Call me cynical, but I was never terribly impressed by the Bentley Continental GT. About eight years ago, I had a chance to lease one for a pretty good rate as a company car, the prospect of which excited me particularly because I'd wanted a Bentley since the debut of the Mulsanne Turbo way back in 1982. After reading up a bit on the "entry-level" winged-B and finding out just how much it shared with the brilliant but slightly star-crossed Volkswagen Phaeton sedan, however, I realized that I could get two Phaetons for the price of one Continental, which I promptly did. The rest of America didn't share my opinion on the matter, however, and therefore the big Bentley coupe has become absolutely omnipresent in places like Beverly Hills and McLean, Virginia.
As a quiet and luxurious automobile with plenty of street presence, the Continental has always had much to resemble it. While the "hard points" of the interior are identical to those of my old Phaetons, the quality of its materials and the delightful opportunities for bespoke customization make it a far more pleasant place in which to spend time.Yet I always felt that it had wayyyy too much German sedan in its fundamental character to be a suitable successor to majestic but creaky chariots like the old Silver-Spirit-based Continental R or the barking-mad, short-wheelbase, polished-steel-dashboard Continental T. Twelve years' worth of updates and refinement haven't changed my mind on the subject.
This GT3-R, on the other hand... To begin with, it's got that ridiculous spoiler and stripe package on it, a nod to the even more ridiculous, and unlikely, here in the United States. No self-respecting Scarsdale society wife would ever be caught dead in a car that looks like this. Open the door, and you'll immediately notice the squared-off, GT-style carbon-fiber door panels. Do they save weight? Who cares!
On the other hand, some weight is certainly saved by the deletion of the rear seats, and it gives the modern "Bentley Boy" an excuse to score some personal time with a young lady away from her friends. "Sorry, love --- there's just no room in this two-and-a-half-ton automobile for your dorm-mates." The rest of the interior is an absolutely stunning mix of bold Alacantara stripes, brushed aluminum, and endless sheets of carbon fiber that is exactly as imperfectly-woven as it needs to be to prove its authenticity.
So far, so good --- but that's the surface of the thing, not the substance of it. I made sure that I was the first member of our eight-person PCOTY team to drive the beast on proper back roads, all the better to extract the maximum from the oversized fixed-caliper brakes both front and rear. The twin-turbo four-liter V-8 is pumped-up further to over five hundred and seventy horsepower, so I had concerns about what every corner entrance after the first one would be like.
Not to worry; the brakes are adequate for repeated applications from high speed. Which you'll have no trouble achieving. Slide the alloy baseball-bar shifter over from "D" to the manual gate and you're rewarded by an absolutely obscene amount of pop and crackle from the exhaust every time you lift off the throttle. The Continental shrinks at speed until it feels no bigger than something like a BMW M5, firing off each shift of its eight-speed torque-converter automatic with an authoritative "clunk" and an answering "whoosh" from the turbos.
I couldn't believe how easily the GT3-R kept the far lighter sports cars ahead of me in sight, even on roads with hairpin turns and steep elevation changes. Indeed, on the most demanding of the sections, the Bentley often made up a few feet on the Ferrari or Porsche ahead of it on corner exit thanks to its AWD and massive torque. Think of it as a prehistoric Mitsubishi Evolution, with far less turbo lag and a much, much better stereo.
Although even the rev limiter on this thing has a deeply civilized aspect to it --- there's no stutter at max revs, just an absolute freezing of the tachometer needle until Sir would perhaps care to choose another one of the available gearing choices from the steering-column-mounted paddles --- pretty much every change made to the GT3-R is in the service of making it louder, more obnoxious, faster, less subtle, and more capable when operated at irresponsible speeds in socially unacceptable locations. Which makes it a pretty lousy Bentley by modern standards. It has a whiff of the crass about it, really.
But when you think about how Bentley got its start, and how the famous "Bentley Boys" used the cars as high-speed transportation from one clandestine assignation to another, all of a sudden it makes sense. The GT3-R is meant for the young gentleman of means who values speed and panache above pretty much everything else. It's meant to provoke a mild sense of dread in the mothers of respectable girls and a strong sense of envy in the proles. At this, it succeeds beyond question. Will it sell to Bentley's modern customers? That, I cannot say --- but I think that the men who drove them ninety years ago, the famous Woolf Barnato chief among them, wouldn't hesitate to approve.