Eighty-nine years ago, Woolf Barnato and Bernard Rubin drove the famous Blower Bentley “Old Mother Gun” to victory at Le Mans. Today, you can buy a Bentley with nearly three times the horsepower of the racing Blower Bentley – and drive it to dinner. The fastest, quickest, and most powerful production Bentley ever that also happens to be the world’s fastest four-seater, the 2017 Bentley Continental Supersports, is the pinnacle of the brand’s performance engineering, just as the Blower Bentley was nearly a century ago. But is today’s Supersports destined for similarly iconic status?
With its 209-mph top speed, 3.4-second 0 to 60 mph run, and output of 700 hp and 750 lb-ft of torque from a 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W-12 engine, the latest Bentley Continental Supersports is undeniably a benchmark in super-luxury grand touring. The sheer force of the engine driving all four wheels through its ZF-sourced, eight-speed automatic gearbox is stunning, with peak torque delivered effortlessly (and with barely perceptible lag) from 2,050 rpm to nearly 4,500 rpm. To top it off, when deliveries begin in the third quarter of 2017, only 710 Supersports will be sold worldwide, and just 250 of which are earmarked for America, making it a rather exclusive pick even among Bentley’s boutique line.
A convertible version will be available for the 2018 model year, which Bentley claims is the fastest four-seat open top car in the world with a top speed of 205 mph. Acceleration is likewise a touch off the pace of the coupe, with 60 mph arriving in 3.7 seconds. The convertible’s suspension is also somewhat different compared to that of the coupe, with a slight change to rear suspension geometry, and consequent tune, required to make room for the soft top when stowed.
But as much as the Supersports is about the numbers and, let’s be honest, the bragging rights, it’s still a Bentley, and it must behave as such. That means comfort, style, and luxury as well as outright pace. To that end, Bentley has cribbed some bits from the rest of the Continental lineup: damper and chassis settings are the same as the Continental GT Speed’s, the torque vectoring system comes from the Continental GT3-R, and the interior is an even more exotic interpretation of the Continental’s existing opulence. The result is a car that’s as refined as it is fast, as comfortable as it is quick, and entirely suited for life at speed and at the country club.
The Supersports’ look is aggressive, certainly politically incorrect in a time of Teslas and Bolts. The mesh grille, gaping scoops at the nose, vented hood, and fixed rear wing all speak of the righteous over-consumption of gasoline and air. Underlying these hard-partying cues is the Continental’s familiar mix of monolith and curve. An optional X Specification package offers two-tone paint and other aesthetic tweaks, and as always, Bentley’s Mulliner individualization service can be enlisted to achieve nearly any look imaginable. Whether pulling up at a posh valet or a pit lane, the Supersports looks the part.
The pit lane, you ask? Yes, the pit lane. While the Supersports is by no means intended for serious track use, it is certainly capable. Although my time was limited to just three full laps of the famed F1 circuit at Estoril, the big Bentley proved itself to be surprisingly nimble and easy-to-drive at or near the limit. The quick, light steering makes it easy to aim the car, and the Supersports torque vectoring by brake system grabs the inside rear wheel to assist turn-in. At corner exit, the all-wheel drive system can vary its power application from the usual 40:60 front-to-rear split all the way from 15:85 to 65:35, with the torque vectoring system further adjusting the car’s attitude with the brakes. This makes it easy to get to the throttle early and use all of the turbo W-12’s substantial torque and power. Easy, that is, as long as you follow a slow in, fast out style to better manage the car’s tendency toward understeer at the limit, a behavior induced in part by the Supersports’ 58:42 front-to-rear weight distribution.
With the brakes being used not only to slow the Supersports’ mighty 5,027-lb curb weight (in coupe form; the convertible weighs 5,412 lb) but also to manage torque distribution and cornering, you might worry about the thermal capacity of the brakes. But Bentley has specified the Supersports with eight-piston front calipers and single-piston rears, grabbing enormous 420-mm (16.5-inch) front discs and 356-mm (14.0-inch) rear discs, both 40 mm (1.57 inches) thick and made of carbon ceramic. Bentley says they’re the largest of their type in the world. You’ll believe it after several 150-mph straights end in 40-mph corners. Toward the end of my three-lap session, there was some noticeable softening of the brake pedal, but the Supersports still braked powerfully.
Despite the Supersports’ surprising track capability, it’s not intended for such use – it’s just the only place one can safely uncork all of the car’s performance short of the autobahn. On the street, the Supersports never feels balky or awkward working at a mere fraction of its potential, thanks in part to the nearly always-on torque and smooth shifting eight-speed automatic. Ride quality is excellent for a modern large-wheeled car (21-inch wheels are standard), absorbing all but the most sudden and substantial or road imperfections without untoward impact on the occupants. With its comfortable, roomy seats (for the front row, at least) and smooth ride, the Supersports would make a fine continent crosser. Official U.S. gas mileage figures haven’t yet been released, but even assuming slightly poorer highway mileage than the GT Speed, thanks to its 24-gallon tank the Supersports should still manage at least 400 miles of open-road cruising before needing a refill.
None of this comes cheaply, mind you. The base list price for the Supersports coupe starts at $293,300, while the convertible brings that up to $322,600.
But even with all this excellence going on, is the Supersports truly iconic? After nearly 14 years on the roads, the Continental has become synonymous with Bentley for many, and the Supersports is the greatest iteration of that car yet – and quite possibly the last. A completely new version of the Continental is expected in the next year or two, with new designs and likely even greater performance margins. But the Supersports captures, even if only for an instant, the epitome of Bentley’s pursuit of luxury, refinement, and motorsports-inspired performance.
It’s not quite the same thing as standing at the top of the podium at Le Mans, but for 250 well-heeled and highly selective Americans, it might just feel like it.
2017 Bentley Continental Supersports Coupe Specifications
|ENGINE||6.0L twin-turbo 4-OHC 48-valve W-12
700 hp @ 5,900 rpm, 750 lb-ft @ 2,050-4,500 rpm
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||11/20 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||189.7 x 87.6 x 54.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.4 sec|
|TOP SPEED||209 mph|