The Tesla Model S P85D is the fastest Tesla. The Bentley Continental GT3-R is the quickest Bentley ever made. Which one would win in a race? That’s a mighty important question, one that needs answering, so I met up with my friend Dan Neil from the Wall Street Journal to find out which car owns the quarter mile. It’s electric versus 93 octane, America versus Britain, quiet understatement versus bright green leather interior accents fit for a leprechaun’s bordello. (That latter description applies to the Bentley, in case you haven’t guessed.)
This particular P85D, a sleeper on its 19-inch wheels, carries a sticker of $133,320 and packs a total of 691 hp — 470 horses from the rear motor, 221 from the one mounted at the front axle. The Bentley only has one engine, but it’s a fine one, a twin-turbo 4-liter V-8 that can generate 592 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque when it’s on overboost. You only get overboost for 15 seconds at a time, but 15 seconds will be more than enough to eat up the 2,500-foot private runway where we stage the cars. The Bentley, by the way, is somewhat more expensive: $339,725, or roughly two Tesla P85Ds and a base Cadillac Escalade.
If it looks like the Bentley is overmatched on horsepower, the official 0-60 mph times would seem to bear that out. The Tesla’s is 3.2 seconds; the GT3-R clocks in at 3.6. But as we’re about to find out, a funny thing happens once the cars are up to speed. The Tesla’s electric horses fade a bit in the home stretch, while the Bentley keeps charging down the runway like it’s ready to go wheels up and set a course for Heathrow. By the quarter-mile mark, it’s a hell of a race.
Dan and I switch back and forth in the cars and try various launch techniques, but a consistent pattern emerges: the Tesla is quicker off the line, but the Bentley eventually chases it down. The GT3-R, with its lack of back seats and its carbon fiber-covered interior, feels like a hard-edged machine. But the P85D reveals that there’s slack in the internal-combustion system. Unless you mercilessly brake-torque it, there’s a half-breath off the line where the Bentley is busy coiling the spring — turbos spool, the torque converter sends power to the ZF8 automatic transmission, and on through the network of propshafts to the front and rear diffs. It doesn’t take long before the GT3-R is trying to do a four-wheel-drive burnout while defoliating any shrubbery within 50 yards of the quad tailpipes. But in that moment, the Tesla — with its instant 687 lb-ft of torque and single gear ratio — has leapt out to a lead. One that’ll take the Bentley about a quarter mile to recover.
At right around 110 mph, the Bentley storms past. And it would extend its lead if we had more runway. But the Tesla is the king of stoplight drags, ceding its advantage only at the kind of speeds you hit when you’re on a private airstrip. So which is quicker? It depends on how much road you have.
After we’re done, I take the airport’s owner along for a run in the Tesla. Afterward, Dan asks him if he’d ever want to fly an electric airplane. His reply? “If it goes like that damn thing, I would.”