No more power for the 'sharper' V8 flagship – but it ought to sound the business. Certainly looks it
By PH Staff / Monday, 6 June 2022 / Loading comments
Make no mistake about it, the previous generation Bentley GT S was a revelation. Introduced back in 2014, it finally unlocked whatever fun has been loitering in the heavyweight model’s chassis. Not because it introduced more power – though the V8 was breathed on for the deployment – but because Bentley got busy with the suspension. The S was lower and considerably firmer than the cooking model, with the revised bushes and steering to match. Factor in a silly exhaust and the result was ravishingly good. Sure, it wasn’t going to trouble a 911’s back bumper on a knotted B road, but that wasn’t the point: the S was still recognisably a GT, it was just more purposeful and pleasing to drive. A lot more pleasing.
Acclaimed virtually everywhere for being better than the W12, it’s no surprise that the badge has finally returned to the lineup. Nevertheless, a few things are immediately apparent. For one thing, while the previous model undoubtedly informed what the current GT is like in a broader sense, it also taught Bentley another salient lesson: don’t make your cheaper spec car the best one. Consequently, as it promised, the four-wheel steering and other trick bits that featured on the latest GT Speed have not migrated to the more affordable S – in fact, aside from the standard fit Dynamic Ride (which means you get the 48v active roll bars usually found on the V8 option list) the chassis is ostensibly unaltered.
That might seem like a disappointment, but it’s probably worth remembering that last time round the GT was a lumbering beast just waiting for someone to properly tack it down. Obviously that isn’t the case with the current car: its compromise between ride and handling is already terrifically well struck, and evidently Bentley feels like the default inclusion of its electric anti-roll system – combined with a fresh choice of 21- and 22-inch alloys – is sufficiently incisive to appeal to its intended customers. Given the significant weight saving the V8 continues to offer over the nose, the S will almost certainly still be distinguishable from its bigger brother.
That said, the decision to offer no more power than you get from the standard 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 seems less defensible. Not necessarily because 550hp isn’t sufficient (at 4.0-seconds-to-62mph, it is), but simply because the new model would be a better defined proposition with an output that lifted it clear of its entry-level stablemate. And with the latest Speed delivering a titanic 659hp, it’s not like there isn’t an obvious middle ground to occupy – especially when you consider that the same engine (in very mild hybrid format) already produces 600hp in the current Audi RS6. Again, there’s probably a number of toe-tread reasons for not doing so, but it does feel like a trick missed.
In fact, the only engine-related hardware change is the inclusion of a ‘new’ sports exhaust – although we’re almost certain this is the same one previously found on the V8 option list. As a result, the onus here is more on styling and mindset; much as the recent ‘Azure’ edition suggested a comfort-centric GT, the tweaks made to the S are meant to amplify the pleasure of driving. Hence the suede-like Dinamica material that now blankets the steering wheel, gear lever, seat cushion and backrest, and the two-tone colour split interior which is bespoke to the model. You also get S-branded embroidery and unique treadplates, alongside ‘performance-focused graphics’ in the driver instrumentation.
The exterior relies on a more familiar trope: oodles of gloss black trim. You’ll notice it pretty much everywhere; only the winged Bentley badge and lettering are finished in the usual bright chrome. Even the headlamps and rear lights are dark tinted. Combined with those ginormous wheels and sill extenders (also in black), and the S badging on the flanks, the new trim level certainly looks the part. Returning customers of the previous S might have favoured a quantifiably leaner, meaner sort of GT instead – but they will not find the new version a slouch. And there is always the GT Speed if they do.
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