DRIVING THE FASTEST Bentley ever at a snail’s pace seems a bit odd, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past few minutes. We’re making our way out from the Spanish town of Seville and with all the speed restrictions, running this car at anything more than Maruti Alto-matching pace is simply out of the question. But Bentleys have always been a treat to drive, slow or fast, and so I soak up the ambience of this otherwise 621bhp rocket sled of a car.
Unlike the regular Continental, that is all but inaudible at slow speeds, there’s a woofle and boom from the exhaust pipes of the Supersports every time you step on the gas. And all it takes to get the heavy brass section of the Bentley to perform is a mere blip on the throttle or a downshift via the paddles.
It’s a cool day, so I crack the windows open and smile, as music from the exhausts reverberates and bounces off the stone walls of the little villages we are now passing through. Though the volume is well contained, the noise this car makes is expansive and large. Best of all however is that the Bentley with very little encouragement is willing it to drastically alter its pace. All it takes to bare the fangs of this sea-smoothened rock sculpture is a mere tap on the accelerator pedal. And then wham, it changes from lap dog to grizzly bear in a second. And that little bit of turbo lag that was present in the original Continental is gone.
Since I’m cruising, I select the softest suspension setting. And though I can feel the stiffness in the chassis and suspension, ride quality is surprisingly good. Sure, some of the larger and sharper-edged bumps go thump, thump, but the suspension isn’t thrashy or uncomfortable. And that, when you think about the low 30 profile tyres and huge 20-inch rims, is just amazing. A big improvement over the earlier Continental GT that even on its softest setting and more appropriate tyres, never felt as comfortable as this.
While the insides of the Supersports have been stripped down to make the car lighter, Bentley has managed to keep the essence of the car intact. The twin cockpit arrangement of the dash still looks extra special, the sunken dials give this car a solid look and the very generous splashes of chrome lift the ambience of the cabin. I especially love the manner in which the all-chrome vents frost over completely. There’s also generous amounts of quilted Alcantara and the heavily machined all-alloy gear selector just looks like a million bucks. Only the slightly older version of the VW Group’s sat-nav screen and some cheap-looking off-the-shelf buttons spoil an otherwise brilliant cabin. And that’s despite the car’s distinctly diet interiors.
To cut weight, there are no rear seats and the oak tree that moonlights as the dashboard has been replaced by lighter carbon fibre paneling. The traditional powered front seats have also been discarded. The clamshell-backed racecar-like seats I’m sitting on are beautifully finished and, when the car is being cornered, feel more comfortable than the regular seats. Similar looking to those in the Ferrari Enzo and the Bugatti Veyron, these seats provide a clue to the performance this car is capable of.
We are now on very lightly trafficked EU-built dual carriageway country roads. We pass the odd orange or olive farmer in his pickup, see the occasional Seat, Peugeot or Renault, and once or twice drive past ranches where fierce fighting bulls are isolated in their own yard. But otherwise the scrub desert roads of Europe are devoid of traffic. Time to switch tempo from Frank Sinatra to AC/DC!
With a torque curve as flat as the Deccan plateau, you don’t need the massive 6000cc twin-turbo W12 to be spinning very fast to deliver spine-crushing acceleration. 3500rpm is more than enough to switch on all the lights in your head and once you reach 4500rpm, the performance from the now fully charged, fed and boosted motor is so strong, you wonder what the rest of the powerband must be like.
Both the considerable increase in power and the reduction of 110kg make their presence felt as even with a kerb weight of 2.2 tonnes the car now boasts a 277bhp per tonne power-to-weight ratio. As the saying goes, too much power is just about enough. The long sweeping corners that tighten on themselves a bit and the longish straights are just what the doctor ordered for this car, and the next couple of hours are spent in motoring heaven. It’s possible to use large amounts of the 621bhp to accelerate out of corners because the traction offered by the re-tuned four-wheel-drive system is unreal. Sixty percent of the power now goes to the rear wheels and that means that the car feels much better balanced. And staying flat on the throttle, till you reach the silly speeds this car is easily capable of dishing out, is a real rush.
Still, it’s difficult to work up a smooth rhythm with a car that’s this brutally quick. The big numbers on the speedo often mean you need to back off and feather the throttle and this has a negative effect on the flow of the corners. But even as you lift off the throttle, providing old mild encouragement to the motor, the Bentley’s momentum and effortless powerplant take it smoothly past 200kph, just like that. Like you would cross 120 in a regular car, without really noticing. So you have to constantly keep an eye on the speedo and rein in your pace.
But that’s easier said than done. A massive amount of work has gone into making this the best-handling Bentley ever and the car feels agile and ever willing to change direction, however much the tyres howl in protest. What little understeer there is disappears once you switch off Stage One of the ESP and the message from the car is clear — you can go harder.
Under the skin the rear track is wider, the Torsen four-wheel-drive system has been altered to send 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels and though the steering lacks the feel of something like a BMW 5-series, it’s very accurate. With lighter forged wheels and considerably lighter carbon ceramic discs, the reduction in unsprung mass also adds to the overall agility of the car.
To fully exploit the potential of this car, the last part of our day-long drive was conducted on the Monteblanco near Seville. The main circuit consists of a very long straight, some long sweeping corners as well as a blind rise up a little hillock. Now using all 6500rpm and 621bhp regularly, the Supersports starts to shrink the track. The long straight is rapidly sucked into the lower slat-like grille . . the speedo crossing the 220kph mark, there’s no letting up on the throttle and the tyres get a good scrubbing around the corners.
After lap one and two on the track I soon forget that this car weighs more than some SUVs and begin to push it harder. The agility is perplexingly good, the locomotive-like motor never seems to run out of steam and every single time I plan to brake late with the carbon ceramic discs, I simply outbrake myself by more than a dozen metres. The brakes are so strong that it seems like they can knock a 100-odd kilometres off the speedometer in only a couple of seconds.
The brake pedal doesn’t have all that much feel initially but use it hard and the no-drama, no-fuss, eyeball-popping retardation is simply impossible to adjust your brain to. It would take more than 10 laps for me to get my braking point right.
That rhythm, so hard to work up on the desert roads, now comes naturally. The car is regularly slipping sideways, the balance nice and neutral and it’s ever willing to point into a corner, however hot you enter it.
The Continental, as most of you will know, is not a new car. It’s been around from 2003 but this is by far the best version yet. Despite the weight-saving regime it’s fantastically luxurious, unbelievably rapid and even has the agility to match many sportscars half its weight. It’s both the fastest Bentley ever and probably the best. The new vertical slats in the nose and the bonnet louvres look extra special, the dark smoked grille and headlight surrounds (made using Physical Vapour Deposition) tell you the car means business and the overall shape looks spot-on even today.
If you are looking for something that will have timeless charm even decades down the road, is brutally fast, comfortable and useable, this is it. What we in India will need to be wary of though are the low 30 profile tyres. And no, you can’t get smaller wheels. Anything less than 20 inches won’t fit, the Supersports has the world’s largest brake discs.