Around a hundred years ago, WO Bentley designed and built one of the world’s most powerful engines. It was fitted to the Royal Air Force’s workhorse fighter, a Sopwith Snipe bi-plane, at the tail-end of the first World War. When you hear the “Rifle-Crackles” from the optional titanium exhaust it would be easy to assume the same engine has been fitted to the 2017 Bentley Continental Supersports. These days, Bentley’s aviation connection is largely superficial but the pursuit of power is as persistent today as it was in the past. Questions may be raised as to the relevance of a 209mph four-seat, luxury coupe in an age of conscientious consumption, but there’s no questioning the claim that the Continental Supersports is the most powerful Bentley ever.
Of course, that claim was also applied to the previous Continental Supersports of 2009. That car was described in Autocar at the time, not only as the most powerful Bentley ever but, more significantly, as the best. A mighty reputation to live up to. Fittingly, for a swansong, the new Supersports aims to emulate that accolade, but the environment at Bentley has changed. Back in 2009 the Continental range included the slightly misplaced Flying Spur, and the Mulsanne was yet to go on sale. The idea of a Bentley SUV was still laughable. Today, The Spur has its own handsome identity, the Mulsanne has been refined into one of the most elegant limousines on the road, and the Bentayga has opened Bentley to a whole new market. Criteria for what makes the best Bentley, may not be the same as it was in 2009.
But that doesn’t stop the engineers from putting their all into the latest model. In order to squeeze just four miles per hour more out of the ultimate Continental, the team at Crewe couldn’t just tweak the on-board software. They had to completely re-engineer the hardware. By working their magic on the 6-Litre W12 engine, bolting on new high-spec turbochargers and revising the charge-air cooling system, Bentley has produced a machine that turns out a mighty 700bhp. That’s 79bhp more than the previous Conti Supersports. To put that in context, an entry-level Ford Fiesta boasts 79bhp.
In order to keep all that power planted, Bentley has brought over the Torque Vectoring system that was first seen on the ready-to-race Continental GT3-R. this system slows the inside wheels on turn-in to help the car corner more precisely, and then applies the brakes according to grip levels on the individual wheels when accelerating out of a bend to reduce any hint of under-steer that might have been detected in the previous Supersports. The all-wheel drive system has been set up to favour a rearward bias in power delivery, to give a sensation more akin to a rear-wheel drive arrangement. Naturally, shedding a few pounds helps with performance, so the latest Supersports comes with light-weight 21″ Alloy wheels and the option of a titanium exhaust system that reduces the sprung weight by a further 5kg. All of this performance is brought to a halt by the largest carbon ceramic brake discs in the world.
Inside the cabin, four passengers would have no trouble relaxing into the beautifully stitched, tri-coloured seats, blissfully unaware that their luxurious cocoon could waft passed Sir Malcolm Campbell’s ‘Bluebird III’ at full chat. Even the Convertible version would have been able to keep up, although it tops out at 205mph due to the compromises inherent in constructing a drop-head.
Bentley has demonstrated some bold creativity with interiors recently. It has become something of a strength for a brand which had been criticised in the past for its stuffy old-boys-club styling. Chairman Wolfgang Dürheimer has expressed his vision for the ‘Future of Luxury’, specifically mentioning the possibility of OLED veneer overlays – turning your Burr Walnut or Piano Black surfaces into discrete touch-screen panels. Speaking in Detroit he said, “We will use new technology to enhance traditional and authentic materials in new and contemporary ways.” While not currently available in the Supersports, the timing of his comments suggest the upcoming generation of Bentleys may well pioneer this kind of technology.
Integrating the Continental Supersports with the driver’s lifestyle, Bentley’s timing partner, Breitling, has released a new watch to coincide with the launch of the new car. The Breitling for Bentley B55 is a motorsport-based chronograph that syncs with a smartphone app, letting you keep on top of lap times when the going gets competitive. This kind of integration is what Dürheimer sees as a key facet of the changing landscape of luxury, but before that new era begins, the ultimate Continental is shaping up, once again, to be the best Bentley so far.