Behind the Wheel of the 209-MPH Bentley Continental Supersports
Bragging is unseemly, but when you earn the title of the world’s fastest four-seater, it might come up now and again.
Hyperbole is pumped through the auto space as a matter of course, so faithfully and reflexively disseminated that a superlative come by honestly—a word like "most" or "best" or "fastest," properly applied—has the sanitizing effect of an industrial air purifier. The ability to stand next to a vehicle and say, "Of all the four-seat production cars in the entire world, this one is the fastest," without qualifiers or addenda, helps throw the rest of the industry into stark relief. It's a useful thing, and rare; by nature, superlatives are not easy to come by.
So, credit to the hard work done to make the 209-mph 2017 Bentley Continental Supersports not only the fastest four-seater ever, but also (and not unrelated) the most powerful Bentley of all time, with 700 horsepower and 750 lb-ft of torque from the brand's stalwart 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12. It's also the quickest of the big Bs, with a 60-mph sprint of just 3.4 seconds—a remarkable achievement in its own right given the car's hefty 5,280-pound curb weight.
Some of the tweaks necessary to hit these numbers are obvious from the approach. It's more perforated, certainly, given the car's massive oxygen thirst, with hood vents finished in carbon fiber, new side sill extensions, and revised-for-aggression front air intakes sitting below the blacked-out grille. (Blacked-out or otherwise darkened details abound here.) Most noticeable by far is the monumental carbon-fiber rear wing, a piece of kit more befitting the brand's bellicose GT3-R and one that can, thankfully, be left back in the factory at Crewe. (Note that the front carbon-fiber splitter has two variants, optimized either for winged- or deployable-rear-spoiler cars, and that the 205-mph convertible likewise has its own, bespoke front aero.) There are huge, 21-inch forged alloy wheels that save 44 pounds over the standard rims across four corners. These are fitted with massive cross-drilled carbon-ceramic brakes—up front, in fact, you'll find the largest brakes, at 16.53 inches, fitted to any production car anywhere, with 14.01-inch units in the rear. These stoppers are not just big, they're incredibly durable, able to withstand temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius—the same temperature as lava.
Otherwise, this is a car that looks remarkably similar to the Continental GT that debuted when "Friends" was still on the air, back in 2003. Despite its Methuselah-like 14 years, the body still looks fit and youthful, though the same cannot be said of the interior. Notwithstanding model-specific updates both lovely (checkered carbon-fiber dashboard panels) and odd (the overwrought three-color seats, which look like two-color seats wearing bathrobes), the overall feeling is, well, aged—and not only of the cellared-claret variety that is a Bentley core competency. Yes, the car overflows with the expected Bentley touches like couture-quality leather, inviting wood veneers, jewel-like brightware, and quicksand-deep floormats, but the infotainment interface is dated to the point of uselessness, simple conveniences like adaptive cruise control are conspicuously absent, and a pop of the glovebox reveals the same appendage-like iPhone adapter that's been the Bentley workaround basically since the first iPhone debuted. That component would look embarrassing on the most economical of modern econoboxes, and despite Bentley's rightful claim to a sort of charming anachronism, the genteel brand shouldn't be obviously outclassed in the modern-amenities department by a Honda Civic.
But few things countervail the perception of dotage better than a demonstration of athleticism, and so Bentley lined up a selection of Supersports on Autódromo Fernanda Pires da Silva, aka Circuito Estoril, in Portugal, home of some of the most famous battles of Formula One's heyday in the 1960s and '70s. This was a brave move: cars are either developed to shine on a road circuit or they aren't, and Bentley will be the first to tell you that the beefy Supersports, despite its impressive numbers and expensive high-performance bits, is not a track-focused machine. It's too big, too stout, too focused on heavy luxury- and sound insulating materials.
And yet, if you're willing to follow the car's lead, it's a surprisingly fun dance partner. Acceleration is crushing and stopping power almighty, as expected, but the AWD Supersports' torque-vectoring system capably harnesses the prodigious twist, providing a surprising amount of fidelity to the proposed racing line—but only if you aikido the machine, working with its momentum into and out of corners, rather than trying to grapple against it. Attempts at aggressive trail-braking, or using the steering wheel to scrub pace, unsettled the car to the point where trying to recover at speed was like attempting to push a rolling boulder off-course.
The road is the Supersports' true home, and it's here the Bentley driving ideal of effortless performance, the feeling of a remarkable result from a casual input, becomes clear. Touring Portugal's highways and winding roads through the region's cork-producing savannas, the car's weight added to its imperial, imperturbable character; meanwhile, the titanium exhaust tips emitted a constant stream of booming, militaristic percussions and deafening cracks like lighting splitting a live oak—a reminder that, despite the brand pedigree, you're dealing with a bruising and combative world-record holder, a car that doesn't ask for your opinion of it as much as delivers a soliloquy on its own finer merits.
There is, finally, a new Continental in the pipeline, one that will hopefully address the technology gap of its predecessors and deliver a fittingly modern grand tourer to a brand that has spent the past decade heroically attempting to find its footing and retain its soul in a world that, if the headlines are to be believed, can't give a whit for anything that isn't powered by electrons and doesn't drive itself. So it's fitting that this, the last of the original and revitalizing Continental line-up, made its own sensational headlines. Give the car its due: it came by its braggadocio honestly.