As fuel economy standards have added pressure to manufacturers to reduce emissions, car builders have had to focus on producing more power with smaller, more efficient engines. The other way to increase economy and performance is to reduce weight, which is a difficult task with all the computers, safety equipment, and convenience items on today’s cars.
When Bentley decided to issue a copy of the Continental GT that would sit at the top of the performance food chain, they focused on the later. The car they released earlier this year is the limited edition Continental GT3-R. For the first time, a Bentley has focused on losing weight and making the car handle better, instead of just adding more power.
The result of that effort was a Continental GT that shed 220lbs over the regular V8 Continental, which itself weighs 75lbs less than its W12 brother. The weight loss was achieved by stripping away the back seat and using lighter weight materials for the interior including carbon fiber and Alcantara. This includes the dash inserts, which are usually heavier materials like wood or aluminum, the luggage retainer and other trim pieces.
The exterior also uses carbon fiber extensively while also using light weight wheels specific to the car (Bentley won’t sell them to you, so don’t ask.) They even whittled weight out of the exhaust with a complete titanium system from the headers back to the tailpipe.
Bentley’s engineers then went to work on the V8’s computer system. They reworked the engine’s fuel map and throttle response, allowing a more aggressive tune to match the attitude of the GT3-R. As a result, the GT3-R rolled out with 10 hp more than the V8 S and much sharper response to the accelerator pedal.
Lastly, and most importantly, was the work done to the drivetrain and suspension. In early 2015, rumors began circulating that there was a rear wheel drive version of the Continental GT in the works. Confirmed by a Bentley representative, Bentley had indeed considered losing the GT3-R’s all-wheel-drive system for weight savings. The plan never moved forward because of the engineering required to sort out the car’s handling before launch. The decision was made to keep the current GT’s drive system, but to ship the car with different gear ratios and add a new technology called torque vectoring to improve performance.
Continentals have always had taller gear ratios. The Bentley engines have enough power to move the car and the taller gear ratio helps with fuel mileage and a top speed. By using the 3.50s instead of the stock 2:80 ratio, the Continental GT3-R is able to hit 60mph from a stand still in 3.6 seconds. This is the quickest of any Bentley road car ever produced. The side effect of this is that the GT3-R’s top speed is about 170mph, a reduction of about 15% from the standard V8 Continental.
The GT3-R is also the first Bentley to feature torque-vectoring. Torque vectoring applies the brakes individually to help slow the inside wheel during a turn, helping the heavy coupé move like a lighter, more nimble sports car. The feature makes the GT3-R feel incredible nimble during sporty drives on public roads. The feature is dependent on brake temperature, so if you should try to track the car, you may find this feature go away with high brake temps.
Bentley still hasn’t released a Supersports version of the 2nd generation Continental GT. Should we see the rumored high performance, rear wheel drive version of the Continental this year, it will be interesting to see if it can match the GT3-R’s performance numbers without the added traction of all wheel drive. It’s very possible that we won’t see a Bentley this quick again until the 3rd generation Continental debuts in 2017, or the release of the Speed 6 in 2018 or ’19.