What is it?
Seven hundred horsepower and seven hundred and fifty lb ft of torque. If you are to understand this new Bentley Continental Supersports, it is not enough to focus on one figure or the other: power will tell you how fast this car is, and it is torque that determines how it is fast. It’s only the combination of the two that reveals the true character of this car, and its unique place among high-performance machinery.
Of course, we have been here before. Twice. There’s not much need to dwell on the 1925 3.0-litre Bentley Super Sports, the first car to fly the wings guaranteed to do 100mph. The name was resurrected in 2009 to grace a two-seat, carbonfibre-seated Continental GT, lighter to the tune of 110kg with a little more power and torque, a 40:60 front to rear torque split, firmer suspension bushes and a wider rear track. Clearly, it was quicker than the Continental Speed from which it was derived, and so too did it feel different: tauter, better balanced, less of a GT and more of a (super) sports car.
The name may be the same this time around, but the approach is dramatically different. This new Supersports hasn’t bothered to go on much of a diet, is available with only four seats and doesn’t fiddle with the torque distribution, the rear track or even the suspension settings: springs, bars and dampers are all the same as a standard Continental Speed, as are the tyres.
True, it is 40kg lighter thanks to standard carbon ceramic discs and the Akrapovič titanium rear exhaust box already used on 2014’s 2V8-based GT3-R, but such savings seem almost incidental. This Supersports is all about the engine.
And given this is a Bentley, perhaps it should be no other way. If you believe you should always play to your strengths, there’s no doubting that the 6.0-litre W12 motor under the bonnet of the Continental has been its greatest strength since the car first emerged, blinking into the sunlight, back in 2003. So Bentley has asked one more favour before both car and engine are replaced towards the end of this year by an all-new Continental with another (yet only distantly related) direct-injection 6.0-litre W12 so new it’s only so far been used in the Bentayga.
Bigger Mitsubishi turbochargers blowing 1.4bar instead of 0.9bar don’t raise power by a mere 21bhp like the old Supersports, but by more than three times that amount, from the 637bhp of the current Speed to a nice, round 700bhp. And don’t forget the torque: the old Supersports added just 37lb ft, whereas this one piles on a mighty 130lb ft, taking it up to a total of 750lb ft.
What’s it like?
It is at first a puzzling car to drive. The Supersports name makes a promise backed by the carbonfibre trim, bonnet vents, rear wing and Alcantara-lined interior. But the car appears to have another agenda, which is simply to make you feel like an artillery shell fired from a large field gun every time you put your foot down. Ignore the 3.4sec 0-60mph time, for that is a function of traction as much as torque. It is the 7.2sec 0-100mph time that establishes this Supersports as Bentley’s first ultra-high performance road car. That’s quicker than we recorded for the new Honda NSX, Mercedes-AMG GT S and the latest Nissan GT-R. The last Supersports needed 8.9sec to do the same. And it does it because those big blowers don’t just allow the Supersports to alter the rotation of the earth at low rpm, but they also allow the motor to bang into its rev-limiter with unprecedented ferocity at its top end. Torque and power, power and torque.
But it’s frustrating, too. For 14 years, the Continental GT has, in all its myriad guises, always been stronger in engine than chassis. And to lavish such additional riches on the former while leaving the latter clutching at straws – it has the torque vectoring system first used on the GT3-R now fully integrated with the traction and stability control systems – serves only to accentuate the disparity between the two. Additional power and torque can bring alive the chassis of some cars, but they tend to be those with a pre-existing surfeit of grip over power – like the Porsche Cayman. In almost 2.3 tonnes of nose-heavy Bentley, this was never going to be the case.
So you have to adapt your style of driving to suit the car, a necessary evil I resent in any machine. Despite its enormous ceramic brake discs, you have be conservative with your braking and overstop the car before turning in. Do so on a trailing throttle and you can feel the torque vectoring braking the inside rear wheel to tuck you into the apex, but it will still run wide if you are ambitious with entry speed. Only when you do it Bentley’s way – slow in, fast out – does it all start to make sense. The vectoring works far better driving away from the apex, you can sense incipient understeer and the system functioning effectively to quell it. Lift off the throttle and it will also adjust its line quite pleasantly and precisely, impressively so for a car of this heft. And it’s actually very good in fast curves – you just aim for an early apex, lob the car in as you ease off the gas and get back on the power as soon as you can.
But regardless of its name, to drive, this is not a true sports car, let alone a super sports machine. Like every other Bentley of the last 86 years, it is a high tourer – albeit one possessing ultra-high performance – and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, for while the attributes it brings are less headline hungry, they are no less valuable.
For instance, despite its enormous 21in forged alloy rims, the Bentley rides exquisitely well. It’s wonderfully quiet at motorway speeds and you know you could drive all day and night in its enormous seats and emerge without an ache. Add in the immense sense of engineering integrity and that unique Bentley sense of solidity, and it’s easy to see how the whole package could appeal to a certain constituency of well-heeled customer even at £212,500, particularly as Bentley is limiting production to 710 units (its power output in PS). After all, Bentley sold all they could make of the last Supersports (about 1800 in the end), even though it was around £30,000 cheaper than this model in real terms.
Should I buy one?
Certain cars reveal their nature in the first few miles, but that has never been the Bentley way, and by calling this one Supersports, Bentley has clouded its character further. To me, a super sports car is one focused on the provision of pure driving pleasure almost to the exclusion of everything else, and this is not that car. Think of it instead as a traditional Bentley turned up to 11. What Bentleys do badly, it still does badly, what Bentleys do well, it does better than ever.
Once I understood that, I came to like the car and, more than anything, admire the fact that 14 years on, it remains a charming and competitive proposition in the market place. But the wait for Bentley’s first true sports car in a lifetime continues. The company will be 100 years old in 2019, and there will be no better opportunity than that.
Bentley Continental Supersports
Location: Lisbon, Portugal Price £212,500; Engine W12, 5998cc, petrol; Power 700bhp at 5900rpm; Torque 750lb ft at 2050rpm; 0-62mph 3.5sec; Top speed 209mph; Gearbox 8-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 2280kg; Economy 18.0mpg (combined); CO2 358g/km, 37% Rivals: Rolls-Royce Wraith, Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupé
What is it?