A brief history of Bentley’s famous W12 engine
The engine has always been the heart of what a Bentley is about. Even early models from the British brand were named after the engines themselves.
But as Bentley increasingly turns its focus to electrified models it is waving goodbye to some of its most popular engines, and now it is the turn of the famous W12, with production to cease in April next year after more than 100,000 have been produced at its factory in Crewe.
We take a look back at the history of the W12 and some of the star cars it has featured in.
2003 – W12 debuts in Bentley’s Continental GT
Though it is Bentley that is famed for the W12 engine, it actually featured first in models from Volkswagen Group – Bentley’s owner – with the first production car powered by a W12 being the Audi A8 in 2001. Volkswagen’s Phaeton saloon and Touareg SUV were available with it.
But Bentley made it extra special by creating its own version in 2003 for the Continental GT. It was the first model devised under Volkswagen ownership, and also what Bentley classes as its “first all-new” model since it started making cars in 1919.
The W12 is essentially two narrow V6 engines on a common crankshaft. Featuring two turbochargers, the original Continental GT packed 550bhp.
2008 – Greater ‘Speed’ provided
The 2008 Continental GT Speed certainly lived up to its name with a tweaked version of the W12 thanks to changes such as new pistons, better cooling and a new engine management system.
This took the power up to 600bhp, which pushed the Speed above the 200mph threshold for the time, maxing out at 202mph.
2011 – Supersports turns up the heat even more
In 2011 Bentley took the W12 up another level with the Continental GT Supersports. A revised engine management system and improved airflow increased the power output to 621bhp.
The Supersports started life as an under-the-radar project at Bentley, which looked to explore what reducing the weight of the Continental GT could do to its performance. The firm followed it through, and with a host of weight-saving measures, including lighter ceramic brakes and the removal of rear seats, it shaved 110kg from the model’s weight.
2015 – Upgraded W12 engine debuts in Bentley’s first SUV
Until now, Bentley’s W12 had only featured in the Continental GT and the four-door Flying Spur saloon, but a big switch came in 2016 with the introduction of the Bentayga as Bentley’s first SUV.
The 4×4 introduced an all-new version of the W12. Switching between direct and indirect fuel injection, it also had the ability to shut down half the engine so it could run on six cylinders for greater efficiency.
2017 – Third-generation Continental GT launched
Though a second-generation Continental GT was introduced in 2011, it was little more than a facelift, so it was big news when the third-generation Continental GT was introduced in 2017.
Sticking with the 6.0-litre W12, it was enhanced further, with the power taken up to 626bhp as a result. A new dual-clutch automatic gearbox was also used.
2018 – Bentayga SUV takes Pikes Peak victory
If there was anywhere you would not expect to see a Bentayga SUV, it was at the Pikes Peak hill climb in Colorado, but that is exactly where Bentley went in 2018, where it took the record for a production SUV.
The competition car featured the same 600bhp W12 engine as the rest of the Bentayga range, with only light modifications to the rest of the vehicle. The firm went on to create a limited edition production model, featuring the same bright green paintwork.
2019 – Bentley takes another Pikes Peak victory with W12 engine
Bentley returned to Pikes Peak again a year later with the Continental GT – again with a stock-engine W12 model.
The fettled model took the record for a production car up the hill climb and again it helped to spawn a limited-edition version.
2020 – Bespoke W12-powered Bacalar takes Bentley to a new level
Bentley has a long history of coachbuilding cars and producing highly limited models, and it returned to that with its Mulliner division in 2020. The result was the striking Bacalar.
Limited to 12 bespoke examples, the Bacalar featured a more advanced version of the W12, with power taken up to 650bhp. This engine went on to be used in the latest Continental GT Speed.
2023 – Engine has final outing in limited-run Batur
Bentley has confirmed that the W12 will be discontinued in April 2024, but it is set for a very special final outing before production ceases – a mighty send-off with the Batur.
Another limited-run Mulliner car, following on from the Bacalar, just 18 will be produced, with Bentley confirming it will use its most powerful W12 engine to date – putting out a mighty 740bhp.