• The GT V8 feels powerful enough to take you to the stars.

  • The GT V8 feels powerful enough to take you to the stars.

WHEN I was at the Bentley factory in Crewe, UK, a couple of years ago, there was a discussion about the future of a new engine. It was clear at the time that engineers and management wanted to keep most details under wraps - after all, Bentleys tend to be all about big V12 engines, not some little greenie V8 unit.

Well a couple of weeks ago I had the chance to get behind the wheel of a Continental GT coupe with the new engine. Obviously it can hardly be called a greenie in the same way as a Toyota Prius engine or even a diminutive Polo BlueMotion unit, but it does mark a major change in tack for the brand.

The new engine is a 4l twin turbocharged V8 that pushes out 373kW at 6000r/min and has 660Nm of torque on tap from just 1700r/min. The company claims it will hit 100km/h in 4,6 seconds and go on to a top speed of 303km/h.

These are impressive performance figures, especially for a car that still weighs in at 2295kg, but the big talking point is the 40% improvement in efficiency. This has seen the combined fuel consumption figure drop to a claimed 10,5l/100km and carbon-dioxide emissions fall to 246g/km.

Bentley says you should be able to get 857km on a single tank of fuel, though that tank is 90l and you would have to be incredibly light with the old right foot.

Having all that performance on tap is almost something of a contradiction in this car though. I am sure I have said this before but when you drive a Bentley, it is like being in a cigar lounge. In a Ferrari you just want to put your foot down and blast, but in the GT you sit back in your handcrafted armchair and cruise, arriving at your destination as if you have just drifted across the Mediterranean on board the QE2. It is one of those cars where you just smile because you know you have all that power under your foot, but like that red button that Barack Obama has available to him, you do not really feel the need to press it.

Unlike Obama, when you find yourself in a situation where it is appropriate to push the button, all of that power is instantly available. Switch the GT into manual mode, flick down on those rather cheap feeling plastic paddles and launch. The GT is one of the few cars that really does have rear haunches and as the roar builds from the exhaust system, the car is transformed from a cigar lounge to a pit lane exiting missile. Dial in the sports suspension and it drops closer to the ground and springs into action, bringing with it more reasons to smile as the countryside passes by at a rapid rate of knots before you clamp down on the brakes for the turn, correct the slight understeer and head for the next corner.

When the Bentley is truly on song, it is a superb sports car and you quickly find yourself totally ignorant of its weight as the speedo heads northwards.

All the while you are surrounded by all that handcrafted luxury - I once even met the little old lady who stitches the leather onto the steering wheel. It is impossible to ignore the fact that you are in a piece of automotive history, one with pedigree and heritage behind it that still manages to combine the latest in technology with all that cigar lounge ambience.

Not surprisingly, the first question I got from most people related to the cost of the car and while I advised them that this is the new entry level Bentley, the price tag of R2,8m surprised them slightly.

The thing is though, if a bunch of German built robots created every component of the car then it would be an Audi. If you go to Mr Price Home for your lounge suite then you will get a mass manufactured product, but go to Bakos Brothers and you will get handcrafted furniture that will probably outlast you. They may look similar in many ways but you can be sure they are very different.

The same is true of the Bentley. Yes you can get a strong cruiser or even one that still offers performance, but take a trip to Crewe and meet that little old lady and nostalgia will surpass any hesitation over the price. There are better cruisers and there are better performance cars, but there are few that can make you feel like the world really is your oyster.

FACT FILE

BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8

Price: R2800000

Engine: 3993cc twin turbo V8 petrol

Transmission: Eight speed automatic with paddle shift

Power: 373kW at 6000r/min and 660Nm at 1700r/min

Performance: 0-100km/h in 4,6 seconds, top speed 303km/h

Economy: 10,5l/100km, 246g/km of carbon emissions