This is the glorious contradiction that is the Bentley Continental GT3-R. From a distance, you’ll take it for a road-legal competition car with number plates. If not, perhaps, a homologation special. It’s neither – but at the same time, it’s no ordinary luxury grand tourer either.
The GT3-R is, in fact, a tribute to Bentley’s maiden season back in international motorsport after a gap of more than a decade. It’s also nothing short of the fastest-accelerating, most performance-focussed road car that Crewe has ever made.
It’s also still a rich, luxurious, long-distance machine thoroughly in the traditions of the marque. A stripped-out, silver-tongued heavyweight, in other words.
A limited run of three-hundred GT3-Rs will be made over the coming months, in recognition of Bentley Motorsport’s Blancpain Endurance Series win in the Continental GT3 race car at Silverstone earlier this year.
But unofficially, you could say the car earned its place in the showroom two years ago at the Paris motor show, when Bentley publicly stated its intention to return to motorsport by airing a racing concept version of the Continental GT.
That show car, with its even more enormous splitter and rear wing, inspired enough direct expressions of interest that a road-going version was a no-brainer. Unbeknown to Bentley, Crewe’s customer base was in love with the idea of a grand British coupé with the soul and sharpened cutting edge of a track special. So it’s made one.
Let’s start in the glaringly obvious place: the spoiler. Sticks out, doesn’t it? Initially you’ll wonder if its really attached or been left there by mistake; some stray bit of winter sports paraphernalia the owner’s forgotten to put in the boot.
But no, it’s an actual bonafide aerofoil – and a sculpted, lacquered piece of carbonfibre as well, the grain perfectly mirror-matched down the spine of the car. It’s an undeniable thing of beauty – whether you think it belongs on a luxury GT or not.
It can’t have been easy to know exactly how much ‘edge’ to give this car – and that spoiler, the other carbon body parts and the decals probably do imply a little more than has ultimately been delivered. Make of that what you will.
But Bentley undoubtedly started in the right place, and made intelligent decisions, in executing this car as it has – with just enough sporting flavour to whet your appetite.
With new turbos, a new titanium exhaust and a recalibrated ECU, it develops 572bhp and 516lb ft of torque – a hefty chunk more than a V8 S, though not as much as a W12 Speed.
The reasons that the GT3-R can out-sprint a Speed (at least up to a point) are that it’s 100kg lighter than a standard V8 S, and shifts gears more quickly via recalibrated control software. Moreover, it’s got a shorter final drive ratio, pegging top speed at a piffling 170mph, but making this the only Continental capable of dipping under four seconds to 62mph.
This is still a 2.2-tonne car, remember: hats off for that one, chaps. It’s refreshing to see a manufacturer taking such a pragmatic route towards greater performance, when so many opt for longer and longer ratios to the benefit of fuel-efficiency.
Walk past the spoiler, open the driver’s door and the lacquered carbonfibre theme continues almost ad infinitum – on the fascia, around the perfectly upholstered storage bay where the back seats used to be, and on the interior door casings.
The door still seems to weigh more than your average hatchback. It takes some swinging, and the double-glazed window is still in place. But the glossy carbon itself, on the door top and the interior handle, is utterly gorgeous. Nobody does lavish material majesty quite like Bentley, and the GT3-R wouldn’t be nearly as appealing without its knurled aluminium, its yards of beluga hide and its diamond-quilted alcantara.
There is better steering feedback and precision here than you normally get from a Bentley. Higher grips levels, better body control and more balanced cornering manners, too. The latter’s abetted by a default 40:60 front-to-rear torque bias and, for the first time on a Bentley, brake-delivered torque vectoring on the rear axle.
The car tucks into corners flat and poised, with directness and energy. You can string apexes together with instinctive precision; hurry it through as hard as you like without running wide. Move the rear axle around a bit on a trailing throttle if you like. Just a bit. Enough, for a 2.2-tonne, quarter-million pound piece of rolling real estate on a public road.
The car’s still more sporting GT than out-and-out sports car – which is exactly as it should be. But there’s plenty of tactility to the steering out of which to build confidence, and entertainment to be had as you get to know the thing.