DETROIT – Ultra-luxury auto maker Bentley is thinking smaller by introducing models with V-8 engines at the North American International Auto Show.

V-8s are the biggest engines most auto makers offer. But Bentley is the world’s largest producer of 12-cyl. powertrains, including a 6.0L twin-turbo version.   

“The W-12 will continue – it is, in fact, a core competency of Bentley – and we will develop this engine further,” says Wolfgang Durheimer, CEO of Bentley Motors, a Volkswagen unit.

But the Continental GT and new Continental GTC convertible with V-8s are intended to expand the customer base, Alasdair Stewart, Bentley’s sales and marketing chief, tells WardsAuto.

“It gives us a chance to introduce new customers to Bentley, with the hope that current customers will continue with the W-12,” he says.

Bentley hopes to win over current owners of Aston Martins and Maseratis, he says. “In addition to conquest customers, we expect the V-8 will attract high net-worth individuals looking for tremendous value.”

Bentley has yet to announce the Continental V-8 price but it will run about 10% less than a $194,000 W-12 model, Stewart says.

The new car goes on sale in the spring.

Bentley is pitching fuel efficiency and power. “It can travel over 500 (804 km) miles on a single tank and at the same time get 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds,” Durheimer says.

The 4.0L twin-turbo engine produces 500 hp and 487 lb.-ft. (660 Nm) of torque. Its top speed is 188 mph (302 km).

Unique in a V-8, the turbochargers are positioned within the “V” to reduce weight, he says. “But perhaps the most groundbreaking technology of all is variable displacement: deactivating cylinders when not needed.”

Bentley first used that technology in 2010 for the flagship Mulsanne.

At cruising speeds, the engine-management system closes down valves in four cylinders “so that they act merely as springs,” Durheimer says. “Press on the throttle, however, and the engine seamlessly roars back to full capacity.”        

The new additions bring Bentley’s lineup to nine models. The auto maker had its best year in 2007 with sales of 10,016 units. Deliveries dropped to 4,600 units in 2009. Bentley finished 2011 with sales of 7,003 cars, a 37% increase from the year before.

The U.S. continues as Bentley’s No.1 market with sales of 2,021 units last year, a 33% increase. China is No.2, with sales nearly doubling to a record 1,839 models.

Because of economic issues, the U.K. home market “proved to be extremely challenging over the past months,” Durheimer says.

Bentley and Rolls-Royce epitomize British super-luxury car making, but Stewart says the two companies aren’t really rivals.

“We have clearly different positions,” he says. “Rolls-Royce is more about sitting in the back of your chauffeur-driven car; Bentley is more about driving your car. We may compete for funds, but we don’t otherwise look at ourselves as competitors.”

He also notes Bentley outsold Rolls 2-to-1 in 2011.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com