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Road Test: Bentley Continental GT 4.0 V8 GT3-R 2dr Auto (2014-2015)

£237,500 when new
7/10
Road test score

Car specifications

Budget
£237,500
Brake horsepower
580bhp
Fuel consumption
22.3mpg
0–62 mph
3.60s
CO2
295g/km
Max speed
170Mph
Insurance Group
N

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Bentley’s motorsport kudos has, until recently, relied on ancient history. Lord knows how the Bentley Boys even got out of London in their late Twenties Blower behemoths, never mind drive all the way to Le Mans, race the same vehicles for 24 hours, then roar back home for an evening’s committed carousing.

Bentley won again at La Sarthe in 2003, of course, an internecine disruptor to Audi dominance. But the Continental GT3-R arrives as a road-going counterpart to a much newer competition car. The GT3 race version almost scored a podium finish on its debut in the Gulf 12 Hours at Yas Marina last December and picked up Bentley’s first British race win for 84 years at Silverstone in the Blancpain this summer. A heaven-sent marketing opportunity, the result is arguably the lairiest Bentley since Birkin, Barnato and Co were waxing their moustaches.

That said, a few comparative facts are in order. The GT3 race car runs Bentley’s 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8, good for 600bhp unrestricted, fired to the rear wheels only via a carbon-fibre propshaft and harnessed by Xtrac’s fabulous six-speed sequential ‘box, fitted as a transaxle to optimise weight distribution. It also loses the front driveshaft, and its doors weigh a skinny 7kg compared to the road car’s thumping 57kg. All in, it weighs 1,295kg.

The GT3-R is 100kg lighter than the regular road car but still troubles the scales at 2,195kg. That’s pretty corpulent for a race-bred road car, even in this day and age, but the fact is the R has a wholly different job to do. “To be a true Bentley, the GT3-R had to be the most luxurious track-inspired GT ever, and this car pushes our trademark combination of luxury and performance to a new level,” chairman and CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer says.

Just a bit. The engine is the familiar 4.0-litre V8, whose brace of turbos have been tweaked to run fatter boost, pumping the power output up to 572bhp, and shovelling out 516 torques from a sleepy 1,700rpm. It’s a proper tarmac peeler.

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More significantly, the Continental’s ZF eight-speed transmission now runs shorter gearing, intensifying sensation as the GT3-R warps to 60mph in 3.6 seconds and beyond to its reduced - but surely academic - 170mph top speed. TG clearly loves the idea of a rear-drive Continental, but Bentley insists that all-wheel drive is a signature (re-engineering the car to that extent would have cost a fortune, too).

At least we get torque vectoring on the rear wheels for the first time, as well as recalibrated software for the car’s drivetrain modes and a slightly less invasive stability system. There’s also a new titanium exhaust system, which accounts for seven of the 100kg the R has lost, as well as thrusting the soundtrack deep into barrel-chested Barry White vocal territory. That, plus the Glacier White paint job, green go-faster stripes, wing decals (yuck), and carbon-fibre diffuser and wing, suggest that this particular Continental is disinclined to hide its light under a bushel.

I can’t see too many of those anyway, as we head north into upstate New York. It takes monastic restraint not to bury the throttle the second we segue onto the interstate, but it’s the R’s composure over rubbishy, rumbly US tarmac and expansion joints that hits home first. This thing is wearing 275/35 rubber at all corners wrapped around 21-inch forged-alloy wheels but does an epic job of repelling real-world irritants like road and surface noise. It’s extremely impressive. The Conti’s air springs and dampers have been battle-hardened, but the calibration is well judged.

The cabin isn’t for the faint-hearted, though. Haul those hefty doors shut, and you’re admitted to a place of unparalleled build quality. Bentley sources its leather from Scandinavian cattle, whose hides are unblemished because there’s no barbed wire to nick them. The bespoke carbon-fibre seats themselves are superb, there’s diamond-quilted Alcantara facings on the doors, and handcrafted carbon-fibre inlaid on the dash. Even the paddle-shifters have been redesigned. But there’s a lot of green in here. It’s a divisive colour, green, and the accents are up the side of the centre console, on the seat bolsters and run round the rear compartment, now devoid of seats. It’s greener than Kermit the Frog chairing
a Green Party meeting in Greenland.

In other news, the Continental is now supercar-fast. Acceleration and deceleration - thanks to 420mm carbon-ceramic front discs and 356mm rear ones, and eight-piston calipers - are now mighty enough to comprehensively rearrange your facial features. There’s maybe a nanosecond of hesitation as the R prepares to throw 2.2 tonnes down the road, but too many other sensations get in the way before that one gets a look in. What it lacks in light and shade (the steering could use more feel, for example; the chassis, a little more interactivity), it makes up in sheer, unstoppable momentum. Except that it does stop, with immense conviction. To be reductive, it’s almost a cut-price Bugatti Veyron.

On which basis, Bentley will have no trouble whatsoever selling the 300 GT3-Rs it’s planning to build, even at the eye-watering price of £237,500 each.

 

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