Experience the Driver’s Seat: Continental GT V8 S

Bentley’s new Continental GT V8 S has more attitude, both inside and out. For starters, a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that delivers 521 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque at just 1,700 rpm helps ensure that two-andhalf tons of fun moves out with extreme prejudice. (Bentley says the convertible will do 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds.) ZF 8-speed automatics are becoming downright ubiquitous and, given that Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, it’s neither a surprise nor a compromise that the “S” runs one of these state-of-the-art transmissions and sends power to all four wheels with a bias toward the rear. With its 10 mm lower stance, stouter shocks and anti-roll bars, front splitter for better aerodynamics (not just for show when the factory puts the top speed at 191 mph) and exclusive 20-inch wheels, the “S” designation might as well stand for swagger.

When, out of the blue, we received an email from Bentley Motors headquarters in Virginia inviting us to be the foster parents to one of these “factory tuner” Continental GTs, we had no warning that our test car’s sheet metal would not only wear a retina-searing hue that Bentley calls St James Red, the cabin was a cocoon of red and ivory-accented leather. So much for rocking a low profile.

Oh right. It’s a Bentley.

The Continental GT V8 S is a personal luxury car in the spirit of another, American-born, Continental, the Lincoln Mark VII and VIII. The formula is practically sacred: take a powerful V8, stuff it under a stylish body stretched long enough for occasional double-dating or a faithful pooch and pamper occupants with refinement rivaling a suite at a Waldorf. In our allotted days with the “S,” we wrung out the Bentley on back roads and cruised interstates marveling at the delicious sounds emanating from the chromed quad/figure-8 exhaust tips when those 521 horses are called upon and how well it handled the twisties considering its broad-shouldered bulk. While the iconic art deco “flying B” Bentley badge on the hood to the revered Breitling chronograph nestled in the instrument panel were constant reminders of Bentley’s rich heritage and racing history, we also found ourselves traveling memory lane and thinking about former American greats like the Mark VII and Buick Riviera. Time for a reboot, Detroit?

Our evaluation Continental GT V8 S drop-top was relatively basic (for a Bentley) with $17,265 in options. Of the 18 add-ons, the major-ticket items consisted of adaptive cruise control, rear-view camera and valet key as part of a “convenience specification” ($3,920); sports exhaust ($2,480); dark-tint front and rear lamps ($1,735) and front seats with massage and ventilation ($950). We’d pass, though, on the $1,035 neck warmer and just hit the switch to put the top back up. With destination charges and a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax, the Bentley’s bottom line came to $237,190.

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