Bentley remembers its racing heritage in the snarling Continental GT3-R

2015 bentley continental gt3 r first drive 3
If you’ve $337,000 to spend on a car, and you’ve been debating between a racecar and a bespoke luxury coupe, save yourself the anguish and get the Bentley Continental GT3-R.

The night before I was scheduled to drive the only 2015 Bentley Continental GT3-R currently in existence, the earth shook.

Lying in bed, dreaming of Bentley racecars and the day ahead, I was abruptly awoken to my hotel room in Napa, California shaking around me. Just as I had quaked with anticipation of driving the GT3-R before I went to sleep that night, the ground around me quaked, too.

Now, any number of things can cause the earth to shake, from fracking to the riotous shouts of Seattle Seahawk fans. While I’d like to credit the pavement-rending $337,000 Bentley, this time the earth shook due to a shift in the earth’s tectonic plates.

Automakers often try to set a distinctive tone before we journalists drive their cars. Nothing, however, could have more aptly set the scene for driving the fastest accelerating Bentley ever than a 6.0 magnitude earthquake.

Jangled nerves

Nerves already pre-jangled by the 3:20 AM earthly wakeup call, I dropped behind the steering wheel of the GT3-R feeling a bit worse for wear but fully alert. Immediately, sitting inside the GT3-R, I noticed the car didn’t feel any different than, say, the 2015 Bentley GT Speed. Though, it really should.

The seats of the GT3-R are new with deeper bolsters and new foam layers. Behind those new seats, where an owner might find a set of sensible rear buckets in other Continental models, is an Alcantara-lined luggage shelf.

I pushed the ignition button, and, again, the car didn’t really hint at anything particularly distinctive about its nature. The dash came alive with a flash, so, too, did the centralized 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment unit.

That feeling of sameness, though, soon changed. I pulled the shifter of the eight-speed automatic down into Sport and headed for the open road.

At the first touch of the throttle, I knew I was driving a very special Bentley indeed. Even with a quick tap of the accelerator, my head and neck were contorted backward and my ears treated to the deep, raspy tones of a crackling V8 through an uninhibited exhaust system.

And what a V8 it is. Keeping in step with the Continental GT3 racecars, the GT3-R is powered by a highly tuned version of the brand’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8, which is a relative of Digital Trends’ 2013 Engine of the Year.

In GT3-R form, the hunk of British aluminum makes 572 horsepower and 518 pound-feet of torque. That large lump of power is routed through an eight-speed automatic and out to all four wheels with a 40:60 front-to-rear torque split. 0 to 60 is mastered in 3.6 seconds and the car tops out at 170 mph. Granted, that top speed isn’t much to write home about, especially considering I personally did 183 mph in the GT Speed. The GT3-R isn’t about Autobahn cruising; it’s about hardline acceleration and precision handling.

Accordingly, along with the distinguishing exterior extras and a suspension that is 54 percent stiffer, the Bentley GT3-R is 220 pounds lighter than the GT V8. Those changes can be immediately felt from behind the wheel.

Interestingly, the GT3-R was designed, if you couldn’t tell from the exterior, to generate a much more evocative, racecar-like motoring experience. Thanks to the quick all-wheel drive system, which can send up to 85 percent of torque to the rear wheels at any moment, the driver can rustle up as many ponies as he wishes without perturbing the big beast, either.

Turn hard into a corner and, where a typical Bentley might wallow a bit under its massive heft, the GT3-R grabs the road hard and plants itself firmly for the apex with minimal body lean.

2015 Bentley Continental GT3-R driver interior

Astonishingly, the 220-pound weight savings can truly be felt in the corners. For the first time, I feel comfortable describing a Bentley as nimble. Sure, at 4,837 pounds, it’s hardly a featherweight. However, compared to the GT V8 S I drove back-to-back with the GT3-R, or the 12-cylinder GT Speed, I can certainly say it is much more sprightly than its more bespoke brothers.

With its big wing, side stripes, and hell fury V8, the GT3-R is the most mental muscle car in the world. And – from behind the wheel – it really feels like one, too. It’s a big, beefy thing with lots of growl and gusto. Yes, it’s a bit boyracer-y but it’s the kind of boyracer whose father is a Duke.

Rarity

Bentley only plans to build 300 examples of the GT3-R, 99 of which are slated for the U.S. I, however, got to drive the first one ever built, for which I am hugely grateful and humbled.

While I was inexorably excited to drive the first-ever GT3-R, I feel a bit sad having now driven it. The GT3-R was so good, so vital, so animated, so shout-y that I am a bit depressed that more of these types of Bentleys won’t exist.

I loved the GT V8 S and the GT Speed; don’t get me wrong. The GT3-R, though, has that certain something, that X-factor that is so rare in the world, let alone in the automotive realm.

It perfectly rides that thin line between luxury and sportiness and outright madness. Really, if I am being perfectly honest, it’s the first Bentley that harkens back to the Bentleys of old – back when the brand was built for well-heeled thrill-seekers and steel-eyed racers.

For that, I am grateful to the Bentley Boys for having created it. But I’m saddened more people won’t get to experience its glory.

Highs

  • Racecar-inspired exterior styling and accents
  • Raspy, crackling sport exhaust
  • Straight-line acceleration
  • Planted, lightweight on-road feel

Lows

  • Only 300 will be built
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