2015 Bentley Continental GT3-R First Drive
The Nearest Thing You Can Buy Today to a Genuine Racing Bentley
The road wriggles left-right-left as you charge up the hill. Your left foot squeezes the metal-finished brake pedal as the fingertips of your left hand pull once, twice on the downshift paddle. The twin-turbo V-8 barks as your left foot starts to come off the brake and you begin to pull the grippy, suede-trimmed steering wheel to the left. Bam! The big white coupe lunges instantly for the apex, just like that. You're back on the gas for a heartbeat or two before dabbing the brake and swinging the steering wheel to the right. Bam! There's the second apex. Gas, brake, steer. Bam! The third. And as the 2015 Bentley Continental GT3-R storms up the hill, you're grinning ear to ear at the sheer incongruity of it all. No car this big, this heavy, should feel this agile.
The Bentley Continental GT3-R celebrates the storied British brand's reentry into the world of international sports car racing. It shares its engine and color scheme with the race car developed by Bentley to compete in the fast-growing GT3 category alongside race-face Porsche 911s, Ferrari 458s, Nissan GT-Rs, Mercedes SLSs, Aston Martin V12 Vantages, etc. "That's good company to keep," says Bentley's director of motorsport, Brian Gush, who oversaw the development of both the GT3 racer and the GT3-R road car at Bentley's headquarters in Crewe, England.
The 572 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque of the GT3-R's 4.0-liter V-8 is 72 hp and 29 lb-ft more than the engine develops in the regular Continental GT V8, and other than the placement of the twin turbochargers (in the vee rather than on the outside of each cylinder bank) the only real difference between it and the GT3 race engine is the mapping of the engine management system. Crankshaft, connecting rods, and pistons are identical. "The engine's quite new in development terms," says Gush, a genial South African who collects and races vintage motocross bikes. "There's plenty left in it."
While the Bentley GT3 racer is rear drive, the GT3-R, like all road-going Contis, is all-wheel drive. And it's only 220 pounds lighter than a standard Conti GT V8, compared with the 2,200-pound reduction achieved by Bentley's engineers for the race car. Even so, the GT3-R's performance is impressive: The factory claims a 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds, making it the quickest Bentley in history, quicker than even the 12-cylinder-powered Supersport. It's not the fastest Bentley ever, though; the shorter gearing that helps the acceleration times means top speed has been limited to 170 mph.
The engine drives through an eight-speed automatic transmission that's been reprogrammed to deliver fast, crisper shifts. There's a noticeable difference in the calibrations of the Drive and Sport modes, the latter being much sharper and more responsive. Standard brakes are Bentley's massive carbon-ceramic rotors, 16.5 inches up front and 14 inches at the rear. They do a superb job of hauling the 4,839-pound coupe back from V-max no matter how often you ask them. "Bentley customers buy more carbon brake packages than anyone else," Gush says. While a lot of them are probably just ticking the option box for bragging rights, those in the know understand that these expensive, high-tech stoppers are a bulky Bentley's best friend.
Gush, who oversaw a lot of the powertrain and chassis development of the original Continental GT as well as Bentley's triumphant return to prototype racing at Le Mans in 2003, says the factory's race drivers gave a lot of input into the chassis tuning of the GT3-R. The biggest challenge was to make the naturally understeering Continental GT, which has its engine slung out ahead of the front axle center line — a legacy of the platform it shares with the VW Phaeton — respond more crisply to steering inputs.
The GT3-R's steering ratio is the same as other Conti GTs, but the electronic power steering protocol has been remapped to deliver a sharper response. Gush has no time for all those luddites moaning about the transition from hydraulic to electronic steering assist. "We can now tune an EPS system so much better than we could ever tune a hydraulic one," he says. "We can get exactly the feel and response we want." True, the GT3-R's steering is not as tactile as, say, that of a Cadillac CTS-V or Jaguar F-Type, but it's pretty respectable for a car of this size and mass.
To help tease the laws of physics further, the GT3-R features a torque vectoring system that directs additional torque to the outside rear wheel during cornering. The effect is startling. The GT3-R turns in remarkably crisply and concisely the moment you pull the steering wheel off-center (and you can feel it working at even quite modest cornering speeds). Better yet, the chassis response feels totally linear, enabling you to get on the gas earlier and take advantage of the all-wheel-drive traction to grunt the car out of the corner. And because the torque vectoring system means Bentley engineers have not had to go to full commando on the spring, damper and roll-bar settings to try and achieve the same level of agility, the GT3-R remains impressively composed even on bumpy roads.
Bottom line: The GT3-R makes all its time over other Conti GTs getting into and through the middle of a corner, in that relatively small window between the initial turn-in point and, say, 10 feet past the apex. On a racetrack, that's the difference between winning and losing. On the road, in this big, white, growling Bentley with its black-painted 21-inch forged alloy wheels and carbon-fiber aerodynamic accoutrements, it's a recipe for grin-inducing fun.
"This is an everyday supercar," insists Gush. That explains why the GT3-R still comes with all the luxuries you'd expect in a Bentley. Most of the 220-pound weight reduction has come from the removal of the rear seat (which, to be honest, is pretty much decorative in a Conti GT anyway) and the replacement of the standard exhaust with a titanium system. The interior is trimmed in black leather, black suede, and carbon fiber with bright Bentley racing green accents on the dash, seats, and door trims. If you don't like it, bad luck — Bentley offers no alternative.
Just 300 Continental GT3-Rs will be built, and 99, each fitted with an individually numbered sill plate, have been reserved for the U.S. But exclusivity alone doesn't justify the breathtaking $337,000 price tag for wealthy aficionados. What they're paying for is the nearest thing to a racing Bentley anyone has been able to buy since the 1920s.
|2015 Bentley Continental GT3-R|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINES||4.0L/572-hp/516-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,839 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||189.2 x 76.5 x 55.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.6 sec (mfr)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||13/20/15 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||259/169/225 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.26 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|