Most powerful Bentley is also the greenest

Bentley Continental Supersports - what is it?

On first acquaintance with the Bentley Continental Supersports, it’s hard not to be mesmerised by its power and speed. The ordinary Continental GT coupe is impressive enough in the poke department, but this new one has its power boosted by 13 per cent and its kerb weight cut by 110kg, which means its power-to-weight ratio jumps from 238 to 271bhp per tonne, its 0-100mph time is cut from 11.1 to 8.9sec and its top speed climbs from 198 to 205mph.

In short, the Supersports is as fast as any of us could want to go. It should not be lost, in all this, that the Continental Supersports is Bentley’s idea of an economy car. It has been painstakingly engineered to produce its 621bhp whether burning E85 (15 per cent petrol, 85 per cent ethanol) or pure pump petrol, or any combination of the two.

Making the engine management system versatile enough to cope is a more important engineering achievement than is generally perceived – apart from which, ethanol-based fuels are inclined to attack conventional plastics and rot fuel lines and gaskets. You must practically start again.

Even so, Bentley says its entire range will have this capability by 2012, bringing a CO2 fleet reduction of 15 per cent. Bentley insists that on a ‘well to wheel’ basis for all calculations an E85 Bentley’s emissions are around 70 per cent lower, not so far north of a Toyota Prius’s.

Bentley Continental Supersports - what’s it like?

Many experts disagree with the green hypothesis associated with the Bentley Continental Supersports, as you can imagine, but it does allow Bentley to claim that “cars can be green without being small, slow or boring”.

None of these three adjectives springs to mind when (with rising excitement) you scan the elegant grey-green flanks of the Supersports you’re about to drive, complete with an extra expanse of meshed grille, two no-nonsense extractor gills on the top surface of the bonnet, a complete lack of shiny trim and a set of the most beautiful gleaming black alloys, forged for strength and light weight.

Slip into the uncharacteristically firm, enveloping leather bucket seats, frames by Sparco, hand-trimmed at Crewe, thumb the starter button and the engine starts with a smooth, all-powerful thrum.

Snick ‘D’ with the knurled gear lever and you’ll be surprised as you pull away by the firmness of the suspension, oddly unaccompanied by surface jiggles that usually go with cars as stiff as this, riding on 20-inch wheels. At 40mph this car just glides.

Double, then treble the speed and it still glides, its powerful, adaptable dampers translating even the most body-heaving hump into a controlled, passenger-friendly movement. This is one of those mythical cars whose suspension is stiff and wheels are huge but which insists on riding brilliantly.

Cornering meets the same exalted standards. This big, heavy car eats corners like 2200kg coupés almost never do. On neutral throttle in bends it’ll understeer slightly.

Give it big power in faster bends and you can make it tighten the line by increasing the slip angle of its rear tyres, without encouraging the admirably laissez-faire ESP to intrude unless the surface gets slippery or you’ve made a truly hideous miscalculation. Come off the power and it’ll restore you to the line you first thought of.

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Body roll is never an issue. Cornering loads don’t affect you, either, because you’re well and truly nailed into the seat by its firmness and shape. In fact, the main challenge is matching the quality of your own inputs to the responses of this car and making sure that, seduced by 621bhp, you don’t arrive at bends too fast. Even if you do, the carbon-ceramic brakes give you half a chance, washing speed away with an amazing lack of effort.

By the time my stint at the wheel of the £160,000 Continental Supersports had ended, I hardly cared that this was “the fastest and most powerful Bentley ever built”. Why? Because the sensations in my hands, feet and rump were telling me that this Supersports was something even more important in the Bentley hierarchy. It was the best.

Bentley Continental Supersports - should I buy one?

Yes, and not only if you’re in the market for top-end pace. The clear intention of this car’s creators has been to build a performance car, capable, in the right hands, of running with Ferraris and Porsches. But the Supersports turns out to be so brilliant that some of its facets deserve airplay in a wider range of cars than the hard-nut performance minority.

The refined and unconventionally comfortable ride, the superb steering, the prodigious brakes, would all be loved by owners whose priority is not necessarily ultra-high speed. Let’s hope they’re bound, in appropriate form, for the rest of the Bentley range.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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JARRAFTM 4 February 2010

Re: Bentley Continental Supersports

"A complete absence of bling, and, instead, a very serious looking and subtly menacing car"

If I used one word to describe this car it certainly wouldn't be 'subtle'!

6.0 W12's with twin turbo's that are the size of a house and a price tag north of £200k are seldom subtle.

disco.stu 4 February 2010

Re: Bentley Continental Supersports

I'm sorry, but I just don't get this car at all. I have tried to look at it from different angles, but I am obviously missing something...

artill 1 February 2010

Re: Bentley Continental Supersports

rtrcountdown wrote:
can we have some comments from people who can actually afford them, nothing worse than people chirping in from the cheap seats....thanks!!

Unlikely. You will have to find a Footballer who can read first