2010 Bentley Continental Supersports First Drive on Inside Line

2010 Bentley Continental Supersports First Drive

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2010 Bentley Continental Supersports Coupe

(6.0L W12 Twin-turbo FFV AWD 6-speed Automatic)

Getting to know the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports is like discovering your rather crusty family lawyer spends his spare time slugging it out as a bare-knuckle boxer.

After all, this is Bentley, a brand that conjures up images of wood and leather, recollections of traditional craftsmen wearing white coats with pencils in the top pocket.

Instead the Bentley Continental Supersports will scare you witless.

From the Bentley Skunkworks
If you mash the aluminum throttle pedal of the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports to the floor, what happens next is unlike any other car, let alone any other Bentley. It's not just the searing thrust coming from the 621-horsepower, twin-turbo 6.0-liter W12 engine, for there are other ultrahigh-performance cars that will also cannon you to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. What makes the Continental Supersports unique is the incongruity of sitting within 2.5 tons of leather-lined British steel and then being fired at the horizon like an artillery shell.

The Supersports started life as one of those deliciously mad, out-of-hours, unofficial projects by a few obsessive Bentley engineers for whom there is no such concept as too fast or too powerful. And because Bentley has a small but noisy constituency of customers who feel the same way, it wasn't long before the undercover operation became part of the product plan.

It's appropriate that this new variation of the Continental GT has been dubbed "Supersports." It's meant to recall a two-passenger Bentley introduced in 1925, a lightweight, two-passenger derivative of the classic 3.0-liter Speed that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924. The Supersports incorporated some racing hardware and became the first production Bentley capable of reaching 100 mph.

The Continental Supersports is supposed to be just like this. Only it goes 204 mph. It's the Extreme Bentley.

Yeah, It's Green-Friendly, All Right
The secret of speed is more power, of course, so the turbo boost has been turned up for this long-stroke, 48-valve 5,998cc W12 engine, and the result is 3.5 percent more horsepower for a total of 621 hp at 6,000 rpm and 6.7 percent more torque for a total of 590 pound-feet between 1,700 and 5,600 rpm.

Given all this hedonism, it's a surprise to learn that what excites Bentley most about the Continental Supersports is its environmental credentials. Notwithstanding all this power, Bentley is promoting the engine's compatibility with E85 fuel thanks to a comprehensive makeover to help the W12 withstand the corrosive effects of alcohol. The fuel system also has a unique sensor that detects the mix of gasoline and alcohol in the fuel and then adjusts fuel pressure accordingly to ensure the power output doesn't decline. (This is a real issue, since alcohol's lower energy content means 30 percent more must be delivered to match the output from gasoline.) Bentley notes this is the first move in a program to make the entire Bentley model range capable of running on flex-fuel by 2012, a measure to reduce CO2 emissions.

Meanwhile the ZF-built six-speed automatic transmission now changes gear in one-tenth of a second (twice as fast as any other Bentley), cutting the ignition and fuel delivery for quicker upshifts and then blipping the throttle for quicker downshifts. The transmission also has the capability of skipping a gear while downshifting, as when you want to go from 6th gear to 4th.

As a result, the Continental Supersports takes only 3.7 seconds to get to 60 mph and 8.9 seconds to get to 100 mph. Even more impressive is acceleration from 50-70 mph, which takes just 2.1 seconds.

The Total Extreme Program
The Bentley backroom boys didn't skip over the hard parts in the Continental's makeover into an extreme high-performance car, either.

The air suspension has been recalibrated for more aggressive control of the car's 4,939 pounds, and the front ride height is 0.4 inch lower and the rear is 0.6 inch lower. The antiroll bars are stiffer for quicker chassis response as well. Moreover, Bentley has worked to improve the precision of the car's responses, adding lightweight aluminium links to the front suspension (saving 8.8 pounds) and stiffening the bushings for improved wheel control and steering feel. The speed-sensitive power steering has been retuned as well.

The changes also extend to the all-wheel-drive system's Torsen center differential, which now splits the engine torque 40 percent front/60 percent rear (instead of 50/50) to deliver a rear-wheel-drive sort of driving dynamic. The stability control has also been reprogrammed to allow more tire slip when more than 90 percent throttle is used and then reinstate power more quickly when it does intervene.

There's more grip from 275/35ZR20 Pirelli P Zero Ultra High Performance tires, which are carried by lightweight 20-inch forged-aluminum wheels (a weight savings of 22 pounds overall). Carbon-ceramic brakes are standard equipment, with 16.5-inch rotors and eight-piston calipers in front and 13-inch rotors in the rear.

The Bentley Look, With a Difference
The 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports looks like a Bentley, yet there are subtle changes in keeping with its performance mission, especially an overall reduction in weight by an impressive 243 pounds.

Two vertical grilles flank the central air intake, helping to meet the high-output engine's need for more oxygen and more cooling, while two vents in the top of the hood extract hot air. The rear fenders swell slightly to accommodate the 20-inch rear wheels, which each have a 1-inch greater offset. The rear deck has a tiny spoiler, and the new bumper apron shows off new, larger, elliptical exhaust tips. All the brightwork has a smoked steel finish, applied with a process usually reserved for machine tools and wristwatches.

You'll still find a leather look within this Bentley's interior, although this artificial suede has a quilted diamond pattern that's smaller, recalling vintage Bentleys. You'll also find soft-touch leather on the steering wheel. And there's carbon-fiber for the first time, a special custom-weave trim that's installed by Bentley craftsmen.

You'll also be surprised to find only two seats, a big factor (99 pounds) in the substantial weight reduction. These lightweight items have a carbon-fiber finishing piece on the back. A package shelf takes the place of the rear seats, and there's a carbon-fiber bar to keep cargo from sliding around.

Extreme Driving
No one will be formally invited to drive the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports until September, but under the watchful eye of Dr. Ulrich Eichhorn, Bentley's head of engineering, we were allowed a short but telling turn behind the wheel on country roads beyond the factory in Crewe.

To drive this car is a revelation. It's so much more nimble than a standard Continental GT that it's hard to believe one begat the other. The performance is as storming as the figures suggest and because it maintains power through each gearchange, your neck gets no relief from the relentless acceleration.

Better still is a newfound level of poise and grip, such that we found ourselves driving the Supersports along narrow secondary roads in Cheshire with a confidence we'd more normally associate with a car wearing a Porsche badge on the nose. Careful tuning of the exhausts has produced a noise to match the performance, and those carbon-fiber brakes need little excuse to knock the air clean out of your lungs.

The only bum note is the carbon-fiber interior fascia. This is not a racing car, there's no carbon in its structure and despite the diet this car has been on, the Continental Supersports still weighs more than a long-wheelbase Mercedes S-Class. So why pretend otherwise? We personally would have preferred the optional dash trim of engine-turned aluminium — it's so much more in the Bentley style.

Sales Speak
Eichhorn says the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports will not cannibalize sales from the Continental GT Speed, but we disagree. Even at a price of $233,800 here in the United Kingdom, the Supersports is so much more exciting that the $31,600 price premium seems almost cheap, especially as simply opting for ceramic brakes on your Speed almost halves the gap. And the Supersports is still nearly as comfortable as the Speed.

Even the lack of rear seats is not the problem it may seem, as Eichhorn confirmed to us that if you want them badly enough in your Supersports, Bentley will fit them. What's more, because its front seats are so slim, those in the usually cramped rear will have a few precious extra inches of legroom.

Because it's been 78 years since Bentley last built a proper sports car, many concluded long ago that it never would. But they were wrong, and the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports is here to prove it.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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