Bentley Continental GT3-R vs McLaren 650S Spider. DRIVEN

September 25, 2015

The closest the McLaren 650S and the Bentley Continental GT3-R have come to competing with each other is on-track as part of the Blancpain Endurance Series. Until today…

  • Check out the original post on HERE and pdf coverage from evo Middle East HERE

 EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightPrice
Bentley GT3-RV8, twin-turbo, 3993cc572bhp @ 6000rpm516lb ft @ 1700rpm3.8 secs273kph2195kg (261bhp/ton)$380,000
McLaren 650S SpiderV8, twin-turbo, 3799cc641bhp @ 7250rpm500lb ft @ 6000rpm3.0 secs329kph1370kg (468bhp/ton)$299,500

Right here. This is where it all began.

Cast your minds back to December 2013. With speculation concerning its forthcoming GT motorsport campaign having done the rounds (several times) since that year’s Geneva Motor Show, Bentley was about to embark on its first official race start since the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours. A race, incidentally, the company had walked. Unsurprisingly, ahead of the Continental GT3-R’s debut at the Gulf 12 Hours, the pressure was enormous…

Indeed, despite an enviable motorsport record that included four outright wins at Le Mans on the bounce from ’27 to ’30, to many the concept of a Bentley going endurance racing raised as many eyebrows as a Rolls-Royce Phantom would doing rallycross. “Stuff and nonsense” spake company CEOs in late 2012 when the GT3-R concept was unveiled and a full GT program on the Blancpain stage was confirmed for the following season, the announcement both the ‘realisation of a dream’ for Crewe and yet further assurance that, like many of its more mainstream rivals, Bentley ‘belonged’ on the track. That the news also breathed new life – and re-sparked customer interest in – the by-now rather tired Continental did no harm either….

One year on, the Yas Marina Circuit and the Gulf 12 Hours were once again gearing up for a British debutant, one with another – albeit very different – prestigious motor racing record behind it. If anything though, the pressure was even higher, for while Bentley’s steps into the arena were its first in just over a decade, for McLaren this was a path they had worn almost smooth on both the GT and Formula 1 scenes for nearly 50 years. Winning was what they did, as the retiring 12C GT3 had also proven at GT level courtesy of three championship titles, 51 race victories and 71 further podiums. That the new 650S GT3 HAD to win – and ideally on its debut – was beyond doubt.

Today, the atmosphere at Yas Marina is somewhat different. The sweltering mid-morning August temperatures intermittently knock the air from our lungs, neither V8 nor V6 rumbles can be heard roaring down the main straight, and the adjacent grandstands are empty. Yet still there is an excitement in the air. This, right here, is where Bentley and McLaren began their campaigns with the GT3-R and 650S GT3 respectively, and where our journey with their road-going counterparts begins today. Granted, at face value this may seem an odd stand-off. But remember that both are British to the core, both are powered by performance-hewn twin-turbo V8 engines, and both cost in excess of $280,000.

And today, we’re going to take them for a spin on one of the region’s most notorious stretches of winding mountain road – Jebel Hafeet – to see just how that track potential translates to the road.


2013 Gulf 12 Hours, qualifying – Bentley GT3-R seals fourth place on the starting grid, just ahead of 2012 winners Kessel Racing’s Ferrari 458 Italia GT3

2014 Gulf 12 Hours, qualifying – McLaren 650S GT3 repeats its predecessor’s feat by taking pole position for its first race ahead of race favourites Abu Dhabi Racing’ Mercedes SLS GT3


Regrettably, owing to a few ‘don’t even think about it’s from McLaren and Bentley, and since none of us has a cool half mill to spare should something go horribly wrong, our journey will not begin on the circuit itself. You consequently join us in the Yas Marina support paddock. It’s a shame, but it does at least give us time to take a closer look at each model.

Given the decidedly un-Bentley racing decals and carbon fibre detailing, the GT3-R doesn’t so much grab attention as thrust a knife beneath its chin: it’s a far more rugged, gritty look than the sleeker, more aerodynamically-centred 650S. The Continental’s new aero though is much more than just a poke in the eye. The enormous bonnet grooves for instance have been designed to feed more cooling air to the remapped 4-litre V8, which has also received high-boost turbochargers for added grunt, in much the same way the 650S’s M838T V8 received new pistons, cylinder heads and exhaust valves to up power over the similarly-engined 12C. The carbon front splitter is a nod to Bentley’s drive for greater manoeuvrability, as is the tighter chassis, the fixed carbon rear spoiler and a rejigged sport suspension setup borrowed from the Continental S. Even those enormous 21in wheels are lightweight and shod with performance Pirellis for added grip, just as McLaren worked extensively with Pirelli to produce exclusive high-grip ‘MC1’ P-Zeros for the 650S. Performance then, and lashings of it, is the word of the day.


“This, right here, is where Bentley and McLaren began their GT campaigns”


Sort of. Despite their links to the race-going monsters that put the Gulf 12 Hours on the map, these are not stripped out track-day specials, retaining as they do creature comforts for everyday use. A point emphasised as I alight the GT3-R and rumble not so quietly through the support paddock towards Yas Island. Granted, the Bentley’s flabby stomach has received a staple or two: look high and low but you’ll find neither seat massagers, high-varnished oak upholstery nor plush carpeting, the epitome of luxury now resplendent with carbon fibre door casings and only two seats to drop the kerb weight to ‘just’ 2195kg. Bentley hasn’t gone completely off its high-pedestalled rocker though, as everything – including the leather door pulls – has still been hand built on home turf in Crewe. Even the dashboard clock has survived the purge.

It’s a statement of intent certainly, but compared with the minimalist, driver-focused design of the 650S – barely altered since the 12C – it’s a little brash. You could even say, when we consider the bright green detailing, a little vulgar. The GT3-R may be ‘the most dynamic Continental yet’ but did so much of Bentley’s critically acclaimed elegance need to be sacrificed to slam this point home?


2013, 1hr in – Bentley GT3-R moves into third place after a stellar start from the second row of the grid

2014, 1hr in – McLaren 650S is leapfrogged by fast starting Abu Dhabi Racing and hard-charging AF Corse Ferrari, but comfortably retains third


There is a saving grace for Bentley however, and it’s a biggie. To truly emphasise the GT3-R’s motorsport pedigree, an all-new titanium exhaust (which accounts for 7kg of that weight loss) has also been installed to raise those distinctive V8 notes up a notch. As we enter one of Yas Island’s tunnels to the main land, a flick of the left wrist knocks the eight-speed ZF automatic down a cog or two, the resultant high-revving roar enough to quiver the enamel paint from the walls. It’s truly spectacular, the race-model at full chat the only equivalent worthy of comparison, AMG‘s best included: gun the throttle, lift off, and the resultant rat-tat-tat-tat warble as the exhaust ‘pops’ on the overrun blows the admittedly pleasant but aurally outclassed McLaren out of the water.

Though it’s tempting to spend the remainder of this afternoon tearing through this tunnel with barely contained giddiness, the next – rather monotonous – leg of our drive takes us 170km into Al Ain, in a straight line.

I will admit, even with that rejigged suspension, ride comfort in the GT3-R is surprisingly good. It lacks the über damped comfort of the standard Continental but impresses nonetheless, those double wishbones supple enough across even the most rutted of surfaces and more than enough give from those carbon-backed sports seats. Granted, further reach from the steering column would not go amiss: though head and legroom is plentiful, I’m stretching more than I’d like to grip the column-mounted paddle shifters. It’s a trifling detail though. Indeed, Bentley’s inherent luxury means the GT3-R’s ride is arguably more comfortable than that in the 650S, the McLaren’s taut ProActive Chassis Control geared more firmly towards road holding. It’s not uncomfortable, but the McLaren’s lowered stance means riding over road humps and broken asphalt is a more jarring experience than in the Bentley.


“The Bentley’s flabby stomach has received a staple or two: look high and low but you won’t find any seat massagers”


Still, check McLaren’s company letterhead and you’ll find form does indeed follow function in the 650S: there’s plenty of legroom, enough headroom (just), superbly cossetting carbon bucket seats, and a timeless elegance to the minimalist cabin design, even if the unpredictable touchscreen infotainment system will occasionally drive you to despair: you’ll need the steady hand usually reserved for cartilage surgery to tune the radio.


2013, 3hrs in – Bentley leapfrogs leader Black Falcons under the safety car to take second place 

2014, 3hrs in – McLaren leads outright after running long on fuel during the opening stint


 EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightPrice
Bentley GT3-RV8, twin-turbo, 3993cc572bhp @ 6000rpm516lb ft @ 1700rpm3.8 secs273kph2195kg (261bhp/ton)$380,000
McLaren 650S SpiderV8, twin-turbo, 3799cc641bhp @ 7250rpm500lb ft @ 6000rpm3.0 secs329kph1370kg (468bhp/ton)$299,500

That the Bentley would come out on top of the cruise to our automotive playground, even with it’s track-focused setup, seemed an inevitability: no model on McLaren’s line-up has ever prioritised ‘comfort’ over performance. But when our convoy finally hits Jebel Hafeet – a snaking stretch of tarmac that disappears almost vertically into the clouds and considered a driving haven for regional petrolheads – it’s pure 650S territory. With the help of 641bhp and 500lb ft of torque to the Bentley’s 572bhp and 516lb ft, plus an 825kg weight advantage, the 650S hits 100kph from standstill in a flat three seconds (3.8 seconds in the Bentley), 200kph in 8.6 seconds (nearer 14 seconds), and stands nearly a foot lower than its Blancpain playmate, benefitting also from the lower centre of gravity this produces. On this climb, with this potential, the McLaren – Spider or otherwise – should eat the GT3-R for breakfast.

And such, to begin with at least, seems the case. One thing that’s always interested me in particular about the 650S is the delicate manner in which the power from that refined twin-turbocharged V8 is put down. Unless you really stamp on the pedal, acceleration is surprisingly gentle, an underlying threat of aggression lingering just beneath the surface. Even when the Powertrain is set to Sport. Things change dramatically however as the speed begins to build and the revs start to rise. Peak power doesn’t appear until after 7000rpm, at which point there’s still a further 2000 to go before you hit the redline. Here the V8 soundtrack hits another octave, the hitherto ‘gentle’ acceleration becomes much sharper and immediate, response from even the smallest of throttle impressions reminding you this is a 329kph supercar. It borders on aggressive yet feels far too composed. Nevertheless it’s at moments like this that your right leg might start to shrink, not least because – in our case – our Carbon Black test model needs to be in a container to Bahrain in the morning. Leaving any carbon panels against the mountain walls isn’t an option.


“The 650S hits 100kph from standstill in a flat three seconds and stands nearly a foot lower than its Blancpain playmate, benefitting also from the lower centre of gravity this produces. On this climb, with this potential, the McLaren should eat the GT3-R for breakfast”


Fortunately the balance through the turns, and the sheer amount of grip at the front end makes this scenario unlikely. The poise under even the sharpest of turn ins in the 650S is perfect – there really is no other word for it – the mid-engined layout and lightweight, very stiff carbon fibre MonoCell offering no flex and ideal weight distribution. Grip through those MC1s, front and rear, is seemingly endless, and only when you switch to ‘Track’ handling and really live vicariously with the pedal will the rear begin to twitch. Odd that for such remarkably light steering there is this much feel for the front end too, inputs through the flat-bottomed wheel registered with glorious precision, the feel for the road and camber tangible through the steering and the seat.

In the cabin, book-ended as I am by the high-bolstered, carbon-backed sport seat, there’s no trace of body-roll, and barely any feeling of weight transfer. Refined for yet smoother and swifter changes, the seven-speed dual-clutch SSG transmission offers changes at eye-blink speeds, good feel and massive stopping power through the carbon ceramic disc brakes available should I misjudge my entry speed, the Airbrake ready to deploy – and keep those rear wheels pinned – should anything go wrong.


2013, 6hrs in – Bentley finishes the first six hours just 2m adrift of the leaders in third after 152 laps of racing

2014, 6hrs in – After taking the lead early on, McLaren bows to new leaders AF Corse as the first half of the race comes to a close


For the McLaren then, business as usual. For the Bentley, less so, which makes the handling of the GT3-R that much more astounding.

Yes, that still hefty kerb weight does make an impact through the turns, a very audible squeal from the front wheels demonstrating just how hard they are working on this climb noticeable above the V8’s rat-tat-tat on the overrun as it brakes into the tighter corners. But the Bentley is not letting the McLaren romp away. Indeed, the grip from those performance tyres is unlike anything we’ve seen on a Bentley roadcar yet, the nose – though still suggesting it might break away – staying tight to the apex as the inside front wheels load up. Admittedly much of this comes down to the Torque Vectoring system that transfers torque to the wheel under load (the first such system included on a Bentley) and the much tauter chassis setup that’s been optimised for cornering. Whereas on Continentals of old, understeer had threatened to rear its ugly noggin, in the GT3-R the composure is far greater. Granted there are still elements of body roll to contend with, those carbon seats could offer more lumbar support, and the V8 lump over the front axle means the Bentley cannot ‘flick’ from corner to corner quite as rapidly as the McLaren. But the composure is still mightily impressive for a Bentley. Similarly with power being sent across the board by the retuned all-wheel drive system, and torque firmly at the rear axle, there’s no fear the rear wheels will break traction, allowing us to unleash the fury of that 572bhp V8 on the straights.


“Marketing fluff would you believe the GT3-R is ‘the most dramatic yet’, and y’know, I think it might just be…”

It’s an incomparable difference to the McLaren, acceleration almost unforgiving in the Bentley under heavy throttle with a teeth-rattling soundtrack to match. The pull into the higher revs could be considered linear were the sensation of speed not so rampant, ratios of the eight-speed ZF now much shorter to truly emphasise this (almost) savagery. As expected, upshifts are now crisper than the GT3-R’s base model, the somewhat docile nature of the system under successive downshifts the only thing to truly knock the experience. Keep the speed up through flick-flack lefts and rights, and you’ll find the gearbox similarly unwilling to acquiesce. Further criticism could be levied towards the steering, which doesn’t exactly drip with feel and could be more precise under such circumstances. And yet – and yet – there is something about the GT3-R. The balance, its sprightly nature under acceleration, and a much greater feeling of composure through even the tightest and most snaking of mountain climbs is far greater than we’ve seen from any Continental before. Marketing fluff would have you believe the GT3-R is ‘the most dramatic yet’. And y’know, I think it might be…


2013, 10hrs in – Ferrari and Bentley dice for third place with just two hours of the Gulf 12 Hours remaining

2014, 10hrs in – Temporarily knocked into fourth, the McLaren is soon past the SLS and Ferrari into second as the chequered flag looms


At the top, I’m admittedly lost for words. That the 650S – an improvement over the already superb 12C – was going to muller the mountain was a foregone conclusion, and while the soundtrack offered might not evoke the same sonorous fury of its Italian rivals, the precision and ease with which the McLaren can monster the turns is almost beyond belief. It’s shame perhaps that, as an everyday machine, small elements like ride quality and questionable practicality (when compared with the Bentley at least) can spoil the overall package. There’s no doubt though that, as a road going racer, the 650S is astonishing.

And then there’s the GT3-R. It’s comfortable and refined but still quite heavy, not quite as poised as the McLaren, and not as elegant in terms of design, both inside and out. There is though that phenomenal – PHENOMENAL – V8 soundtrack, an awe-inspiring sensation of speed, and a balance we’ve yet to see from the Continental. Which is bittersweet since, given the $380,000 price tag and the 300-unit production run, we’re unlikely to get to sample this ever again. And to draw attention to that Glacier White elephant in the room, that is an enormous price tag when you consider what other British, performance-focused sports car you could potentially have, plus spare change.

It is this reasoning, plus the almost hypnotic performance of the 650S that – if you twisted my arm – would probably see me vote Woking, but it’s hard to claim the 650S as today’s outright winner. Offering balance and handling we hadn’t thought possible from the weighty Continental, magnificent aural drama and the comfort(ish) expected from its illustrious manufacturer, the Continental GT3-R – much as it did two years ago – has earned some serious respect.


2013, finish – Front axle issues slow the charge, but the Bentley GT3-R still manages to secure fourth place outright on its race debut

2014, finish – The McLaren 650S GT3 secures a podium finish on its debut after snatching third place from late-race rivals

2014, 3 Hours of Silverstone – Bentley GT3-R takes its first official victory, five months after its debut in Abdu Dhabi

2015, 3 Hours of Silverstone – McLaren 650S GT3 takes its first official victory, five months after its debut in Abu Dhabi


*Images courtesy of Harisanker.S and Awesome Group


Bentley GT3-R (Tech specs)

Engine: V8, twin-turbo, 3993cc
Power: 572bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 516lb ft @ 1700rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed ZF automatic with Quickshift
Front suspension: Four link double wishbones
Rear suspension: Trapezoidal multi-link
Brakes: Carbon Silicon Carbide, cross-drilled, 420mm (front), 356mm (rear)
Wheels: 9.5J x 21” front and rear
Tyres: 275/35 ZR21 front and rear
Weight (kerb): 2195kg
Power-to-weight: 261bhp/ton
0-100kph: 3.8 secs
Top speed: 273kph
Price: $380,000

McLaren 650S Spider (Tech Specs)

Engine: V8, twin-turbo, 3799cc
Power: 641bhp @ 7250rpm
Torque: 500lb ft @ 6000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed SSG automatic
Front suspension: ProActive Chassis Control
Rear suspension: ProActive Chassis Control
Brakes: Carbon Ceramic, 394mm (front), 380mm (rear)
Wheels: 19” x 8.5”J (front), 20” x 11” J (rear)
Tyres: 235/35 R19 (front), 305/30 R20 (rear)
Weight (dry): 1370kg
Power-to-weight: 468bhp/ton
0-100kph: 3.0 secs
Top speed: 329kph
Price: $299,500