You don't have to wait for Bugatti to build an affordable Veyron, it's already here. It's called the Bentley Continental Supersports.
- 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports; 6.0-litre, W12, twin-turbo petrol; six-speed automatic; coupe – $506,000*
Words by Alborz Fallah Pics by George Skentzos, Alborz Fallah & Anthony Crawford
5:30am in the morning Brisbane time and the alarm goes off, today is a Tuesday like every other Tuesday, except that today I am flying to Sydney to drive a Bentley Continental Supersports and a Jaguar XK-R.
Cars like the Supersports are the finest cut diamonds of the car world. Elegant in one way and absolutely superb in every other.
I have never been a lover of Bentley in the past, as great as their cars have always been, they've never appealed to me in that sort of way an Aston Martin DBS appeals to me, but the Supersport is a whole different beast. I spent the hour on the plane wondering how it would drive, how it would accelerate and how it would feel behind the wheel.
9:30am Sydney time and we are on our way from the Airport in the Jaguar XK-R to pick up the Bentley. A car which boasts a phenomenal 463kW of power and a massive 800Nm of torque from the finely tuned twin turbo 6.0-litre W12 engine.
Half an hour later and after we'd escaped the dictatorial reign of Mcqurie bank's Sydney Airport, we arrived at Volkswagen headquarters to pick the only Bentley Supersports in all of Australia.
It's not often you see a pearlescent white Bentley with gorgeous black 20-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels supported by the world's biggest production ready carbon ceramic brakes sitting casually alongside cars worth less than 1/10th its price.
After our thorough introduction to the car we were away. The plan was simple, take the Bentley through its paces both around twisty mountain roads and long high speed drives as well as through Sydney CBD.
The Supersport has a simple idea behind it. Reduce as much weight as possible without taking away the luxury. If you're waiting for Bugatti to build a more affordable baby version of the Veyron, don't bother, because the Bentley Supersport is what you're really after. With only 500km on the clock, this Continental had hardly seen any real action. All that was about to change.
I sat inside and adjusted the seat (manually of course) and steering wheel position. Foot on the brake, deep breath and press the start button. The car park exploded with the sound of the finely tuned W12, a deep burble of pure bliss. The Golf and the Octavia whimpered in envy as the Bentley came to life. It sounded like a futuristic German spaceship spinning up its warp drives. The birds flew away in fear, the clouds darkened all around and the earth stood still for that one brief moment as I looked inside the Supersports soul. It was time to experience the world's fastest Bentley.
Alas, before any of that could happen, I was frantically searching for the iPod connectivity, there was a few moments of panic as I thought, dear God, no iPod support, but I was thankfully surprised to find it hidden away in the glovebox. It worked beautifully with my iPhone, perfect integration and it even charged the unit. It may seem comical to some but having this feature working properly is mandatory for me.
It would have been a crime to turn the music on when you have such a magnificent piece of engineering singing to you, so it was left off for now. I grabbed the ‘Soft?Touch’ leather gear lever and engaged D. Hyperspace had no idea what was coming.
It's the fastest car Bentley has even built and part of me was wondering if it would remind of driving the world's fastest car, the Bugatti Veyron. Of course that makes sense as they're both owned by the same parent company, Volkswagen.
In fact, the seats are very similar to that of the Veyrons, so is the engine noise. Sure the Veyron is a little bit deeper and creates a blackhole everytime it sucks in air for its four turbochargers, but the Bentley is as close as it gets (and its 1/5th of the price! What a bargain).
Similar to most serious supercars the Continental Supersports is able to lower and raise it self when needed, this is a very useful feature as the Supersports is lowered by 10 mm (0.4 inches) at the front and 15 mm (0.6 inches) at the rear compared to the standard Continental.
One of the most noticeable differences between the standard and the Supersports is the replacement of 50/50 front/rear torque split by 40/60 split with a rear-bias. Bentley says the additional ten percent bias to the rear provides for better modulation of line and attitude by ‘throttle steering’. It also means if you ever want to look like Michael Schumacher on the race track, you can get the back to slide around a lot more whilst still being in total control.
Although I've always been a huge fan of all-wheel-drive sports cars, the Bentley's rear-bias torque split means not only is it always stable, but always fun too.
As I drove out of the car park we took a sharp right and headed for a long drive out to Sea Cliff bridge, one of the last remaining bridges in Sydney were beautiful scenery and twisty roads still remain somewhat untouched by cash-revenue officers.
With 3.5 per cent more power and 6 per cent more torque than the Continental GT Speed, the Supersports can reach an astonishing 329km/h if you wish to travel at speed. That makes it the fastest any production Bentley has reached to date.
During the two hour drive out of Sydney I started playing around with the Supersports interior. I originally thought the Supersports may have a confused personality, not sure if its a serious supercar or a luxury car, in fact, it's both. It has kept the best of both worlds in perfect harmony.
The rear seats are replaced with a stowage area and a carbon fibre luggage retaining beam (which I might add, really looks the business). With only two-seats the Supersports makes extensive use of carbon fibre, Alcantara and ‘Soft?Touch’ leather through out the cabin, the first Bentley to do so.
Carbon fibre replaces wood veneer on the fascia and centre console. Headlining, rear compartment and the seat centre panels are finished in Alcantara while the Bugatti-like lightweight sports seat frames are made to a "Bentley specification" and put together at Crewe in the UK.
The seats appear to be fixed, however they can be raised/lowered by 40 mm (1.6 inches) manually (by the dealer) to accommodate the owner’s stature.
As I mentioned earlier, there are is no power assist with seat movement, which is a good thing because the dedicated sports seats are a total of 45 kg lighter than those found in the Continental GT Speed.
I can go on forever about the interior, but the key point is that Bentley has managed to maintain its extreme luxury stature whilst accommodating the obviously aggressive nature of this beast.
Before I do stop talking about the interior though, it's worth mentioning that one of my main criticisms with the car is the satelite nagivation and the centre console in general. The plastic buttons surrounding the LCD screen (which is not big enough and not a touch screen) can be replaced with something more fitting, additionally the satellite navigation system is a little behind the times.
The map display reminded me of old arcade games, particularly in 2D mode. Sure the continental has been around for a good five plus years now but it would be good to see Bentley replace the system with another based on something out of the Volkswagen parts bin.
As for the stereo itself, I can't fault the sound quality, it's superb.
Apart from the power increase and weight reduction, if you're wondering how the Supersports can go from 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds whilst the Continental GTC Speed does the same dash 0.9 seconds slower, it's worth looking at the updated ZF 6HP26 transmission which now has a ‘Quickshift’ system that cuts shift times by 50 per cent. It also enables double downshifts.
As we entered the royal national park, it was time to find out if the Supersports which weighs 110kg less than the GTC Speed, can handle the tight corners and some spirited mountain driving. Initially the main party trick of the Supersports appears to be its absurd acceleration but the more you get to know the car the harder you can push it around bends.
Plant your foot flat to the floor in any gear or at any speed and you're instantly, without any lag what so ever, slammed back into your seat as the W12 roars to life. This becomes rather addictive after a while and unlike some ultra-luxury sports cars, you won't be getting used to the car's acceleration any time soon. Remember, it can go from 0-160km/h in just 8.9 seconds (faster than most cars get to 100km/h).
When you're up for some fun, dial all the sport controls to maximum, lower the beast, engage sports suspension and hold on tight. I liken the Supersports to the Aston Martin DBS for its handling, it's a big car but it turns tight corners like an R32 Golf, then accelerates like a mini Veyron.
Grab the steering wheel mounted gear lever and as you go to grab a higher gear the Supersport''s computers momentarily cut fuel and ignition to allow for faster mechanical shift times through torque reduction, meanwhile as you approach a corner and go for a few downshifts, the perfect rev matches result from positive torque which is generated thanks to extra throttle and fuel injection during the overrun. All of this is done in milliseconds and seamlessly.
Once confident with the car's ability, you can keep your foot flat on the accelerator as hard as you can, jump on the brakes at the very last millisecond, feel the front nose dig in slightly, turn the wheel smoothly and plant it once again. Do it over and over again and eventually you'll realise that no matter how ridiculous a corner looks, the Supersport can find a way around it at speeds generally reserved for race cars.
Speaking of race cars, can you track the Supersport? Absolutely, with never-fading brakes matched to great handling dynamics and an enormous amount of power and torque, it would be a waste not to give it a go. Of course as good as the 275/35 ZR20 Pirelli ultra high performance tyres are on road, they may not last that long on track.
It's worth admiring the Supersports as it's a car made possible thanks to a group of dedicated engineers that wanted to take the Continental to its extreme. The accountants were asleep when this car was put together and you only have to look it at to believe it.
Bentley is the first of the ultra-luxury manufacturers to take FlexFuel technology seriously with the Supersport capable of running on everything from standard 95RON fuel to E85 biofuel. The company says its complete model range will make use of FlexFuel technology by 2012.
To make the Supersports extra special from the outside, newly-styled front air intakes feed the intercoolers behind, while twin bonnet vents ensure positive extraction of hot air above the engine. Bentley says the additional power required more air for the turbochargers, so the changes, as aesthetically pleasing as they may be, are also useful. More so as they help to increase downforce at the front. The rear gets a re-profiled automatic spoiler (engages at around 80km/h when needed) with a raised rear edge.
Stand right behind the Supersports and you'll notice the wheel arches are extended by 25 mm on each side and a new bumper with a black finish accommodates exclusive elliptical exhaust pipes with a discreet vertical divider. In fact the exhaust pipes are 40 mm larger than the standard ones and are very good at grabbing attention.
Front grilles, lamp bezels, window surrounds and wheels are finished in a unique dark-smoked steel finish.
The man from Bentley tried his best to explain to me the complicated process (Physical Vapour Deposition) by which all stainless steel components are finished, however I was far too busy admiring the brakes at that stage. From what I remember, the Supersport is the first car to make use of the technique, generally only used for decorative coating on watches and machine tools.
As far naming goes, ‘Supersports’ was originally a two-seater 3-litre Bentley model introduced in 1925. It had all of 85 bhp but went on to become the first production Bentley to reach 100 mph (~160km/h).
If you're after a Bentley Continental Supersport, you'll looking at just above $500,000 plus on roads. Bentley has created four new exterior colours exclusively for the Supersports – pearlescent Ice (as pictured), Quartzite and two matt colours: Light Grey Satin and Dark Grey Satin. Of course if they don't appeal to you, there are 17 ‘standard’ paint colours as well, even if that doesn't work, you can always order it as you please (pink perhaps?).
Compared to its main rivals, the Ferrari 599 and the Aston Martin DBS, the Bentley presents a different experience altogether, mixing efficient German engineering and reliability with exclusive luxury reserved for royalty.
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