Shuffling through the press of late-afternoon San Francisco traffic in a 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 convertible I rub my thumbs across the hand-stitching on the inside rim of the leather-wrapped steering wheel because it feels good. With little else to do as traffic stands still, I brush my hand across the supple Imperial Blue leather that not only upholsters the seats but also the door panels, dashboard, and other nooks and crannies. That feels good too. I move to the Charisma drive mode controller, the volume and tuning knobs, and even the wiper stalk and feel their knurled aluminum edges. Again, they feel good. And when traffic finally opens up, I kick the throttle to the floor to feel the rush of 542 British-tuned turbocharged horses because, damn, that feels good.

It sounds good, too.

The 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 coupe and convertible are the less-expensive but hardly less-capable versions of the redesigned Continental that made its debut as a 2019 model. Instead of a 626-hp W-12 under the hood, they feature a Porsche-sourced and Bentley-tuned twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 that conjures up 542 hp and 568 pound-feet of torque.

Like they do in the Porsche Panamera and Cayenne, those turbos sit between the engine’s cylinder banks, where the exhaust gases have a shorter path to provide their boost and the turbos can scroll up quicker. With a 7,000-rpm redline, which is impossible to reach in San Francisco rush hour, it’s the highest-revving Bentley engine ever. That may not be the achievement it’s cracked up to be. After all, 12-cylinder engines outside of the small-displacement Formula One powerplants of the 1980s and ’90s aren’t known for high revs and Bentley is a brand whose other V-8, the Mulsanne’s 6.75-liter torque monster, maxes out at a diesel-like 4,500 rpm.

I don’t need to max out the revs to tap into the power, though. The V-8 makes its peak torque as low as 1,960 rpm and keeps it on the burner until 4,500 rpm. That provides more than enough scoot to quickly shoot through the gap while the tech exec next to me is looking at his phone when traffic finally starts to move.

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

Valley car

It hasn’t been all brake lights and high blood pressure. The trip began in Napa Valley and wound its way through some of the best driving roads in America.

I cycled through two Continentals along the way, a Silver Storm GT V8 coupe and this Jetstream II (baby blue) GT V8 convertible. Both cars take about 88 pounds off the nose compared to the 626-hp, W-12-powered Contis, and both weigh as much as 176 pounds less due to a shorter list of standard equipment.

It’s that weight on the nose that made the difference in Napa, aiding turn-in response and creating a lighter, nimbler feel. The engine’s position in the new chassis helps, too. The Continental was redesigned for the 2019 model year, and the first car to hit the market was the W-12 coupe. Next up was the W-12 convertible, and now both body styles get the V-8. They all use an aluminum-intensive Volkswagen Group architecture called MSB. Shared with the Porsche Panamera and Cayenne, MSB moves the front axle forward 5.3 inches, which creates shorter overhangs, a longer “prestige mass” between the A-pillars and front wheel openings, and an engine position that is set back so far the front axle passes through the engine’s sump.

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

Sports coupe performance

On my journey, which began among the Napa’s 420 vineyards, tracked along the Pacific Ocean, and twisted under Central California’s redwood trees—and traveled through at least three different climates along the way—the wide and heavy Continental GT V8 coupe handled like a smaller car. Bentley’s claims of supercar performance are overstated, but the Conti can claim the prowess of a sports coupe or sport sedan.

Aided by the body’s stiff structure, three-chamber air springs, and adjustable dampers with three levels of stiffness, the 4,773-pound coupe sliced along the serpentine roads, its Escalade-like 86.1-inch width the only drawback on the often-narrow lanes. Moreover, the Dynamic Ride System, which is optional on the V-8 models and standard on W-12s, helped the luxurious monster defy physics. Enabled by a 48-volt system, the active set of anti-roll bars fought the car’s desire to lean in turns, and it has a lot of it with all that width.??

With the Charisma drive mode controller (because that’s what you have when you drive a Bentley, charisma) in Sport mode, the Conti GT V8 added a measure of refined aggression. The engine and 8-speed dual-clutch transmission may come from Porsche, but the shifts aren’t as abrupt as Porsche’s Sport mode and they certainly don’t jolt like Porsche’s Sport+. The engine also isn’t as loud and doesn’t make as many uncouth noises. Sure, Sport brings the engine note forward and triggers some bwaps and muffled exhaust overrun between gears, but that’s the righteous spirit of a gentlemanly British luxury car with a sporting history, not the vulgar bark of an overly angry sports car.

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

This British athlete won’t be cowed in a sprint, either. Put the pedal to the plush, embroidered carpet, and the Conti V8 will rush from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, just 0.3 seconds slower than its W-12 counterpart. The acceleration is thrilling. Torque comes on quickly, gear changes are refined, and the car tops out at 198 mph.

I got some twisty time in the Jetstream II convertible, too, and the dynamic experience was almost as stirring as it was in the coupe. Continental Vehicle Line Director Peter Guest told Motor Authority that cutting the top off a coupe robs the body of 80 percent of its structural rigidity. However, Bentley put in copious effort to make up for it. Engineers reinforced the side sills, added a shear panel beneath the rear end, beefed up the A-pillars, added an extra crossmember front and rear, and increased the amount of structure under the floor in the area of the B-pillars. These measures, plus the mechanism for the beautiful power-folding top that opens or closes in 19 seconds at up to 30 mph, add more than 350 pounds to the car, but the reinforcements recover about two-thirds of the lost stiffness due to the missing top, according to Guest.

On the road, it was hard to tell the difference between the coupe and convertible on smooth roads and gentle curves. Rough roads—which the Continental smothers very well despite low-profile 21- and 22-inch wheels—revealed a bit of cowl shake, and a softer tune for the suspension means the droptop doesn’t carve sharp corners as precisely as the coupe. The 0-60-mph time is also a tenth slower at 4.0 seconds due to the extra weight. However, there’s nothing quite like top-down driving, and the thick cloth roof shuts out noise as well as the last version of the coupe—and that’s bloody damn well.

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8

Luxury living

Both cars I drove had basically the same interior: single-tone Imperial Blue leather with "C?tes de Genève" ribbed aluminum trim. One car had piano black trim as well, while the other had dark burled walnut. The look for both was truly spectacular, but I found it less adventurous than I would prefer. It strikes me that much of the fun of buying a Bentley is picking out the paint and interior colors. While I liked the blue leather, I’d choose a two-tone pattern and opt for Linen (white) as the contrast color. It pops more, and those colors work great with the attractive baby blue of the Jetstream II color. Then again, the Alpine Green, Dragon Red, and Orange Flame coupes also called out to me, and I’d enjoy choosing a different two-tone leather for each, then deciding on the multiple wood and/or aluminum carbon-fiber trims. The possibilities are nearly endless.

If I had the means, I’d check the box for the V-8 as well. The 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 starts at $198,500 for the coupe and $218,550 for the convertible compared to $214,600 and $236,100 for their W-12 counterparts. I'd go with the V8 coupe (for its stiffer structure) and save the $16,000 but spend the $5,000 or so for the Dynamic Ride Control active roll bars. If only I could afford a $200,000 luxury sport coupe, I bet that would feel good, too.

Bentley provided travel and airfare to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.