Thanks to the digital special-effects expertise in Hollywood, our eyes routinely experience impossible violations of the laws of physics. Which sets an unnaturally high bar for astonishment when encountering the likes of the Bentley Continental Supersports, a leather-lined luxury two-door that weighs more than some full-size SUVs but can outrun a Corvette Stingray Grand Sport to 60 mph. While your senses are telling you it’s doing something magical, your brain wants to dismiss the evidence as if it were just another video on fast-forward.
This sense of incongruity was only heightened by the Bentley’s preternatural calm as it did ridiculous things on our drive over roads outside Lisbon, Portugal, and on the track at Estoril, a former Formula 1 venue. Its maker claims the Supersports coupe takes only 3.4 seconds to reach 60 mph, the same time we measured for a 707-hp Dodge Charger Hellcat and for the previous fastest Bentley, the limited-edition GT3-R. Yet there’s no cloud of tire smoke, no tail wagging, no speed-boating rear-axle squat here. Just tap into its deep wells of power and torque and the big all-wheel-drive coupe shoots forward—and seems happy to keep it up for so long as the driver’s courage holds out. Aerodynamic resistance finally wins at 209 mph, Bentley says, asserting that this makes the Supersports not only the speediest Bentley ever but also the fastest four-seat automobile in the world.
The Same Continental as Ever, Only More So
In addition to the 209-mph coupe, the Supersports also will be offered as a convertible rated for a top speed of 205 mph. Customer demand will determine the body-style mix of the 710-car production run, 250 of which will be allocated to America. The first coupes will be 2017 models, and the convertible will be added for 2018. The name Supersports also appeared on a 2009–2011 Continental, of which 1800 were built. The first use was in 1925 when the name was “Super Sport,” two words and singular. Founder W.O. Bentley guaranteed the original could top 100 mph, powered by a 3.0-liter four-cylinder engine. This new one employs twice that displacement and three times the cylinders, with its 6.0-liter W-12. From the 552 horsepower this engine offered in the 2004 Continental GT, output has increased to 582 in today’s equivalent model and 633 ponies in the GT Speed. Starting with the Speed version, Bentley engineers followed some conventional paths to push it up to 700 horsepower in the Supersports. Bigger turbochargers feed into a reworked intake system via revised intercoolers, new main and connecting-rod bearings reduce friction, and the programmers recalibrated the fuel injection, ignition timing, and cam phasing.
The exhaust system also was revised for freer breathing and to invite a crackling backfire during downshifts. The eight-speed automatic transmission gets a torque converter with quicker lockup and can be shifted manually via big paddles mounted to the steering column—these are awkwardly placed, though, being too high and too far behind the wheel for quick work, and their response feels dampened. Manual selection is better done via the hefty mechanical-feeling console-mounted shifter with its dedicated plus/minus gate. In reality, the automatic programming is so good that the drivers from Bentley’s own GT3 racing team say there’s no advantage to choosing your own gears, even at Estoril.
Make It Go
After a barely noticeable delay from idle, certainly too brief to call lag, the big 12-cylinder is eager to rev to its 6250-rpm redline, just 300 rpm beyond the power peak. But what really dominates the engine’s character is the massive 750 lb-ft of torque (100 more than you get in a Hellcat and fully present at 2050 rpm versus the Chrysler’s 4800-rpm peak). That and the smoothness of a 12, which has half again as many power strokes per revolution as a V-8. For all its upgrades, the W-12 still employs port fuel injection, so there’s none of that gritty undertone that often accompanies direct-injection technology. In light use, it’s as quiet and smooth as any competitor’s 12-cylinder; press the pedal deep into the wool carpet and the engine emits a bass-note roar that’s not particularly melodious but is certainly authoritative.
Given that the car costs about $300,000, odds are that most readers will only hear a Supersports from the outside anyway, where they’ll be more entertained than is the driver by the exhaust crackle when the coupe downshifts. At least that’s our impression from driving top-down in the convertible, in which the soundtrack spoke of performance. With the steel roof, though, the cabin is so well isolated that the exhaust noises seemed remote.
Fuel economy? Surely you jest. The W-12 in base form is equipped with cylinder deactivation, but that feature went over the side with the upgrade to Supersports specification. Expect an EPA city rating of 11 mpg, which means Bentley owners will be purchasing a lot of premium-grade gasoline.
And It Turns!
Aside from the drivetrain, the special effect that sets the Supersports apart from nearly all previous Continentals is that Bentley has adapted and improved upon the brake-based torque-vectoring system it employed in the race-car-inspired GT3-R, a more dedicated performance model with the lighter twin-turbo V-8 engine and only two seats. Making this W-12 edition turn as well as it goes is a greater challenge, given its mass. Bentley admits to more than 5000 pounds in coupe form and more than 5400 for the convertible—and the front wheels are said to be burdened with 58 percent of the total.
Even with the all-wheel-drive system sending a default 60 percent of the torque to the rear (variable between 35 and 85 percent), nimble was never going to be in this car’s vocabulary. By applying some braking force to the inside rear wheel when entering a corner, however, torque vectoring makes the Supersports turn in more promptly. You’ll not mistake it for a sports car that dives for an apex, but this grand tourer can find that apex reliably. Lapping Estoril is an exercise in deliberation—get all your braking done in a straight line, turn in late, and don’t touch the throttle until you have your exit point lined up. Any other approach yields tire-squealing understeer. In more usual circumstances, such as the back roads and the highways around Lisbon, the Supersports is fun and easy to place in corners or when you ask it to make a pass on a narrow two-lane. The oligarch who wishes to make haste to his country retreat will be well served.
The air-spring suspension tuning, Bentley says, is firmer than in a Continental Speed and the Supersports rides 0.1 inch lower. The suspension is tunable across four steps ranging from Comfort to Sport. The differences among them are narrow, to the point that the distinction between the firmest and softest is nearly indiscernible. Even in Sport mode, the ride over rough pavement is still exemplary—it feels as if the suspension flattens bumps in the road more than it absorbs such disruptions.
Carbon-ceramic brake discs the size of a flying saucer (well, nearly—the front rotors are 16.5 inches across and the rears 14.0) are gripped by eight-piston front calipers but, surprisingly, only single-piston sliding calipers in back. They do a great job of hauling down this heavyweight from the speeds we saw—up to 150 mph—but they were smoking profusely after four laps of the track. This is a GT, not a track-day special. The brake pedal has longer travel and a softer feel than we’d like, but smoke aside, we noted no evident fade in hard use. We also noticed two missing items: dust accumulating on the 21-inch forged-aluminum wheels, and the squeal and grinding sounds that often accompany carbon-ceramic discs. Bentley CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer credits the engineering of the brake pads for the absence of both annoyances, part of the attention to Bentley customers’ desires.
The Bentley’s design has aged well, but it must be said that the Continental comes across very much as a product of 20th-century thinking compared with more recent arrivals, including the Mercedes-AMG S65 coupe, which is much more of a spaceship. The Continental Supersports has the high-end stones to make the S65 yield the left lane on those increasingly rare stretches of unlimited German autobahn long enough to make for a meaningful distinction between 200 mph and 185 mph, but it makes no pretense of driving itself at all—it won’t take the wheel for you while you fiddle with your phone, and it won’t slam on the brakes if you’re too inattentive to notice stopped traffic ahead. The infotainment system has a large storage capacity for your digital music or video collections, but its screen is small by modern luxury-car standards.
Something must be done to visually set apart such special editions, of course. The most obvious thing done to the Supersports was to append a wing to the decklid. Together with a carbon-fiber splitter at the front and a rear diffuser, the wing supposedly balances the aerodynamic lift at 200-plus mph. Okay. There’s an option to delete it, and we’d recommend any owner not planning to spend much time at 200 mph do so. Other distinctions are a Supersports-specific wheel design, black accents on the exterior, and a standard carbon-fiber trim specification inside. The glossy, checkered pattern on the door panels was more handsome than we anticipated, although traditionalists can choose among several wood veneers.
Bentley also makes much of the tri-tone upholstery offered on the Supersports, a first in this model’s nearly 15-year history. Its appeal depends largely on the buyer’s choice of colors; we found some of the cars thus equipped to be quite attractive, but then there was the one in red, white, and black that reminded us of nothing so much as a bowling shoe. It all comes down to the buyer’s taste when mixing and matching from the standard array of 17 hues of leather. And that’s before you go full custom via the Mulliner program.
Surprisingly, though, we are told that roughly 50 percent of Bentley customers drive home in a car from the dealer’s stock on the day of their first visit. If they’re choosing off the rack rather than bespoke tailoring, these must be buyers unaccustomed to waiting. If it’s immediate gratification they’re after, there’s no Bentley that will get them up to speed quicker than the Supersports.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe or convertible
ESTIMATED BASE PRICE: coupe, $299,000;
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 48-valve W-12, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 366 cu in, 5998 cc
Power: 700 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 750 lb-ft @ 2050 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 108.1 in
Length: 189.7 in
Width: 76.5-76.7 in Height: 54.7-54.8 in
Passenger volume: 86-89 cu ft
Trunk volume: 9-13 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 5050-5400 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 3.4-3.7 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 7.3-7.7 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 11.6-12.0 sec
Top speed: 205-209 mph
EPA combined/city/highway: 13–14/11/19–20 mpg (C/D EST)