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The light’s fading, clouds are beginning to perspire again and it is time to go home. The Aventador takes off, but I know there are speedbreakers and he’s not going anywhere in any hurry. Five mighty machines remain at my call, for one last session on the track and then the long drive back to Delhi, but I choose the one most unsuited to track work.
Bentley’s history, the juiciest parts at least, were shaped by events on the race track – Le Mans victories that prompted Enzo Ferrari’s famous ‘fast lorry’ jibe, and the great continental train races – but a modern day Bentley doesn’t take to the race track like fish to water. This particular example is a bit different. This is the Continental but with a smaller V8 in place of the ginormous W12. Small though is a relative term here and while displacement drops from six to four litres, power is only down by 67bhp to a not exactly trifling 500bhp. Weight drops by a (much lesser than expected) 25kg but overall the car feels ten times lighter on its feet.
Bentley’s have always conducted themselves with significant heft, riding a tidal wave of torque to mighty speeds, the weight flattening the road and all but isolating you from everything. Bentley’s have never been slow, but neither have they been corner-carving tools, as I’ve experienced on many a (memorable) occasion with the Continental W12. The V8 though has just turned in and nailed the apex. Up to Turn 3, the blind right-hander that leads on to the back straight and another apex is nailed. On the gas early and all-wheel-drive deploys all the power without much fuss, piling on speed deceptively so that half way down the back straight we are already into the two-hundreds.
This is a quick car, but it feels completely opposite to the R8s and SLS AMGs of this world. There is no drama, no fuss, a temple of calm in a forest of nutters. It will dial up the big numbers when asked of it but it will always do it in a decadently luxurious fashion, so that you never have to rush off to the dentist to get the cavities refilled. Compared to the W12 the steering on the V8 feels properly connected to the wheels and the suspension has been suitably stiffened and so while you do feel the sheer bulk of the car, it’s not like you’re steering a fast lorry. With the selectable dampers in Sport mode the Conti does display fairly sporty manners so that it does not feel out of place on a race track, especially when it is wet and the suppleness in the suspension and the all-wheel-drive allows it to find stronger traction and drive out of corner.
The 8-speed gearbox is a much better affair than the W12’s 6-speeder and the lower initial gearing gives it more urgency while also providing quick yet smooth shifts; after all a Bentley kicking you in the small of the back on every upshift would be very unbecoming. There’s also a much nicer exhaust note with a deep bassy note at low revs rising to a properly sporty pitch. Heck if you’re interested the V8 is also 40 per cent more efficient than the W12 and so the 90-litre tank will go a long way, something that will come in handy on the Yamuna Expressway that has not a single petrol pump for its entire length.
It is an expressway I know well after having, over three days last December, clocked 800km going up and down leading a convoy of (very fast) Porsches. I know every bump, every speed trap, every break in the median. It’s a road that suits the Continental far more than the race track, revealing why she’s rated as one of the finest Grand Tourers in the world. It’s a road that she will clock 300kmph on, 303kmph to be exact, but a public road is not an appropriate place for such lunacy. Up ahead I see the Aventador slowing down for one of the (many) nasty bumps as the surface changes at overbridges. In the Conti V8 I lift off slightly, feel the suspension compressing as it hits the expansion joint but that’s about it. The considerable heft allows the Conti to deal with bumpy roads in dismissive fashion, steamrollering everything in sight. It is supple, the air of luxury ratcheted up several notches by the properly decadent quilted maroon leather upholstery. There are more bumps ahead and the Aventador has to back right off, the Continental is the first off the expressway and in to Delhi, occupants unruffled and pampered. It’s been a long day and there truly is nothing like a Continental for the long drive home.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8
Engine V8, 3993cc
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Power 500bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 660Nm @ 1700rpm
0-100kmph 4.8 seconds
Top speed 303kmph