Bentley's reputation for cabins crafted from the best materials money can buy. For the first time, the leather trim features a foam backing, chosen because it gives an extra dimension of luxurious, soft-touch feel. Rear legroom is boosted 1.8 inches by new, thinner seats, their bulk reduced because the seatbelt mount is repositioned from the seat frame to a more-conventional pillar position. Bentley says there's no impact on rear-cabin accessibility, which a couple of in-and-out shuffles of the car confirm.
More horsepower, torque
Under the skin, Bentley is shifting the GT into sportier territory, too. Power from the twin-turbo W12 is lifted from 560 hp to 575 hp and torque is up from 479 pounds-feet to 516 pounds-feet, partly thanks to increased turbo-boost pressure, and peaks at 1,750 rpm. Because ZF's new eight-speed auto doesn't have sufficient torque capacity for this output, the GT sticks with today's excellent six-speed transmission and its quick-shifting program.
Significant for driver appeal, the four-wheel-drive system now features a standard 40/60 torque split front/rear, the bias developed for the outgoing Supersports model. The steering is also recalibrated, and there's a new alloy upright in the front suspension, which completes the switch to all-alloy axle components started with modifications first introduced in the 2008 model year.
There are no performance figures yet for the new GT. But Bentley has shaved 143 pounds off the curb weight through detail changes such as lighter seats and boosted power. “It's a bit quicker,” Eichhorn said.