As I click into third gear and unwind the car into a stretch of glassy asphalt, my forearms and shoulders relax. It’s a good moment to take in the surroundings. Cascades plunge over mountain tops as if rivers were suspended in the clouds. Expanses of birch and spruce tumble down hillsides into fjords speckled with homes and farms. Norway’s Atlantic Coast is one striking panorama after another, and Vestlandet can feel both warm (its people) and remote (its region), not dissimilar from America’s own North. The entire experience of taking it in feels almost rendered, a state of heightened nature — especially when you’re hauling ass.
As I gain speed in the Bentley Continental GT V8 S and Western Norway turns to a Monet blur of green and blue, I refocus my attention on the task at hand. The path that Bentley has prepared will take us up a rolling ascent cut through snowdrifts towards the Trollstigen Road — a stunning, technical series of steeply graded switchbacks carved into a craggy alp. It’s neither friendly nor accommodating to wide cars, timid drivers and understeer.
Heaps have been written about the Bentley Continental’s design and dynamics, both here (and here and here) and elsewhere. In brief, though, Bentley has kept the modern Continental’s design stubbornly virtuous to its roots. Rightfully so, too. The bombastic fascia, confident haunches and a resolute stance are unmistakeable on the road. As the Continental has aged on, Bentley has crafted new driving experiences by expanding the lineup to a total of 10 models, ranging from the Malibu-ready Continental GT Convertible to the track brute GT3-R. The strategy is similar to its distant cousin (in-law), the Porsche 911.
Continental GT V8 S
Engine: 4-liter V8
Transmission: eight-speed ZF Quickshift
Torque: 502 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds
Top Speed: 192 mph
Continental GT Speed
Engine: 6-liter W12
Transmission: eight-speed ZF Quickshift
Torque: 607 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4 seconds
Top Speed: 206 mph
For 2016, Bentley has imbued the Continental with a series of minor revisions, including a crisper fascia, handsome new directional wheel options and more pronounced fenders, and there’s a bit of late-model peacocking evident in Bentley’s bold new colors (our favorite: Spectre) and brightwork cues. The chrome isn’t our favorite — it feels a bit like gilding the lily, but I’m comfortable just blaming that on the new prospers of the Asian market.
Whereas the W12 can feel like a locomotive, endless but steady power, the V8 S drives with gusto, swift and sweet.
In Norway, what matters most to me is the utterly sublime and raucous 521 horsepower V8 that I’m feathering along the Atlantic Ocean Road. For a nearly 5,100-pound car, the V8 S drives with athleticism. It’s a sensation aided by two things: all 502 lb-ft of torque arriving at just 1,700 rpm, and the breathtakingly priced $20,000 sports package, which includes equally breathtaking eight-piston carbon-ceramic brakes and exhaust. These allow the Continental to stop and sound with circumstance. Whereas the W12 can feel like a locomotive, endless but steady power, the V8 S drives with gusto, swift and sweet.
As the miles tick on, I remember something I noted to myself several years ago. Bentleys tend to provide an experience unique to themselves. The imperfections of driving — alongside any doses of reality — tend to vanish when you’re behind the wheel. This is a $250,000 car, after all. But in a Bentley there’s a natural ease and comfort. The Continental GT is fast, heavy and wide, but it’s also placable and, when you want it, happy to let some fire and brimstone loose on command. Every oomph of brawn comes with an equal measure of British refinement — it’s worth noting that Bentley’s factory in Crewe has become the center of excellence for their parent Volkswagen Group’s 12-cylinder engine — and from the impossible luster of Bentley’s paint right down to the interior’s knurled control knobs, you get the sense that the folks at Bentley really have figured out how to blend robotic precision with hand craftsmanship.
There’s relentless engineering where you need it, and a bit of human ferocity where you want it. That’s the point. A grand tourer’s purpose is ultimately a heightened conveyance, a way to experience the road ahead in the best way possible. As I turn my attention back to Norway’s Atlantic Ocean Road, landscapes turn to blur and I let loose the V8’s throaty bellow. The roads, leather and soundtrack blur in the old, familiar, damned wonderful way of a Bentley.