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Why Bentley is dropping its iconic W12 engine for a V8 hybrid

by News7

We drove the fourth-generation Continental GT fitted with a new V8 that offers 750+ horsepower and 50 miles of all-electric range. 

Posted on May 28, 2024 7:00 PM EDT

The 2025 Bentley Continental GT is now powered by a V8 hybrid setup with 50 miles of all-electric range. Kristin Shaw/Popular Science

After building more than 100,000 W12s since 2002, Bentley ceased production of its iconic engine in April. With an eye on sustainability, the British brand planned to retrain and redeploy the 30 W12 specialists and focus on its new V8 and V6 hybrid powertrains.

Each Bentley engine is handbuilt, as it has been since the beginning of the company’s history more than a century ago. The automaker has established a legacy on its power and brawn, with high-end cars that fulfill the desires of deep-pocketed customers. Like its countrymate and competitor Rolls-Royce, Bentley is now headed toward electrification, and it all starts with the fourth-generation Continental GT.

The coupe, now fitted with a 771 horsepower V8 hybrid powertrain, can deliver up to 50 miles of all-electric range and an impressive 737 pound-feet of torque. Its unique growl is all natural, and while the hybrid setup is certainly different from the W12, it retains the effortless acceleration one would expect from a vehicle that starts at a quarter of a million dollars. 

This is how this ultra-luxury brand made the switch.

Built in the “Dream Factory”

One hundred and fifty-eight miles northwest of London, the Bentley Motors team has been crafting powerful cars in Crewe since the facility was built in the mid-1940s. Within those walls, Bentley designed, developed, and built the Continental GT, launching it in 2003. That first Continental GT was powered by a six-liter twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine in a W formation.

“Truthfully, it’s closer to a V12 than a traditional W, using only two sets of camshafts, but the staggered cylinder bores in the blocks and heads created two minuscule 15-degree Vs, adding up to one sort-of W,” says Ethan Jupp of Goodwood (the organization that hosts the Goodwood Festival of Speed). The benefit? “It was more compact in length than a conventional V12 and was spectacularly smooth.”

Bentley invested nearly $45 million in a new quality and engineering center at the Crewe location and broke ground nearly a year ago. The “Dream Factory” is part of the automaker’s $3.2 billion, 10-year plan to become carbon neutral by 2030, which includes the brand’s very first battery-electric vehicle in 2026.

“I’m personally a big fan of the 12-cylinder engine but the new eight-cylinder is a better engine,” Matthias Rabe, Bentley board member for R&D told me. “It’s a very emotional, all-natural sound. It’s very responsive, enhanced by using electric power, and it’s extremely powerful. That was important, to keep the [Bentley] character.”

Track tested

I tested the new Continental GT at the Circuit Parcmotor Castellolí outside of Barcelona, Spain. With Bentley Director of R&D Vehicle Motion Bentley Motors Markus Thiel in the passenger seat to direct me around the track, I navigated the turns and straightaways with caution at first, then picking up speed with each leg. 

We started in Bentley mode, which sets up the car for all-electric power, then progressed to Sport mode, and finished in Comfort mode. Sport mode, which also regenerates the battery, unlocks all of the engine’s power and gives the Bentley wings; I felt the familiar rumble that the coupe has always promised. Comfort mode is made for cruising, which is what a Grand Tourer is meant to do. 

Bentley is moving toward electrification, with its first battery-electric vehicle scheduled for 2026. Meanwhile, the Continental GT’s hybrid engine is a solid step. Image: Kristin Shaw/Popular Science

The 2025 Continental GT was built with 50/50 balance, Rabe says. As the weight of the car is evenly distributed between the front and rear axles, the coupe’s handling is designed to be superb. It also improves wear patterns on the tires. Bentley Head of Vehicle Dynamics Richard Haycox says the twin-valve damper system is the chassis’ secret weapon, providing a greater envelope of calibration without compromise. In essence, that means the dampers (or shocks, as we tend to call them more often in North America) work together at each corner of the vehicle to improve the compression and rebound ratios. As a result, the ride feels even more cushioned than the previous single-damper structure. All of that is calibrated carefully with code, Haycox says, and the calibration possibilities are infinite with tiny adjustments. 

I told Thiel that it still felt very planted, even in the rain. That’s exactly the point, he responded. 

“This car is a daily driver, and it might rain sometimes,” Thiel said. “The idea is to give you the feeling that it’s safe, cocooned, stable, and controlled.” 

Near the end of my final lap, the clouds that had threatened to burst open all morning finally gave way, and I went around once more to cool down the brakes. This is when the Continental GT’s all-wheel drive setup really showed its capability, gripping the surface as if each roll of the tires renewed sticky glue that held it in place. 

The stickiness is due to the new co-developed Pirelli P Zero tires and torque vectoring, which applies force to each wheel depending on detected grip and traction. Thiel says the rubber shoes were designed to bear the weight of the new coupe, which is naturally heavy as a hybrid. Plus, the tires have to enhance range with low rolling resistance.

“The tire has a big impact on the whole system and the behavior,” Thiel said. 

The new Continental GT will be revealed to the world without its camouflage at the end of June. Stay tuned for more.

Built in Crewe in the U.K., Bentley’s newest vehicle will make its global debut in late June. Image: Kristin Shaw/Popular Science

Source : Popular Science

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