Driven: 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports

November 18, 2009
As soon as the narrow English country road opens up, Ulrich Eichhorn releases the little Michael Schumacher inside him. Although the pavement is still slippery from the morning rain, Bentley's R&D chief lets the mighty, camouflage-gray coupe fly as if this were his final qualifying lap for the pole position at Monaco. All the while, he delivers a real-time monologue: "Turn-in is much crisper now, see? A lot crisper, in fact. Can you feel the car hug the road? Can you feel the extra grip? The wider rear track does make a difference. And so do the new twenty-inch Pirelli UHP tires. Now watch the tail. It'll slide just a bit through the next left-hander. Just a bit - there! But catching it is the easiest trick in the book. Even when I switch off stability control . . . " Sure enough, he does, just in time for a traffic circle. The car dives deep, then Eichhorn lifts, and as the rear end swings around, the nicely balanced all-wheel-drive system waltzes the Supersports - all 4940 pounds of it - gracefully toward the third exit.
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Reading my mind, Eichhorn nods and elaborates. "Sure, this is still a heavy car. But we took out 240 pounds and put in twenty-one extra horses. As a result, we can give Ferrari a good run for the money. While the GT Speed plays in the same league as the 612 Scaglietti, the Supersports aims at the 599GTB Fiorano." Performance-wise, the top-of-the-line Continental does indeed establish itself firmly in supercar territory. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is a very rapid 3.7 seconds, the 100-mph mark is reached after only 8.9 seconds, and top speed is an equally impressive 204 mph, all according to Bentley.
Time for a driver change. The cockpit looks familiar, but many details are new, like the now poorly legible instrument faces, the vast carbon-fiber trim, the grippy leather rim of the three-spoke steering wheel, and the firm yet comfortable Sparco bucket seats, behind which is an upholstered luggage shelf where the back seats used to be. Push the starter button to summon the upgraded W-12 engine, which now musters an even more muscular 590 lb-ft of torque and makes the most beautiful noise. The engine is not only vocally talented, it also thrills with an explosive torque flow that's level all the way from 1700 to 5600 rpm. Of course, every downshift is accompanied by a pronounced throttle blip. The six-speed transmission is a gem. In waft-along mode, it can be as smooth as your first kiss, but when you stab the accelerator, it will cut shift times in half compared with the version used in other Continental models. Thanks to four-wheel drive with a 40/60 torque split, the twin-turbo 6.0-liter coupe can either be totally relaxed and stability-oriented or absolutely focused and corner-greedy.
Since the Supersports carries plenty of mass and momentum, prompt and reliable deceleration is as important as prodigious forward thrust. That's why this is the only Bentley that comes with carbon-ceramic disc brakes as standard equipment. What the brakes don't neutralize is taken care of by the electronic stability control, which has three settings. We recommend Sport as the most entertaining mix between carving and sliding. Out of the four ride programs (Comfort, Normal, and Sport 1 and 2), Sport 1 offers the best blend of body control and compliance. Despite the fat Pirelli PZero tires fitted to the black, twenty-inch wheels, the Supersports is not a bone-crusher. Quite the contrary: the ride could almost be described as supple, and the air-sprung chassis combines distinct filtering qualities with the kind of haptic transparency that helps to read the road.
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Priced at $273,295 and available now, the Continental Supersports is not a limited-edition model. The hefty $59,300 premium over the GT Speed buys, first and foremost, a transformation of character from grand tourer to hard-core sports car. Matching cosmetic changes include new footwear, extra air intakes in the front bumper, additional air vents in the hood, and large oval tailpipes. Among the newly introduced options is a cool matte-finish paint that will set you back an uncool $32,360. If our first brief driving impressions are anything to go by, this is without question the best of the modern Bentleys. True, it still weighs too much and drinks too much. But the performance is simply awesome, the chassis is tuned to a new level of compliance, and the incredibly well-balanced controls - steering, brakes, throttle, shift paddles - make this big beast exceptionally user-friendly.
The Specs
On sale: Now
Price: $273,295
Engine: 6.0L twin-turbo W-12, 621 hp, 590 lb-ft
Drive: 4-wheel

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