x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Road Test: The 2013 Bentley Continental GTC V8

A new convertible version of a classic Bentley has Motoring Editor Kevin Hackett wanting more.

The Continental GT V8 has been given a new lease of life by four fewer cylinders, and the change is a welcome one. Photo by Jeff Topping / The National
The Continental GT V8 has been given a new lease of life by four fewer cylinders, and the change is a welcome one. Photo by Jeff Topping / The National

Sometimes it takes a very special road to prove how good, or otherwise, a new car really is. And as the UAE - as we keep saying - is blessed with special road surfaces that are the envy of the world - long, straight and perfectly smooth, we're able to get even the stiffest-suspended sports cars to ride like limousines. Yet there are still many roads that resemble battlegrounds, where construction has decimated surfaces that were once as smooth as a baby's bottom, and it's roads like these where a car really shows what it's made of.

I'm driving through the centre of Dubai Marina, which like much of the whole of the UAE, is undergoing change. Short-term pain, long-term gain is the mantra for city dwellers here. The road surface is utterly hideous but the car I'm driving just floats above it all, unruffled and un-fussed, its active suspension soaking up every imperfection and its steering wheel remaining straight and true to the course I set. My own car would be writhing around, hopping all over the place. But this is a Bentley, and Bentleys are nothing if not refined.

The Continental GT V8 caused a real stir when it was launched earlier this year, for all the right reasons. A car that was first seen nine years ago was given a new lease of life by - shock, horror - downsizing. With four fewer cylinders, it seemed to be a disaster in the making but the reality was a car that was so extremely good that anyone who drove it ended up scratching their head, wondering why anyone would go for the full-fat W12.

And now the drop-top is here, just in time for the milder weather heading our way. I have to say that this car's shape has never really done it for me (I'm aware that I'm in the minority) but the metallic red paint and alloy wheel combination, together with a contrasting black canvas roof, on the car Bentley has loaned to me for a few days, is a triumph. It looks cohesive, glamorous and all those creases and curves look totally in place. The side profile is also helped by the raised boot spoiler, which gives the rear a pinched finale - I'm impressed.

Red centres to the famed winged Bentley badges show those in the know that there are eight turbocharged cylinders at work under the stubby bonnet and the twin exhausts provide a visual nod, appearing to be two figure eights that have fallen on their faces. Inside, there's little to differentiate between this and its more expensive, more polluting sibling, and that's no bad thing. The contrasting leather here works well and the polished piano black timber to the dashboard, while immediately getting dusty when the roof is down, looks superb when given a buffing.

Roof up or down, the feeling of serenity while driving the V8 GTC is sky high. With the insulated fabric hood and double-glazed windows raised, there's very little of the outside world that intrudes. It's as refined as anything else out there. With the roof and windows down, there's more of that delicious exhaust note to savour and very little in the way of buffeting, even for passengers in the rear. Mind you, they'll still complain, given the pitiful legroom.

Stamp on the loud pedal, though, and any occupant will break into the cheesiest of grins. This is evidenced when I suddenly open the taps while The National's intrepid photographer, Jeff Topping, is sat beside me. As the Bentley thrusts forwards, he exclaims something quite unrepeatable and, I think, starts asking for his mum. The gathering of pace when that V8 gets to work never fails to take the breath away - it's extraordinary but, then again, that's what 507 horses are able to do, even when they're having to shift more than 2.5 tonnes of mass.

Acceleration is almost on a par with a Porsche 911 Turbo and yet, when the computers detect that you're taking it easy with the throttle, half the engine is shut down, effectively becoming a V4. That it manages to shift between the two modes, without anyone being even slightly aware, is a marvel of modern engineering because at no point does the V8 Bentley make you feel short-changed.

It's testament to the way in which the Continental GT was originally designed and constructed that changing important aspects of its makeup has resulted in no detrimental aspects whatsoever - it's still the consummate grand tourer, whether there are 12 cylinders powering it or eight. But if it were my money on the table I'd be going for the V8, with or without a roof because its charms are more easily identifiable and, despite its colossal weight and the fact it still likes a drink, it's significantly greener than its W12 stablemate.

For anyone who has ever doubted Volkswagen's ownership of this most British of brands, the Conti V8 is proof positive that, with the right resources and a healthy dose of respect for what makes a company unique, tremendous things can result. I don't often say this these days but I really don't want to give this car back.