In order to provide its range of luxury barges with a more fuel-efficient option, last year Bentley Motors unveiled a V8-powered version of its landmark Continental GT. This year the Crewe team ups the ante with the performance variant V8 S Coupé and Convertible, stunning $200K Grand Tourers that can spiral towards $275K if you let your indulgences soar. We were invited to testdrive the V8 S on a drive from San Diego to Palm Springs to Orange County and back, in order to fully understand the Bentley Experience — both on the road and off. We took full advantage. 

Some of the best adventures start the strangest ways. We had just been driving out of Palm Springs and heading towards Dana Point — the tony Orange County beach community best known for the Ritz-Carlton sprawled across its beachside bluffs — when we hit a snag. Or rather, a full-on bramble wall: gridlock. Not one of those rolling-around-at-5-mph traffic jams, mind you, this was the kind of molasses gridlock where you see a truck planted on the side of the road with a giant sign warning of an upcoming accident. Only now the overflow of stopped traffic had already stacked past the truck and its blinking sign, rendering the message moot.

That’s when the GPS woke out of its stupor and told us to look south. “Take the service road to your left,” the detached voice suggested through the speakers. Normally I pay attention to my GPS, but ours had been woefully troubled since we’d left the Viceroy Hotel about an hour earlier. Its blue line of direction on the 8” display shooting from left to right, circling up behind us and aiming off screen to no place in particular. My driving partner Che and I had already dismissed its suggestions as the drunken ramblings of a barstool prophet, so we were both shocked when we looked left and actually saw a small road ducking up behind a hill.

“Could it possibly be talking about that road?” Che asked dubiously, noticing the ‘No Trespassing’ sign, unlocked gate and crumbling asphalt. “It looks like something out of Dukes of Hazzard.”

I pulled off to the shoulder to have a better look, and our heads ping-ponged from left to right, heavily contemplating the suggested “service road” versus the colon blockage we were currently mired in. “OK, let’s see what satnav can tell us,” I said swiping on the crisp touchscreen display, noticing this small road indeed did cut across a wide swath of earth, delivering us onto another highway some 12 miles away.

“Well, you win some you lose some,” said Che, coining an aphorism that would become the mantra of our three-day adventure. So we aimed the nose of the glimmering Kingfisher blue Bentley V8 S towards the service road, and when there was a break in oncoming traffic we sped across, making good use of the V8 S’s 502 lb.ft of torque and roared up into the suspect byway. Not one minute into our detour a nagging doubt crept in as the road quickly devolved from potholed asphalt to what would generously be called graded dirt.

Continue reading LIAS Bentley V8 S GT Convertible Testdrive after the Jump…

“On straights we teased the throttle, spurring the specially tuned V8 to woof its throaty bark down the valley below us, bouncing from hill to wrinkled hill…”

Surely this was not what the fine English gentlemen at Bentley Motors had in mind when they plotted our journey of opulence, meant to impart in us what they referred to esoterically as the Bentley Experience. Only a couple hours prior I had been face down at the Viceroy’s Estrella Spa, the scent of lavender and mint oils hanging in the air as a young masseuse worked out my kinks to a soundtrack of Mozart’s 21st Piano Concerto. Last night perfectly grilled steaks smothered in Argentinian chimichurri were served poolside along with bottles of pinot noir from Paso Robles. The night before that I slumbered in a casita larger than my house at the five-star, 45-acre Rancho Valencia resort outside San Diego. The bed was made from the dreams of a thousand unicorns.

So taking their AWD GT convertible through some glorified cow path certainly was about as far from the “Bentley Experience” as one could possibly imagine — and Bentley execs could possibly fear. Only, it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened.

Up we zoomed along that one-lane road, alternating between patches of broken tar, gravel and dirt. Even though we were hours outside of Los Angeles, there are normally houses or developments in these parts. But not here. No, we were driving through the wide expanse of what we’d later find out to be a gigantic ranch, and our suspicions of this being a cow path were soon to be confirmed as well.

The only distraction occupying our minds was getting to our next checkpoint at the Ritz-Carlton in time. Considering our unexpected and winding detour, getting to Dana Point in the prescribed timeframe seemed all but impossible. But the Bentley V8 S handled the road with British elegance, softening our mood. Any six-figure car should feel smooth riding along a glassy stretch of black asphalt, but this Continental GT wafted across rain gullies like it was rumbling over autumn leaves. The self-leveling air suspension, which has actually been lowered and stiffened for the S over the base V8 GT, was still terminally smooth. Crewe engineers carefully tuned the suspension to increase response and engagement for the driver, but as we were finding out it wasn’t at the expense of the critically plush Bentley Experience.

The handsome, Bauhaus-ian profile of the Bentley V8 S GT Convertible…

After a couple minutes of joyous driving all doubt and anxiety were erased, and in its place the serenity of our splendid environment seeped in. The road, albeit cracked and patchy, was only ours to enjoy. The balmy 70-degree desert climate was pitch perfect for the droptop, which allowed us to take in the full view of our heightened perspective in comfort. On straights we teased the throttle, spurring the specially tuned V8 to woof its throaty bark down the valley below us, bouncing from wrinkled hill to wrinkled hill. Despite Bentley’s goal of efficiency for its smaller displacement GT — which boasts an eye-raising 26.8 mpg and 500-mile range on a single tank — their V8 is nothing to dismiss. With 550 horsepower and a growl that edges on menacing, if not straight vindictive, the V8 S manages to marry a green inclination with a checkered flag ferocity. This is, after all, a 5,500-lb behemoth that can still sprint to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and top out at a blurring speed of 191 mph (4.3 seconds and 192 in Coupé form). That’s faster, and quicker, than the much smaller Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet.

Then we reached the summit, metaphorically and literally, and we slipped the car into park. Letting the engine purr we temporarily removed ourselves from the leather-wrapped interior and looked around, taking in the great vantage our crest offered. It seemed all the world was below us, California unfolding from this elevated point outwards, rolling out towards the Pacific and the shimmering pools of the Ritz-Carlton just beyond the horizon. Suddenly, getting to the gilded terrace of the Ritz no longer seemed as important. Being right there on that hill, right then at that moment — enjoying the golden afternoon sunlight, the warm desert breeze, and the gleaming blue Bentley resting like a sapphire on that rocky crown of rolling grass — it was clear we had already arrived.

“At that moment, it was clear we had already arrived…”

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