Way back when Bentley unveiled the 2011 Continental GT in September 2010, it mentioned that a V-8 version was on the way. The version was originally slated for a late-2011 debut but got bumped back to this month's 2012 North American International Auto Show.

For years, Bentley vehicles have been defined by the 12-cylinder engine, an engine that Bentley is still committed to even with the rise of more fuel-efficient paradigms. While the 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12-powered Continental GT is one of the least efficient cars on the road, Bentley did make some baby steps by equipping the latest iteration of the engine with flex-fuel capabilities. The current-generation W-12 puts out 567-hp and is able to run on traditional gas or E85 bioethanol.

The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine option provides the next step in Bentley's environmental strategy. According to the automaker's numbers, the engine increases fuel economy by 40 percent while offering 500-bhp and 487 lb-ft (660 Nm) of torque. Performance numbers dip slightly from the W-12 model, but a 4.6-second sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) and a top speed of 188 mph (303 km/h) shouldn't disappoint too many drivers. For reference, the W-12 model hits 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and tops out at 198 mph (319 km/h).

The new V-8 engine doesn't gain efficiency solely from less cylinders and lower displacement numbers, but also from its greater design. Bentley starts by cutting weight and maximizing engine efficiency to deliver better mileage. The automaker also uses cylinder deactivation technology, which cuts out the number of cylinders used when drivers are decelerating or driving at a steady speed. The system calculates up to 180 million instructions per second and can quickly cut the number of active cylinders in half during low-demand situations. When the driver accelerates, the engine quickly restores all eight cylinders to active duty and puts the full power of the V-8 at his toe-tips. According to Bentley, the cylinder deactivation process is seamless and undetectable by drivers.

Bentley will begin offering the V-8 option on both the Continental GT and Continental GTC this spring. The models will distinguish themselves from the W-12 variants with a few design elements, including a chrome-rimmed black grille, black mesh lower grill with distinctive "sharks' teeth" appearance, figure eight tailpipes and a new red Bentley B emblem. Bentley hasn't released prices, but has indicated that the models will be slightly less expensive than the W-12 versions.

The automaker is confident that having a V-8 engine option will attract new buyers to its vehicles, helping to further increase global sales, which were up by 37 percent last year. Specifically, it sees the type of buyer that would typically go for high-performance sports cars and supercars from marques like Ferrari being swayed into Bentley showrooms by the less expensive but plenty sporty V-8 option.