Bentley’s cars have never been known for being lightweight, and the new Supersports edition of the company’s Continental is no exception. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. The Supersports started off as a melding of various technical exercises being undertaken at Bentley, and the result is a Continental that ditches the ponderous handling of the average Bentley, and replaces it with a nimble poise. In essence, the Continental Supersports is a heavyweight boxer that can still dance around the ring like a welterweight.
At the heart of the Continental Supersports is the W12 engine found in the other contemporary Bentley models, but it has undergone some serious tuning to crank the horsepower all the way up to 621, along with 590 lb-ft of torque. Most impressive, though, is that this engine is the first from Bentley to feature their new Flex Fuel technology. Thanks to special engine components and an advanced computer control unit, you can pour gasoline, E85 ethanol, or any mixture of the two into the gas tank, and the engine will still output the same amount of power. E85 does contain less energy per volume than gasoline, so the mpg rating will take a major hit if you run pure E85, but overall emissions are reduced by 70% when using the biofuel, so that’s not necessarily a horrible trade off.
This newly modified engine is mated to a revised ZF dual clutch transmission. Bentley was separately working on improving the shift times of their paddle gearbox prior to the Supersports inception, and the new model seemed the perfect time to show off their work. The new transmission is much quicker and smoother than previous iterations, but it still isn’t the best out there. Still, the average Bentley driver probably isn’t going to push the Supersports to the limit, so the ZF is more than adequate for the application. Also, to give the Supersports model a sportier driving experience, the Continental’s AWD system was retuned to deliver a 60-40 power bias to the rear wheels, instead of the 50-50 in the standard model.
But, while both the engine and transmission feature notable improvements, there was still an elephant in the room that had to be addressed: the weight. Bentley’s standard two-door Continental GT weighs in at just shy of 5,200 pounds, and making that amount of weight, and the car’s massive power, manageable in anything other than a straight line is a tall order. One of the first things sacrificed for the sake of weight was the back seat, followed by the standard seats, which were replaced with streamlined, non-powered versions to trim the pounds. Also, a lot of lightweight carbon fiber was added to the interior, and the standard iron brakes were replaced with carbon-ceramics.
While all that weight was being taken out, though, the Bentley engineering team needed to add in tougher suspension components to bring the car’s handling to a level where it could earn the name “Supersports.” This actually proved to be a bit of a boon to the weight-loss efforts, though, as new lighter suspension bindings forced the creation of lighter weight, but comparably performing suspension components. All told, the Supersports model weighs in at 4,950 pounds, 250 less than the standard Continental.
At this point, the formula was almost complete. The engine was pumping out more than enough power, the transmission was working well, and the weight had been dropped to give this vehicle some ability in the corners. One thing was missing: the look. The Bentley Continental isn’t exactly a sporty-looking car. It was made to look elegantly refined, not like a supercar. Well, the Supersports has received a few body modifications to make it stand out from the average Continental, and these are very welcome improvements. The front fascia is much more aggressive than the standard model, mainly to facilitate extra airflow to the engine’s intercooler and radiator. The rear wheel track has also been widened by two inches to give the car a wider footing, resulting in an almost muscle car-esque bulge at the rear.
It used to be that the name Bentley would conjure up images of wealthy Englishmen, catered to by butlers named Jeeves. With the new 2010 Continental Supersports, though, the name can be truly associated with speedy supercars. But, considering the car will cost about $300,000 when nicely optioned and production will only be about 300 units per year, those who get their hands on one of these will likely still have a butler. Though his name may not be Jeeves; maybe Godfrey.