Bentley has a superb image, but one that has suffered a legacy of traditionalism and con-servatism until it launched the Continental GT in the last decade. It was the preserve of ageing company chairmen and royalty, while wealthy younger entrepreneurs and highly-paid city executives shunned it in favour of a Porsche or Ferrari.
The Continental changed that. Since 2003 Bentley has become a brand equally associated with premiership footballers, dot-com founders and celebrities.
Under Volkswagen Group parentage it is also a carmaker that recognises it has to keep up with the times by becoming more efficient and ever-so-slightly more accessible in these days of personal finance.
Hence the introduction of the Continental GT V8 last year.
Priced at £123,850 it is positioned beneath the £135,760 6.0-litre W12 model and still has all-wheel drive, and still looks as sleek and impressive, distinguished from the W12 by a black grille, red Bentley ‘B’ badges, chromed figure of eight exhaust tailpipes and 20in black alloys.
But most importantly under the bonnet sits a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine with advanced technologies, including direct injection, variable displacement and a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
That technology means it delivers 500bhp and 660Nm of torque yet is 40% more efficient than the W12.
On the official European combined cycle it records 26.7mpg and 246g/km CO2 emissions, as under light loading the engine management system shuts down four of the eight cylinders.
Bentley claims it is capable of travelling more than 500 miles on a single tank of fuel, although a featherlight foot must be crucial in achieving this – I saw the fuel warning light come on after about 360 miles, two thirds of which were motorway, and averaged 22mpg economy.
Customers will find it hard to be restrained though, as the V8 growls superbly and delivers a real punch.
However, it’s a large, weighty car and a brief test drive will never be sufficient for prospective buyers to fully comprehend its grip and ability.
As UK head of operations Sarah Simpson said, this is where the consultative approach of Bentley dealers must come to the fore – ensuring the customer is fully aware of the car’s features and the extensive options available.
The car we tested had £38,550 of additional equipment which pushed the invoice price up to £162,400.
The bulk of that was for carbon ceramic brakes (£10,200), a Naim audio upgrade (£5,365) and the Bentley Driving Specification (£9,170) package that includes 21in black alloys, quilted leather hides with embroidered Bentley wings, drilled alloy sports pedals, a jewel fuel filler cap and a knurled sports gear lever.
A Convenience Specification (£2,855) package added adaptive cruise control, rear view camera and valet key, while a Touring Specification package (£2,755) added a through console, armrests, ski hatch and powered boot.
It may seem a lot of extra kit, but most Bentley customers will want to plunder the options and specify the car to their own taste and budget.
Unsurprisingly, the result is a vehicle that is a superb one to be in.