Driving Bentley's 700-HP, 209-MPH Continental Send-Off
It’s been 13 years since the 12-cylinder, all-wheel-drive Bentley Continental GT made its debut. The first of the Volkswagen Group Bentleys, it was a bulldog stanced coupe built on a staggeringly over-engineered platform shared with another of Volkswagen supremo Ferdinand Piëch’s pet projects, the VW Phaeton limousine. The 2017 Bentley Continental Supersports shares much of its fundamental hardware with that original Conti GT. Age has not wearied it.
Back in 2003, the Continental GT’s twin-turbo, 6.0-liter, W-12 engine impressed with its 551 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough muscle to propel the hefty 5,319-pound two-door to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and to a top speed a whisker under 200 mph. The 2017 Continental Supersports packs 700 hp and a mighty 750 lb-ft of weapons-grade torque. The 0-60-mph sprint takes 3.4 seconds (3.7 seconds in the 385-pound heavier Convertible model) and top speed is now 209 mph (205 mph in the Convertible).
The Continental Supersports is the fastest four-seat coupe and four-seat convertible in the world. It’s the fastest Bentley road car in history. Yet it remains, above all, a luxury car. Beyond the faintly raffish black trim, carbon-fiber aero aids, and muted snap-crackle from the exhaust on the overrun, is a car that at all times feels refined, sophisticated, and effortlessly competent. The secret is relentless evolution. In 13 years there’s scarcely a part or panel on the Continental that hasn’t been upgraded, improved, or renewed.
The 2017 Supersports brings together concepts and learnings from three key Continental variants: 2009’s 621-hp Supersports, 2013’s GT Speed, and the V-8-powered GT3 R launched in 2014. The 2009 Supersports was a reimagining of a uniquely Bentley combination of performance and luxury that dates back to the short-chassis 3.0-liter race special developed by W.O. Bentley in 1925. Designed to expand the face-lifted Continental lineup launched in 2011, the GT Speed boasted a 206-mph top speed, making it then the fastest Bentley ever. And the GT3 R, built to celebrate Bentley’s return to racing, featured chassis technology aimed at making the big, heavy two-door coupe as agile as possible.
Externally, the 2017 Supersports is identified by new front and rear bumpers, carbon-fiber detailing that includes a new front splitter, new rear diffuser, side skirts, exterior mirrors, hood vents, gloss black trim instead of chrome, and dark tint lights. A full-width rear wing, beautifully finished in book-matched carbon fiber, is available as an option on coupe models. Standard wheels are 21-inch forged alloy items available with either polished spokes or in a gloss black finish. Buyers can choose from 90 paint colors, or one of eight special duo-tone paint schemes available as part of the optional $31,200 Supersports ‘X’ Specification package that includes other cosmetic upgrades and a lightweight titanium exhaust system.
Inside, the 2017 Supersport is available with unique color split that features tri-tone leather, Alcantara seating, and a new diamond quilt stitch design. New checkered carbon-fiber panels, made of hundreds of thousands of individual carbon strands and polished-to-a-gloss finish, are one of 11 different veneers Supersport buyers can choose from. Finishing touches include Alcantara inserts on the steering wheel and central shifter and Supersport logos stitched into the headrests.
The 6.0-liter W-12 under the hood develops 67 hp and 130 lb-ft more than in the GT Speed, all of which delivers the 3-mph top speed boost that makes the Supersport the fastest of all Bentleys. “That doesn’t sound difficult,” says Bentley engineering chief Rolf Frech. “But getting this additional performance was a helluva task, especially without losing anything on the luxury side.” Changes to the engine include a reworked intake system, bigger turbochargers, new main bearings, and revised engine mapping. The 700-hp power peak arrives at 5,900 rpm, and the 750 lb-ft of torque plateaus from 2,050 rpm through 4,500 rpm.
All that power and torque is funneled to all four wheels through a slightly tweaked version of the familiar ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. The torque converter is initially softer than that in the GT Speed, says Continental vehicle line director Paul Jones, allowing the W-12 to more rapidly build revs and therefore turbo boost pressure under initial acceleration. But the torque converter also locks up earlier, ensuring more direct response to throttle inputs once the Supersports is underway.
The Supersports rides 0.4 inch lower than regular Conti GTs. Spring and damper rates are stiffer—up 45 percent at the front, and 35 percent at the rear—and the rear stabilizer bar is 50 percent stiffer. Bushes throughout the suspension have been stiffened between 30 and 70 percent. But the biggest change is the adoption of the torque vectoring system first used in the GT3 R. In simple terms, the system gently brakes the inside rear wheel on corner entry to help cut initial understeer and when exiting the corner, under power will then apply the brakes to both front and rear inside wheels to keep the big coupe on tighter arc. Because the standard brakes on the Supersport are carbon-ceramic—a massive 16.5-inch diameter up front and 14.0 inch at the rear—brake fade or wear is not an issue.
And it works. Although about 150 pounds lighter than a Conti GT Speed, thanks to the carbon-ceramic brakes and forged alloy wheels that trim 33 pounds of unspring mass from the front axle and 24 pounds from the rear and other weight saving measures, at 5,027 pounds (for the coupe) the Continental Supersports is still no featherweight. Yet on the road it feels remarkably agile in the twisties for a car of its heft, with noticeably more grip and responsiveness from the front end helping it get into corners and markedly more traction on corner exit.
More precise and composed when pushed, the coupe is the driver’s choice of the two Supersports models. The closed body delivers a more rigid platform for the suspension and torque vectoring system to work from. Both cars ride remarkably well, though, despite the massive Pirelli 275/35 ZR21 tires front and rear. Impact noise and harshness is particularly well suppressed, with little of the wheel flutter evident in earlier Continentals over small amplitude and high frequency lumps and bumps.
That W-12 engine is utterly magnificent, delivering imperious thrust that simply demolishes distances between corners. Artfully tuned exhaust rumble apart, the big Bentley is otherwise so smooth and refined you tend to arrive at corners carrying much more speed than you expect. At, which point, you squeeze hard on left pedal and bless those unquenchable carbon-ceramic stoppers as they turn forward motion into enough heat energy to keep warm a small English village. It’s no track rat, the Bentley Continental Supersports— it’s simply too big, too heavy. But drive it smoothly on real world winding roads—the key here is to wait patiently, using light throttle to get the car past the apex of the corner before once more stoking the fires in the mighty W-12—and it will cover ground very quickly indeed.
Just 710 Supersports will be built. Why 710? Because that’s the engine’s output in Pferdestärken, as they call those punier metric horses in Germany. Of that total, 250 cars have been earmarked for the U.S., which is still Bentley’s biggest market worldwide, with deliveries starting in the fall. If you have to ask, you can’t afford one. But for the record, the Supersports Coupé starts at $297,200, and the Convertible at $326,900.
It’s the last of the line, this Supersports. An all-new Continental GT, built using the very different front/mid-engine vehicle architecture shared with the Porsche Panamera, will make its debut later this year. But it’s the best of the lot.