First Drive: 2017 Bentley Continental Supersports

First Drive: 2017 Bentley Continental Supersports
 

It would be easy to be a little confused by the Bentley Continental Supersports. It can hit 100km/h in just 3.5 seconds, that’s a full 1.4 seconds quicker than an Aston Martin Rapide S and half a second quicker than a Porsche Panamera Turbo. It reaches 160km/h in only 7.2 seconds and then the power just keeps on coming. All the way to a blistering 336km/h.

Comparing it with other four-seater rivals is not entirely fair, of course. The Supersports boasts a 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 engine. It is still based on the motor that debuted with the company back in 2003, only in its highest state of tune it pushes out 522kW and 1017Nm of continent-moving torque.

Bentley Continental GT Supersports Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

It is all extremely impressive and fulfils one of the key objectives of the Supersports, to be the fastest Bentley ever, according to Paul Jones, the product line director for the Continental. Just 710 will be built, comprising both coupe and convertible.

What Jones will not talk about is the fact that it is the final hurrah for the current Continental. It will be replaced at the end of 2017 with an all-new generation, which you can read about elsewhere in this issue.

And hurrah it does. Actually, with the titanium sports exhaust fitted, hurrah is probably not the best word because from the rear emanates a sound that will have security company switchboards swamped. It sounds like gunfire as you get the revs into the sweet spot and the engine erupts with each gear change.

All this power has come about through a number of fundamental changes, although fewer than were made to the Supersports of 2009. Unlike that model, the car’s width remains unchanged, but the new one has an even more aggressive look.

Bentley Continental GT Supersports Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

There are new bumpers incorporating a carbon fibre splitter up front and diffuser at the rear. Carbon fibre has also been used for the bonnet vents and side sill extensions.

That optional large rear wing has been aerodynamically balanced. Jones points out that it is not to provide downforce. Instead it is to reduce lift — some will argue it is the same thing but it is not. Lift is definitely not something you want at 336km/h and it comes about as the air is forced over the rear of the car in the same way as an aircraft wing, which the car was designed to emulate in its looks.

Up to this point we have been talking about impressive speeds, but now we get to the confusing bit. In spite of the Supersports name, this is not a sports car. The main thing preventing it being in that category is that it weighs 2 280kg. To put it another way — nearly 2.3-tonnes. The carbon fibre bits and other changes have shaved 40kg off the weight of a lesser Continental, but it is still 2.3-tonnes.

Contrary to the fact it is not a sports car and therefore not a track car, we hit the hallowed tarmac of the Estoril Grand Prix circuit in Portugal. The exit of the pit lane comes out almost into turn one so it was a case of getting used to the power. Forget the paddles, they are totally in the wrong place, so let the eight-speed gearbox with its revised ratios do its thing and focus on keeping 2.3-tonnes in check.

Supersports Cabin_01

The Supersports comes with standard carbon ceramic brakes but do not be fooled — you need to use them early. Slow in, fast out is the term here as you push down on the brake pedal from 250km/h at the end of the main straight for the right-hander. It takes some getting used to. But then you start to treat the car with true respect and you find that you can scrub off speed and turn in precisely, if a little early.

Fortunately, my passenger on the track, Bentley M-Sport race driver Max Soulet (who, it turns out, spends his holidays in SA at his father’s game farm near Bela Bela), was sufficiently confident to allow me to switch the car to Dynamic mode. Suddenly, the Supersports was a little more engaging, the power came on earlier and the traction control released its grip a bit more. Still not a track car, but the power was just incredible.

Supersports Cabin_02

So it’s not a track car and it’s not a sports car, so what is it?

“It’s a long-distance sports tourer,” says Jones. That about sums it up perfectly because after my track experience and exploring some of the back roads outside Lisbon I offered to drive the car all the way back to the company headquarters in Crewe, England. They declined.

As a GT car it is absolutely superb. The interior is exquisite, if a little dated in places — perhaps classic is a good description. There are modern touches — such as the availability for the first time of a tri-tone colour scheme in those cobra-inspired seats — and you have carbon fibre trim panels.

It is wonderfully comfortable and the idea of cruising the autobahns of Germany is seriously appealing. In a local context it will be as at home driving to the office in Sandton as it will be taking a leisurely drive along the Garden Route before blasting through a mountain pass. It is everything a GT car should be, but with a serious missile of an engine beneath the bonnet.

It is not so much a last hurrah as a final assault. – Mark Smyth