TG on ice: Huracan vs Continental GT3-R
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Saturday 2nd December

TG on ice: Lambo Huracan vs Bentley Continental GT3-R

Winter calls for a nice, safe 4WD car. Luckily, Lambo and Bentley make those, too

  • The Huracán and Continental GT3-R are on a collision course. A pair of Essex-white monsters, combined value way north of £400,000, hurtling towards each other at a rate of knots. It's going to be messy.

    At least it would be, were it not for the fact that this inevitable collision is not a literal one (though I'll be honest, how we managed our high-speed, wing-mirror-to-wing-mirror tracking shots on this no-friction surface without an accident, I have no idea. I had my eyes shut for most of it). No, this is a metaphorical head-on, a coming together of two carmakers that once traced very different orbits.

    Pictures: Mark Fagelson

    This feature was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Top Gear magazine

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  • See, forever and ever it has worked like this. Bentley made big, wafty grand tourers, machines of great lolloping luxury. And Lamborghini made pointy-edged, sharp-toothed, mildly disturbed supercars, mid-engined monsters that'd sink their fangs into your face if you so much as looked at them the wrong way. Waft and wild, cruiser and bruiser, never the twain shall meet.

    But times are changing. Some say the Huracán, Lamborghini's long-awaited V10 replacement for the antediluvian Gallardo, has gone a bit soft. Soft not only visually - no question it's short on Lambo's traditional array of strakes, slats and points - but, it's murmured, soft under the skin too. The Huracán, the naysayers naysay, has gone a bit too polite, a bit quiet, a bit civilised. Fine for a supercar from, well, just about anyone else, but not for Lamborghini.

  • At the same time, the Continental has been to Fight Club. Bentley says this GT3-R road car was inspired by the Continental GT3 race car that won the Blancpain Endurance race at Silverstone last year, claiming it "blends track and road credentials". There is talk of much weight loss. There's a new rear wing, carbon fibre, a titanium exhaust. There are just two seats, the Conti's rear chairs replaced by an odd storage arrangement that looks like nothing so much as a lavishly upholstered booth in a local nightclub.

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  • So does this meeting represent, finally, the changing of the guard, the moment of Bentley muscling in on Lamborghini's spiky supercar territory (or perhaps Lambo muscling in on Bentley's GT territory)? The numbers suggest the Bentley and Lambo are closer than ever before. The Conti's Audi-derived twin-turbo V8 has been stoked up to 572bhp, within hocking distance of the Huracán's 602bhp. The Bentley will officially clock 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds - thanks in part to a shorter-geared eight-speed ZF transmission - putting it a mere point-six behind the Lambo's time. Are, then, these two apparently very different sports cars genuine rivals? Is, heaven forbid, the Bentley sharper than the Lambo?

  • Without wanting to render the next 1,100 or so words redundant... no. Not for a second. It requires only the most cursory of glances at the Continental in profile to know that, no matter how much weight Bentley has carved from its hull, this will never be a razorish track-thing, a flitting hummingbird. You can wrap a buffalo in Nomex, but it remains a buffalo.

  • And so it proves on our ice lake. Yes, the GT3-R makes a mighty noise, its V8 revving with surprising abandon. Yes, on the occasions it finds a little grip, it lurches forward with impressive alacrity. Yes, it's doubtless rather more wieldy than a standard Conti would be out here. But for all that, it is not a snarling lightweight. Bentley has excised a healthy 100kg from the standard Conti, but this GT3-R still weighs in at 2,195kg, more than three Eric Pickles. The GT3 racer that inspired it? 1,295kg - 900kg lighter. The Huracán is 800kg svelter. From the most perfunct of glances around the cabin, it's clear this is far from a bare-bones racer. There's leather and metal, nav and carpet. There's a lot of green. Green is heavy.

  • No matter how clever your four-wheel-drive system - and the GT3-R's is indeed mighty clever, capable of vectoring torque across the rear axle for the first time - you can't disguise that sort of mass on this sort of ice. Getting the Conti turned into a corner is less an act of instinct, more an extended, wheedling negotiation. Braking is an equally protracted process, despite the Conti employing silicon-carbide discs of no less than 420mm diameter up front and 356mm at the rear. Bentley reckons, in a single stop, they can absorb enough energy to power a house for six hours. Not on ice they can't.

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  • Not that the GT3-R is in any way a bad car. Far from it. It's spectacular. On the icy roads around Kall, the Conti remains imperious, bellowing and gripping and cocooning its occupants from the icy wastes outside. Should the world ever be plunged into a nuclear winter, it's probably the car you'd want on your permafrosted driveway, not least because its monstrously thick glass would do a good job of deflecting the skin-burning atomic radiation.

  • And, once you've got to grips with the whole gravitational-pull-of-a-small-moon thing, the GT3-R is quite the wheeze on ice, too. Stamp on the brakes to get the weight on the nose, stuff it at the apex and you can ride out lovely long drifts, occasionally even in the direction you intended. It's still a glorious thing, the Conti, and there's still nothing on the planet to match its blend of waft and speed.

    The problem with the GT3-R is exactly that: its name. It oversells - or rather mis-sells - its remit. Even GT3 would be too strong. GT3-R entirely overeggs the pudding, promising a stripped-out, roll-caged, bare-metal track thing. The GT3-R is not a stripped-out, roll-caged, bare-metal track thing. It's a slightly faster, very slightly lighter version of the big, barrel-chested Continental we know and love.

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  • So, no, the Conti hasn't - at least on ice - suddenly been transformed into a circuit fiend. But what of the Huracán? Is this the first Lambo you'd describe as ‘a big softie' without fearing for your life?

    At the risk of rendering the next 500 or so words redundant... no. The Huracán is not a Lambo-lite, Sant'Agata diluted. It's extraordinary. It's exquisite. It's not half as scary on ice as it really should be.

  • I had, I'll be honest, suffered a few clammy-handed moments in the run-up to driving the Huracán on this almost zero-friction surface, envisaging the pearl-white Lambo spinning, curling-stone-like, at great speed across the lake and into a sturdy conifer, whereupon it would immediately burst into flames, because Hollywood has taught us that's what happens when things filled with petrol hit solid objects. But the Huracán, to my very great surprise, proves itself to be simultaneously a proper, screaming Lamborghini, but also an utter pussycat to drive on ice. With the exception of the GT-R and Marriage's daft rally car - both of which are on studs and therefore cheating - it's the most biddable car on our frozen lake, turning in where everything else understeers, flick-flacking neatly, drifting with the best of them.

  • While all the front-engined cars require you to work around the fact that most of the mass is concentrated in the nose - atop the turning wheels, the rest of the car desiring to pendulum around that fulcrum - the Huracán's weight sits at its very centre, allowing it to change direction with the manoeuvrability of a particularly agile penguin. It's a huge advertisement for the inherent rightness of mid-engined cars. The Huracán's balance is simply extraordinary, allowing you to transition from under- to oversteer at the gentlest prod of the throttle, the shift in weight telegraphing itself in high definition through your spine. On the road, or even tarmac track, mortals will struggle to ascertain the niceties of this weight distribution - in fact, that ability to transition so easily between under- and oversteer might catch a few out - but on sheet ice, it's apparent every second, making the Huracán an uncannily straightforward thing to slide around.

  • Such delicate balance is helped, of course, by that naturally aspirated V10, which responds to every input with a measured, linear dose of power. Yes, we very much admire the blend of power and economy offered by the latest generation of turbo petrols, and indeed hybrids, but will either match the perfect, predictable responsiveness of a large- capacity atmospheric engine? Not yet, that's for sure.

  • So maybe the Huracán is a little softer - both visually and mechanically - than the Gallardo it replaces, but is that such a bad thing? The iPad doesn't have a whole lot of sharp corners, and no one complains that's ugly. Like almost every Lambo, the Huracán goes like hell, makes a mighty noise and looks glorious. Unlike almost every Lambo, it's a viable day-to-day proposition, has a proper gearbox, feels properly built and won't try to bite your face off on an icy day. I'm sorry, but what more do you want from your mid-engined supercar?

  • Soppy it may sound, but after each sideways, screaming, flailing lap in the Huracán, I had to stop and take a moment just to... absorb it all, the utter bellowing magic of 10 cylinders and 600 horsepowers of Italian finery on a zero-friction surface. All I know is this: the Conti is still a cruiser; Lambo still makes screaming supercars. All is still right in the world. Collision avoided.

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