FOR THE FIRST century and a bit of the motorcar’s existence, it was an inalienable fact that the rate at which any given car could accelerate was determined, in part, by such things as load, surface conditions and incline, as well as more mechanical factors such as engine speed and which gear happened to be selected at the time.
As of 2017, though, concurrent with the launch of the 700bhp Bentley Continental Supersports, that ceases to be true. It is now possible. I’m convinced, for a car to accelerate at the same rate completely irrespective of how heavily it is loaded with golf clubs and trophy wives, how slippery or steep the road is, how fast the engine is turning over and whether it’s in second gear or sixth, just as long as it is fitted with this very engine.
The Supersports is so catastrophically powerful – not to mention torque, given its 750lb ft peak – that it accelerates with unrelenting violence regardless of everything else. I think you could marginally slow its rate of progress if you anchored its rear towing eye to a cathedral, but you’d need a very sensitive inbuilt gyroscope to notice the difference.
The first Continental GT was launched in 2003 and since then close to 60.000 of the things have been sold globally. If you parked each one of them nose-to-tail the chain would go on for 180 miles. It’s been a tremendous success story for Bentley, and Crewe wants to celebrate that success in suitable fashion before the all-new Continental GT arrives sometime next year. Allowing the old-timer to bow out with the dual titles of fastest and most powerful Bentley ever seems to be appropriate.
This Supersports will be limited to just 710 units across coupe and convertible body styles – the 621bhp 2009 version was churned out willy-nilly in comparison, with 1800 built-and at £212.500 the fixed-roof version, tested here, carries a £43.600 premium over the deposed range-topping Continental model, the 633bhp, W12-engined GT Speed. The twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine has been reworked for the Supersports with new intake and exhaust systems and bigger turbochargers, plus strengthened main and conrod bearings.
That gargantuan 750lb ft torque figure is available between 2050 and 4500rpm, which is where the car’s massive overtaking punch comes from. With the four-wheel-drive system, which gives it limitless traction, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox carried over from the Speed, the Supersports clocks 60mph in 3.4 seconds, despite its 2205kg kerb weight. Staggeringly, this version is a full 1.7 seconds quicker to 100mph than the previous Supersports, setting a time of 7.2 seconds.
The nominal torque split between the front and rear axles is 40:60, although around 85 per cent of that torque can be sent either way in extreme conditions. The Supersports also becomes the first W12 Continental to use torque vectoring. It borrows the ‘by braking’ system that was developed for the 2014 Continental GT3-R, and Bentley says it makes the car much more lithe and agile.
With chassis settings carried over from the Speed, the Supersports sits 10mm lower than a standard W12 Continental GT and its springs and anti-roll bars are stiffen Carbon-ceramic brakes are standard fit, saving 22kg, which contributes to a 40kg weight loss over the Speed. Befitting its head-of-the-family status, the Supersports is arguably the most distinctive-looking Bentley Continental yet. It certainly isn’t subtle and in brighter shades it could be accused of being just a touch attention-grabby, but in calmer hues it does look suitably menacing.
The rear wing, incidentally, can be deleted. Those buyers who want to turn even more heads will be interested in the Specification X package, which includes a range of eye-popping two-tone paint schemes and garish tri-tone interior trim options. Let’s just say Bentley knows its customers well. Unlike the previous Supersports, this version remains a four-seater. Bentley having responded to feedback from owners. The cabin is a slightly curious mix of rock-solid build quality and slightly flimsy minor switchgear, but overall the Supersports’ cockpit is one of its strengths.
With springs that are 25 per cent firmer and anti-roll bars 50 per cent stiffer than a regular W12’s, the Supersports is demonstrably not the best-riding car in the line-up, but it’s still supple enough on its air springs to give it that relaxed, cosseting gait over really long distances. There are, however, other, newer cars in the sector that do a better job of reducing wind and road noise to a hush, notably the Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupe.
Those more focused chassis settings do give the Supersports an unusually taut sort of body control given the car’s mass, and this forms the basis of its freakishly nimble handling. Rather than being a lazy, wallowy old bus, it’s actually a rather agile and entertaining thing to peddle along a twisty road. Continental GTs have always had a surprisingly neutral chassis balance – they don’t merely plough on into acres of understeer and, in fact, they actually feel quite agile and responsive – and the same is true here. It means you can get the car turned into a corner very sharply. The steering is also light and very direct, which further helps to disguise the impression of weight.
Clearly the Supersports is never going to handle like a 1400kg sports car, but I wouldn’t have much reason to doubt your integrity if you told me it was 20 per cent lighter than it really is. Much of that must be attributed to the torque-vectoring system. Now, it isn’t one of the better systems that uses clever differentials to actively divert torque to where it’s needed most, but by tweaking a brake here and there on the way into or out of a corner it does reduce the sense of inertia. In fact, the Supersports is genuinely good fun to drive. The engine, of course, is a powerhouse.
It feels sharp and responsive in the lower reaches and it revs out all the way to the red line quite keenly, but you’re better off short-shifting to get back into the meat of the torque band and feeling that vast, tidal acceleration all over again. The eight-speed gearbox works well enough and feels pretty snappy in manual mode, but quite why it ever needs to shift down a gear when you flatten the accelerator, given the massive torque on offer, is anybody’s guess.
When a car looks as fearsome and goes as fearsomely as this one, it needs the soundtrack to match. The Supersports gets a titanium exhaust system that isn’t particularly tuneful under acceleration, but when you lift off the throttle or shift down a gear it emits the most comically overwrought pops and bangs. It actually sounds as though the entire exhaust system has fallen off and is being dragged along behind you. In some ways that over-the-top soundtrack describes the Continental Supersports rather well. It isn’t at all subtle and some will find it crass, but despite your better judgement you just can’t help but like it. The Supersports is the best 12-cylinder Continental GT ever, which is some kind of farewell.