Bentley is replacing its W12 engine with a plug-in hybrid, and let’s try it

Enlarge / After building almost 100,000 W12-powered Bentley Continental GTs, the brand is switching to a plug-in powertrain.

Jonathan Gitlin

BARCELONA—The days of big movers are numbered, even for big spenders. Owning a GT that lets you drive around Europe in a day in pampered luxury means very little if, after all, you’re not allowed to drive it to the city you need to visit. Low-emission zones are a reality or on the way in many of the most desirable urban zip codes, and even here in the US we’re about to start getting pretty strict on fuel efficiency. That’s why Bentley is saying goodbye to its W12-powered Continental GT Speed ​​and replacing it with a new plug-in hybrid.

The W12 engine has become a kind of Bentley trademark in the 21st century. For many years, Bentleys were essentially distinctively designed Rolls-Royces, while both companies were owned by aircraft manufacturer Vickers. But the VW group took control of Bentley in 1998 (BMW acquired Rolls-Royce) and it was time for something new.

Originally developed within the Volkswagen Group parent company for use in the all-aluminum Audi A8, the W12 design essentially combined a pair of narrow-angle V6 engines like those used in the Golf VR6 to create a compact and powerful multi-cylinder engine for those customers looking for a powertrain a little less common than a V8.

The first Bentley Continental appeared in 1952. All Continental GTs of the 21st century have returned to the style of this car.
Enlarge / The first Bentley Continental appeared in 1952. All Continental GTs of the 21st century have returned to the style of this car.

Jonathan Gitlin

The first W12-powered Bentley was the Continental GT, a car that drew inspiration from Bentley’s archives to create a thoroughly modern two-door coupe capable of transporting four adults at up to 200 mph (321 km/h). That car debuted in 2003, and since then, the Continental GT has proven to be a success: the company has sold nearly 100,000 so far.

Bentley aims to become the world’s most sustainable luxury carmaker, investing in a new paint shop and other improvements at its factory in Crewe, England, to help make that happen. Switching the Continental GT Speed ​​to a plug-in powertrain is another step, and the company is proud to achieve a WLTP rating of 36 g/CO2 per mile for the new car.

While the plug-in hybrid powertrain is new for Bentley, we have already encountered this combination of 4.0L turbocharged V8 and electric motor in the new Porsche Panamera. (Yes, in the 21st century, Bentley still has to share toys with his stablemates.) Combined power is a mammoth 771 hp (575 kW) and 737 lb-ft (1,000 Nm), capable of launching this Bentley from a standstill to 62,100 km/h (mph) in just 3.2 seconds. Power and torque reach all four wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.

On its own, the V8, which uses single-scroll turbochargers for each bank of its V, produces 584 hp (435 kW) and 590 lb-ft (800 Nm). The electric motor, which is mounted between the engine and the dual-clutch transmission, provides 188 hp (140 kW) and up to 332 lb-ft (450 Nm). The GT Speed’s lithium-ion drive battery has the same 25.9 kWh capacity as that of the Panamera and is here located above the rear axle for better weight distribution.

The blacked out graphics are intended to prevent the viewer from seeing the styling changes that have been made between the third and fourth generation Bentley Continental GTs.
Enlarge / The blacked out graphics are intended to prevent the viewer from seeing the styling changes that have been made between the third and fourth generation Bentley Continental GTs.

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Bentley isn’t set to show off the fourth-generation Continental GT until late June, so I can’t tell you anything about what it looks like when it’s not covered in a camouflage wrap until then. The fact that the cars were still prototypes explains why we were also not allowed to drive them on the road, only on the Castelloli circuit, a rather interesting track with 12 corners, many elevation changes and even a junction.

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