2013 Bentley Continental V8 first drive: Doin’ the Continental

2013 Bentley Bentley Continental GTC

2013 Bentley Continental GTC, shown at  John Eagle European of Austin

On the northern outskirts of Austin, Texas sits John Eagle European Motorcars, a purveyor for Central Texas of most things British, including Lotus, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and Bentley. The Texas introduction of Bentley’s V8-powered Continental is our reason for a 3-hour drive from a Dallas suburb (in Hyundai’s new Elantra GT, no less), but the juxtaposition of high horsepower and Austin’s laidback demeanor is equally compelling. And while Bentley’s 2013 Continental GT and GTC may be the latest and greatest to hit the Hill Country highways, Continentals have been making news in Texas since LBJ was last seen behind the wheel of Lincoln’s 4-door convertible, carrying the same ‘Continental’ descriptive.

By his death in 1971 Walter Owen Bentley, the founder of Bentley Motorcars, would have surely been able to locate Austin, Texas on a map. We’re not sure, however, that W.O. would have seen it as a logical outpost for Bentley Motorcars. But then, Mr. Bentley, whose professional reputation was established through the design and development of aero engines during World War I, would not have envisioned a Bentley Motors under Volkswagen ownership. powered by twelve cylinders and propelled by all-wheel drive.

We’re told by Bentley’s President and COO, Christophe Georges, and John Eagle European’s dealer principal, Sonny Morgan, that Bentley sales are doing just fine in this Central Texas showroom. With Austin’s high-tech environment and entrepreneurial riches, any number of executives can contemplate a purchase that consumes most of a $200,000 draft. And while the Continental GT’s all-wheel drive may be lost on Austin’s perpetually dry roads and (essentially) one season, the sculpted sheetmetal and explosive power resonate in a society that is (often) both very high and very social.

We’ve been smitten by the Continental’s seductive appeal since doing a lap of southeast Texas several years ago. With an assist from racing icon Derek Bell we enjoyed the full-tilt rapture that was the then-new Continental’s masculine sheetmetal, rigid structure and surprisingly lithe chassis. At that time you could secure a Continental GT with any powertrain that you wanted as long as it was Bentley’s high-output W12. The W12 performed admirably, and remains available. But it’s a thirsty beast, and the times – even in the Texas Hill Country – are changing faster than a campaign position paper.

John Eagle has both GT coupe and GTC convertibles available, and in the absence of Derek Bell I’m teamed with Patrick George, a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. My most recent comparable is Hyundai’s aforementioned Elantra; for Patrick, it’s his Subaru WRX. To that end, Mr. George goes first in the GT V8, looking for a tight, almost tortuous little lane named Spicewood Springs Road. And while this “ain’t no Miata” (we try to employ the Texas vernacular whenever possible…) the Bentley proves more nimble than we remember it, probably due to the better weight distribution supplied by its lighter, more compact V8.

The loss of four cylinders doesn’t in anyway neuter the Continental’s performance. Boasting – as Texans are wont to do – 500 horsepower and 487 lb-ft of torque, the power is distributed via a new 8-speed automatic and what is described as a ‘state of the art’ all-wheel drive system. From zero, sixty miles-per-hour arrives in just 4.6 seconds, and if you have the space, testicular fortitude and bail money the speedo won’t stop ‘til you see 188 miles per hour. As we said, this ain’t no Miata…

The interior, with an Eliade cloth headliner, Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus veneers, (optional) two-tone leather and short center console fits the driver and front seat passenger perfectly. And while rear seat accommodation may be tighter than LBJ would have liked, his beagles – Him and Her – would have been positively pampered. We see the Continental GT as a personal 2+2, providing two couples with an incredible evening on the town; starting in Austin, the town could be Dallas, San Antonio or Corpus Christi.

Our afternoon romp was concluded with a few minutes – including a brief run at roughly 110 – in the GTC convertible. With a folding fabric top this is the more expressive variant, and doesn’t seem to lose any rigidity in the conversion. We’d prefer, however, the tight, more personal envelope of the GT. And with the $20K difference in price between a closed and open Continental we could get a Miata, fergawdsake.

On John Eagle European’s gallery-like showroom the Bentleys, Astons and Rollers look absolutely magnificent. But it’s the open roads of Texas – and a well-connected attorney – that make the argument for British build and high horsepower so compelling. W.O. might have been slow to catch on, but if Lyndon were alive he’d buy one in a minute. Lady Bird, we’d guess, would sit in back…making it Him, Her and her.