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Test Drive: 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8

Need more proof that the world of today is not the one you grew up in?

The Bentley Continental GT now comes with a V8 engine.

I know, it’s devastating news, and I share your pain, but only because it’s not really all that bad.

Since it effectively created the modern two-and-a-half-ton uber-luxury sports coupe segment in 2003, the GT has been powered solely by a string of 6.0-liter W12-cylinder engines, twin-turbocharged to no less than 552 hp and often much more than that.

But even lofty chariots like this one cannot outrun the long arm of government regulators set on keeping more carbon in the ground than the air. So, after trimming a few pounds from the GT last year to improve fuel economy, its engineers stayed at the drawing board and came up with their version of an economy car engine.

In this case, that’d be an all-new 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 featuring direct fuel injection and cylinder deactivation technology that can turn it into a V4 at times when that’ll do. With a maximum output of 500 hp, you can get away with that sort of thing.

It’s not like they were going to throw the baby out with the champagne bath, but combined with an 8-speed automatic transmission, lower rolling resistance tires and a few aerodynamic tweaks, the still very potent motor is good for a fuel efficiency improvement over the W12 of more than 25 percent, with highway mileage increasing from 19 mpg to 24 mpg.

That’ll save you about $1,000 each year at the pumps on fuel. With a starting price of $176,275, $19,250 grand cheaper than the 12-cylinder model, the GT V8 is actually something of a steal – in the Thomas Crown league.

This is even more so when you realize that the powertrain is the only major difference between the two cars. Aside from red badges, unique front air intake design and a black lower valance at the rear housing tailpipes cheekily-shaped like the number eight, there’s little that your spendy friends will be able to hold over you. To throw them a bone, Bentley went so far as to add somewhat gauche W12 badges to the front fenders of 12-cylinder models as a mark of (now arguably dubious) distinction.

The cabins are nearly identical, too, save for the addition of a unique Fiddleback Eucalyptus wood veneer on the options list -- because when you think V8 you think Fiddleback! At least someone, somewhere does.

The GT V8 still has all-wheel-drive and rides on an active air suspension, but its weight is trimmed 80 pounds and its distribution is improved. A convertible model is also available. The sound of the car is enhanced by an asymmetric exhaust system designed to maintain a Churchillian burble and roar regardless of how many cylinders are firing at any given time.

But after a few laps of a racetrack, where the big brute proved to be surprisingly capable, and 100-mile highway drive home, I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed with the sum result. I wish they’d swung the ax even harder.

Perhaps it’s my middle class background, but I enjoy a car that feels like it’s working, at least a little. Owners will never actually take a GT V8 to the track, and on public roads it is as invincible as any other model in the Continental line. You barely need to even think about the accelerator pedal and your driver’s license is in jeopardy, the full allotment of 487 lb-ft of torque available at just 1,700 rpm.

The many gears of the transmission don’t help matters, because unless you have your foot to the floor - which never lasts very long in a car that can get from a dead stop to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds – they keep the revs so low that you’d need Seaman Jones from “The Hunt for Red October” to even detect the engine’s presence. The convertible version helps a little in this regard, allowing you to occasionally hear the exhaust note when the top is down, but with the many layered roof closed it’s practically as quiet as the coupe.

These kinds of characteristics are of course the very reasons why the black credit card crowd has chosen the Continental GT as its official daily driver, so my desires matter very little. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine that after driving the V8 any of them would be left pining for those four extra cylinders, and twenty grand is a lot to pay for bragging rights.

At least for me.

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2013 Bentley Continental GT V8

Base Price: $176,275

Type: 2-door, 4-passenger coupe or convertible

Engine: 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8

Power: 500 hp, 487 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

MPG: 15 city/24 hwy (coupe)