It seems that everything you hear about the Supersports version of the 2011 Bentley Continental convertible concerns its 198-pound weight loss and 21 additional horsepower. Let’s put that in perspective: that weight loss on a 5300-pound car is, proportionally, the same as removing a bag of kitty litter from a Lotus Elise, and adding 21 horses to a team of 600 is like a Honda Civic gaining five horsepower. Is that something you’d really notice?
Yet the very reason to buy a Continental is to be noticed — it’s become the de facto voiture fabuleuse for Beverly Hills and Palm Beach nouveaux riches who on average, according to Bentley, keep their Continental show-off pieces for only eighteen months. Without an upgrade waiting in the wings, winged-B customers might flock elsewhere — and so first we saw the Speed variant, which now accounts for almost half of Continental sales. When the eighteen-month tryst with the Speed comes to an end, a Supersports is a suitable mechanism to convince the neighbors that you’re richer than ever.
For $78,900 more than the cost of a base Continental GTC convertible, you get a few things. No, not a Porsche 911 — which would cost about the same — but some additional air inlets in the front end and the hood to allow extra engine breathing. Twenty-inch, ten-spoke wheels are standard, and each of the rear tires sticks out an additional inch versus those in lesser Continentals. The rear fenders are flared accordingly, which, in combination with smoked trim throughout, gives this Continental a particularly sinister appearance — one that doesn’t take away from its elegant lines, though.
Inside, the Supersports features four narrow, thinly padded bucket seats. The fronts are made of carbon fiber and fitted with manual controls, something we suspect some Bentley customers haven’t used in decades. How quaint. Unlike the Supersports coupe, the convertible retains its rear seats because they contain the rollover protection system. Big swathes of decorative matte carbon fiber replace the wood trim found on the dash of other Continentals, and beautiful, diamond-stitched Alcantara supplants the leather found on seating and door surfaces. The steering wheel and shifter feature a new type of leather exclusive to Bentley that looks and feels just like Alcantara but promises to be more resistant to sun damage.
Compared with the GTC, the all-wheel-drive system has been retuned for a slight rear bias to help eliminate power-on understeer and mitigate torque steer. Lowered 0.4 inch in front and 0.6 inch in the rear, the revised suspension controls body motions commendably and still provides a wonderfully supple ride.
The difference may be barely perceptible, but the Supersports is even speedier than the Speed, and that’s to say, wicked fast: 60 mph in 3.9 drama-free seconds, according to Bentley. Mash Ferragamo to carpet long enough, and this car will allegedly hit 202 mph. We suspect it’ll spend more time, however, idling in traffic on Rodeo Drive and Worth Avenue, where its driver might notice that the navigation screen approximates the graphics quality of an Atari 2600 and that its buttons are outclassed by those in the new Volkswagen Golf. So, too, are the Continental’s no-frills gauges. Audiophiles who own an Audi A4 with the $850 Bang & Olufsen system will be disappointed by the Naim stereo in the Bentley — even before they learn that it costs an additional $7180. These days, cars costing a quarter as much have features absent here — ventilated seats, swiveling bixenon headlights, and soft-close doors, to name a few.
The Supersports convertible might be the most powerful droptop Bentley ever, but its price and age have both crept up to the point where we can’t help but wonder if the most important thing to know about this Conti is that its replacement is due at this fall’s Paris auto show, just as this Supersports goes on sale.
ON SALE: October
PRICE: $286,695/$295,250 (base/as tested)
ENGINE: 6.0L twin-turbo W-12, 621 hp, 590 lb-ft
Around The Block: Aston Martin Rapide and Rolls-Royce Ghost
The arrival of any six-figure, twelve-cylinder British luxury car would be something of an occasion. But two in one week? That’s enough to make editors start dressing better around the office.
Of course, the Aston Martin Rapide and the Rolls-Royce Ghost are hardly comparable vehicles. Beyond the fact that Rolls asks $305,750 compared with the Aston’s measly $211,335 tag, there’s a clear difference in purpose here. The Rapide is a howling, curvaceous sports car that happens to have back seats and two extra doors. Both the slim opening to the back seats and the narrow buckets themselves would seem to discourage giving rides to anyone bigger than a size six. That’s probably for the best, as we wouldn’t want any overweight (or average weight) passengers upsetting the Rapide’s excellent handling balance.
The Ghost, on the other hand, is a rolling luxury suite that happens to have 563 hp and some BMW 7-Series parts. Oh, it’ll move — there’s enough low-end torque here to give the Rapide problems at a stoplight despite the Aston’s 1000-pound weight advantage. But the Ghost is at its best gliding lazily down a two-lane road, requiring only slight, one-finger inputs to the thin-rimmed steering wheel as you devote the rest of your attention to more important things, like the plush pile of the carpeting and the solidity of the piano-stop air-conditioning vents.