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HomeSPECIAL FEATURESBENTLEY CONTINENTAL SUPERSPORTS

BENTLEY CONTINENTAL SUPERSPORTS

The new Bentley Continental Supersports is superlative in every respect. It is the most powerful Bentley road car ever created and the quickest too, fitting its placement at the top of the Continental hierarchy. BERNIE HELLBERG recently piloted one of the first Supersports to land in South Africa.

No member of the elite Bentley Continental family could ever be accused of being slow, even the ‘entry’ base V8 turns out 373 kW and makes the dash to its first century in just 4.6 seconds.

But why have merely a sporty Bentley Continental, when you could have a super sporty one, right?

Indeed, the British boutique brand has never shied away from building greatness into the Continental’s abilities – or any of their ranges for that matter – and launched its new range-topping Continental Supersports into the South African market, just in case you didn’t know.

To prove the point that, in 100 years, Bentley Supersports models have always been the fastest of their time, Bentley had a rather simple goal with this car; build the fastest four-seater car in the world without many major changes to the base Continental – to keep costs down, of course.

Not that most buyers would likely consider the R4,450,000 price tag for the Continental Supersports coupé staggeringly cost-effective, nor might they believe that it is particularly frugal to pay an additional R400,000 on top of for the convertible version. But considering that the Supersports’ has not conceded a gramme of the luscious handcrafted interior to make the Supersports go faster, one does get a truly great Grand Tourer for the money. That, and the fact that the entire Supersports run will comprise only 710 units, no more.

GO BALLISTIC MISSILE

Compared with the next-best Continental Speed, the Supersports taps an additional 55 kW and 197 Nm of torque out of the twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 that lurks beneath the new bonnet with its flaring nostrils. Yes, this means that the Supersports commands no less than 522 kW and 1,017 Nm. It employs larger turbochargers making more boost and revised intercoolers, while its crankshaft and connecting rod bearings are souped up too. To send all the phenomenal power to the road, a brand new eight-speed automatic transmission uses a new torque converter that locks up faster and is better able to cope with the massive amounts of power.

In layman’s terms, all these figures translate into a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of just 3.5 seconds in coupé form, and 3.9 seconds for the heavier convertible. The coupé will then charge ahead to 160 km/h in just 7.2 seconds.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Top speed is eye watering at 336 km/h and 330 km/h respectively and, since we’re talking ridiculous numbers, also consider that, at these speeds, the Supersports swallows about 3,800 litres of air every second. That’s enough to fill a standard shipping container in just ten seconds.

PILOTING THE BEAST

Anyone who has tried steering a missile will tell you that going in a straight line is what they usually do best. While it’s incontestable that straight-line speed is this Continental’s best attribute, it also benefits from some handling upgrades that have been added over the Speed.

Slightly lower and stiffer than that of other Continental models, the good news is that it is also lighter than any other Continental, thanks to several small changes like lightweight wheels and an optional titanium exhaust system.

Keeping all that mass in check is a set of carbon-ceramic brakes as standard, as is a brake-based torque-vectoring system lifted brazenly from the Continental GT3-R.

Although drive time on the launch was somewhat limited, the Supersports maintained its comfortable grand touring reputation over every inch of the poorly maintained Johannesburg asphalt. Fortunately, the Continental was built with a many an unfortunate British Council road in mind too, so the stiffened air suspension is well-accustomed to glide over road imperfections, while the heated and cooled massaging seats provide levels of comfort expected at the upper end of the automotive spectrum.

And as buyers at these lofty heights of automotive luxury have come to expect from Bentley, customisation is the name of the game. No less than 17 different hide colours are available in the Continental, ten trim veneers – including a new chequered carbon fibre – and a new Supersports steering wheel trimmed in leather and Alcantara with a top centre marker, as well as a new three-tone colour option for the interior trim.

SHE’S A LOOKER

Spotting the difference between the standard Continental and the Supersports is easy, thanks to the latter’s extensive trim upgrades, including a carbon-fibre front splitter and rear diffuser along with side sill extensions.

The bonnet is adorned with a smattering of grilles and vents, while the fenders are finished in gloss black, and the head- and taillights are slightly tinted.

Although there are rear spoiler and side decal options for the more eccentric buyer, the large rear spoiler adds more function than form, and better serves the needs of the driver at low flying than it does at flying under the radar.

Inside, though, it is another matter altogether.

Everything is over-the-top, but the razzmatazz works beautifully in this car. There are smatterings of faux-suede and carbon fibre trim everywhere; a purpose-sculpted steering wheel forms the main attraction, as the special stitched-in Supersports badges watch over their passengers from the headrests.

SOUNDS OF LOUDNESS

Some would say that the interior is all very imposing, and they would be correct. However, only the aural beauty of the Supersports’ optional titanium exhaust trumps it.

Able to breath more freely, the lightweight exhaust systems clears the normally sedate W12’s throat ranging from a growling mid range to a bellowing high-rev yowl, crackling on its way down, as you roll off the throttle and flick down through the gears.

The best way to enjoy the soundtrack, by far, is in the convertible with the insulated fabric top stowed – there the Supersports sounds as it should, unlike the coupe which can be just a little too tranquil.

Thankfully with the top down and rear seat wind blocker in place, the Supersports convertible still allows normal conversation at speed up to 100 km/h and even at times, pushing beyond 120 km/h the wind roar, though present, was only just enough to drown out instructions from the navigation system.

According to Paul Jones, the director of the Continental line, an electronically actuated mechanical torque vectoring diff adds weight, and would have required changes to the rear floor pan, reducing boot and back seat space – hence sticking with the Continental’s open diff layout.

Usually, weight is the enemy of performance, but with such a huge torque output, and all-wheel drive grip, the Supersports simply grips and goes. On more challenging corners a slower entry would advisable to avoid any potential understeer, but once the apex is behind you, the big Bentley charges off like a much smaller car.

Bentley’s torque vectoring works unobtrusively in the background, slowing an inside rear wheel to keep the nose pointed in its intended direction.

In keeping with its high-end luxury feel the steering is perhaps less communicative than it should be, but that over assisted isolation is right at home wafting along uneven road surfaces and expansion-jointed freeways.

Those that wish to get more involved in the driving process can change gears manually via steering column-mounted shift paddles, but their position high up, and a handspan away from the wheel makes them less than intuitive to use than wheel-mounted levers – something Bentley hasn’t changed from the regular Continental.

More impressively, it is equipped with the largest carbon ceramic rotors fitted to a production car. There’s no denying their immense stopping power from speed when they are within their optimum temperature range, but the pedal isn’t loaded with feedback, and you feel the retardation is the unblurring of the scenery rather than distinctive pedal feel.

LAST WORD

In the end, none of the mild critiques that could be afforded the Supersports matters too much, as Bentley’s fastest machine is superbly capable of performing cross-country trips in a single sitting, blending the best of the brand’s craftsmanship with ferocious power and unshakable grace. It is truly the grandest of grand tourers.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © BENTLEY SOUTH AFRICA

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