2015 Bentley Continental GT3-R first drive review

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I was on hand—briefly—at the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed when the Bentley Continental GT3-R made its debut in the stomping grounds of perennial rival Rolls-Royce. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to drive it then—or during the first media previews last fall. Only 99 souls in the U.S. will get to own one, and my soul is certainly too poor to even try.

But not all of my luck is bad.

At the Pirelli World Challenge weekend at Circuit of the Americas, on the first weekend of March this year, I pulled into the track in Bentley’s latest and—by a considerable margin—sportiest Continental variant.

I’d left the hotel that morning, the damp seeping out of the concrete and back into the sky, onto downtown Austin’s streets.

Sadly, just a few dozen miles later, my drive in the GT3-R would be over. I knew this, and I accepted it. After all, you can’t really look a $337,000 gift horse in the mouth.

Between downtown Austin and the Circuit of the Americas, I was treated to what has become, even in such a short period, my new favorite Bentley and its unique quirks. I say quirks because it is unusual to find bare carbon fiber (admittedly, finished in a superb gloss) and a race-spirited interior in a third-of-a-million-dollar luxo-coupe.

Bentley Continental GT3-R, 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Bentley Continental GT3-R, 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed

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Under the hood of the Continental GT3-R lies a 4.0-liter V-8 engine rated for 572 horsepower and 518 pound-feet of torque, but it’s not just the bawdy output that makes the GT3-R sing. It’s the weight savings.

Okay, so taking 220 pounds off a 2.5-ton coupe doesn’t really qualify as a gram strategy. But it’s beyond noticeable—somehow, Bentley found a way to take the 220 most important pounds off the GT3-R. The result? Livelier steering, brutal acceleration, and a cornering confidence that’s utterly unlike any other Bentley I’ve driven.

Part of that brutal acceleration (3.6 seconds to 60 mph) is due to the shorter gear ratios in the eight-speed automatic transmission. But part is just down to raw mechanical ferocity: launching all four wheels and a grizzly’s worth of torque out of the hole is pretty deterministic.

Slap the paddles, hold the pedal down, ride the wave. Left foot on the brake (hey, only two pedals, so why not?), brush off some speed as you load the suspension. Arc it in, snag the edge of a discarded milkshake cup / ersatz apex.

Repeat. Laugh maniacally.

Under all of the roar and rapacity, however, this is, still, a Bentley. And it behaves itself wonderfully, soft as tailored calfskin gloves. It surely did for the handful of minutes at either end of the drive.

But it’s that electrifying, laser-etched spike of raw Le Mans-fueled mania in the middle that will stick with me.

 
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