APR 22nd 2015

Video: Chris Harris Mistreats The Bentley Continental GT3‑R

If there was ever a more misleading set of vehicular clothes, then I’d like to see them. This carbon-flicked, bespoilered, rage-nostrilled monster from Bentley – complete with a set of GT3-R stickers a Porsche would find too grueling – is actually one of the most pleasant fast road cars on sale. Well, if they weren’t already sold.

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The GT3-R is Bentley’s unsubtle way of somehow trying to draw a connection between its vast, luxurious Continental coupe street car and the FIA GT3 racer that nearly won the Bathurst 12hrs last month. Not since Dr. Emmett Brown used a De Lorean to travel through space and time has a more unlikely machine had its DNA spliced more severely.

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Clearly there was little point putting the Conti on some track-day diet because the body-in-white alone probably weighs more than a 911 GT3, but this is still a very special car.

Instead of using the big-gun W12 motor, the much lighter, more responsive V8 sits under those carbon bonnet intakes. Ostensibly it’s the same motor as found in the Audi RS6, where it happens to be a masterpiece. The numbers are suitably large: 580hp and 518lb ft, but with an overboost function capable of 600hp and 553lb ft for 15 seconds.

Suspension is lowered 10mm all round, but the shocking bit is the huge increase in spring rates – 45% at the front and 33% at the rear – and how little it affects the car’s composure on UK roads. I thought it would just fall apart on the first vaguely broken surface, but it’s actually a superb road car.

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The steering is a little heavier and sharper, meaning you can place this huge lump with an accuracy its 2,195kg kerb weight suggests you shouldn’t. That’s 100kg less than the standard car, and includes such trickery as a titanium exhaust that makes very pleasing popping and banging noises.

And Bentley has completely nailed the character of this car as a sporting GT – the ride is firm but compliant, grip is understandably way too much for any Queen’s Highway slip angles – but they’ve been very aggressive with a shorter final drive and it turns that already punchy V8 into quite a forceful lump. With the gearbox locked into manual mode you find yourself snicking up and back and using that surprisingly broad powerband. And drinking in the noise.

Until this point, I’d never felt so physically connected to a Bentley – the shorter axle ratio is a genius move and one other brands should consider. So what if the VMax is now 170mph? I think that’s probably enough for me.

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Like the exterior, the innards shouldn’t work with a Marmite and Mango juice clash of Edwardian design cues, technical materials and green inserts – but somehow it does. Instead of rear seats there are big chunks of fabric and carbon. The front chairs are chubby-bolstered items rather than skinny buckets and are quite superb. I completed two 300-mile trips in the car and emerged feeling no more fatigued than I would have in a normal V8 Conti.

And as for the V12 Speed – well, this car is a much more convincing exploration into the concept of a Bentley that can be properly hustled. We took it to a track and shot some video with it moving around, and it’s actually very capable. Of course the mass always lurks in the background, but front 420mm carbon ceramic Brembos and the ability to pull 100 yard slides on the entry to fast turns strike me as being most un-Bentley in the most enjoyable way.

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If you could remove the stickers, and perhaps the rear spoiler, paint it a more subtle colour and re-fit the rear seats, I think this would be a much more enjoyable fast road car than the current Conti V8. As it is, the lucky 300 have a car that’s far more special than I initially had any hope of it being. As for the nutty £237,500 price tag – it’s rather irrelevant if they’ve all been sold, isn’t it?

Enjoy the video.

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