Chauffeurs, crumpets, a spot of tea—whatever you once thought of Bentley, the Downton Abbey clichés are mangled for good by the GT3R.
Freed from its former waltz partner Rolls-Royce, Bentley has been getting footloose with faster-paced models like the Continental Supersports. But that still didn’t fully set the stage for the visual and visceral assault of the $340,725 GT3-R.
To set the mood, Bentley plunked us in the paddock at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, where we could see, hear and feel the inaugural run of its GT3 racer in the Pirelli World Challenge. Rumbling past the grandstands, that Dyson Racing GT3 flashed a unique, imperious style and V8 soundtrack, the latter a full octave below rival Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens or Aston Martins. But in the past, as in Bentley’s return to Le Mans in the early 2000s, we would have asked: Aside from its near-carryover Continental body shell, what does this naked 2,800-pound racer, shorn of its weighty timber and other sumptuous fittings, have to do with Bentleys in showrooms?
This time, Bentley has a snappy comeback, as we learned when a rep tossed us the keys to the GT3 parked in the lot outside. Inspired by the GT3 racer – whose exhaust note we could still discern in the parking lot—the GT3-R is the most hardcore, fun-to-drive car Bentley has yet unleashed.
Rare, too, as you’d expect from a Continental with shamrock-colored stripes and GT3-R decals, a jaunty rear wing and slashing leather cabin trim of which the Green Goblin would approve. Even in a parking lot filled with fantasies, from rows of supercars to a custom 900-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V, the Bentley drew cellphone paparazzi with the best of them.
Opening the lengthy driver’s door, we read the exclusive guarantee on a doorsill plate: “Number 8 of 99 Cars for the USA.” Yes, that’s it: 99 GT3-R’s here, another 201 for international buyers, and all 300 for people who don’t mind paying an extra $135,000 – roughly the price of a Porsche 911 GTS – beyond a standard Continental V-8 S.
The shrunken rear seat from standard Continentals has always been a formality, so there’s no harm in the GT3-R tearing it out, leaving an diamond-quilted parcel shelf in its place. More discreet reductions leave the GT3-R at 4,839 pounds, about 220 fewer than its standard sibling.
We fire up the GT3-R, eliciting an unfamiliar bark from the Audi-based twin-turbo V8, whose basic block is shared with the racing Bentley. New engine hardware and software bump horsepower to 572—51 more than the standard V8 Continental.
As we set course for Lockhart, Texas – home to some of the best barbecue joints in America – the Bentley’s stampeding thrust proves as addictive as the local brisket. Leave the eight-speed automatic transmission in sport, or thwack the L-shaped metal paddle shifters, and the GT3-R romps to 60 mph in an unlikely 3.6 seconds. That’s faster than a BMW M3, a sport sedan that carries about 1,300 fewer pounds. Floor the gas, and the overboost function squirts extra turbo sauce, with 592 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque available for up to 15 seconds.
A titanium exhaust coaxes a transgressive rumble from an engine that sounds so demure in cars like the Audi S8; the Bentley sounds like a pissed-off bear roused from a winter slumber, with a pair of big, black bonnet vents for nostrils.
Winding through the Hill Country, shooting past dusty pickups and pastureland, the Bentley’s firmed-up steering, springs and dampers eliminate the last vestiges of old-school Bentley isolation. Twenty-one inch, forged black wheels with sticky Pirelli summer tires feel almost impervious to breakaway: If one of the notorious local floods washed through, this Bentley would be found still stuck to the road.
Despite its mass, the Bentley seems to shed weight the faster you go, a sensation enhanced by monstrous brakes – including 16.5-inch front rotors with eight-piston calipers – that let us dive into corners without one whoa-Nellie moment. A torque-vectoring rear end for the AWD system helps goose the GT3-R out of corners.
Our Texas verdict includes one death penalty: As in the “basic” Continental, this overachieving V8 renders the optional W12 engine largely moot, unless you prefer a heavier, thirstier motor and a Bentley that’s less engaging overall. Secondly, the GT3-R’s dynamic upgrades make this Continental a true performance GT – and a proper British bookend to the Aston Martin Vanquish.
Exclusive even by ultra-luxury standards, this Bentley still raises a question: Who exactly has been craving a 4,800-pound, $340,000 two-seater? GT3-R buyers will include oddballs and iconoclasts, wealthy men of, well, singular tastes. They’ll see Bentley’s 99 cars not as a problem, but as a perfect, dominating solution.
Follow Lawrence Ulrich on Twitter at @LawrenceUlrich