OK, we are going to get something out of the way from the beginning. The 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports may be the most extreme example of sport luxury available today, putting mere BMWs to shame, but its navigation system is terrible. The maps are very low resolution and, stored on a DVD, are slow to refresh and calculate routes. This navigation system lacks all but the most basic features, with no external data feeds or text to speech. It really doesn't belong in this car.
Let that rest as our main criticism so we can get to the good stuff, which is just about everything else.
Bentley has offered several variations of its Continental coupe since its introduction in 2003, but the Supersports model exhibits the purest level of performance. Bentley tweaked the already massive engine for more power, fitted wheels with big carbon ceramic brakes, and shed 243 pounds of weight, most notably by removing the rear seat.
And you really don't want a rear seat in this car, as you would resent any passengers back there for being a drag on performance, while they would unfriend you on Facebook for being relegated to such cramped quarters.
We were actually a little surprised at the manageable size of this car, making it easy to maneuver through parking garages and dense urban streets. Despite its smallish size, the body is a head-turner, with external lighting nicely molded into the body and the signature wire Bentley grille. The glossy black 20-inch wheels added to this car's unique look.
Of course, the engine also announces the Continental Supersports arrival with a throaty roar. When we pushed the start button, the engine's 12 cylinders began to pump, air was forced into the manifold from twin turbos, and 6 liters of displacement hosted precisely timed explosions that turned the driveshaft with 621 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque.
This kind of power means you can lightly tap the gas pedal and find yourself far ahead of the pack of traffic sitting back there at the light, the drivers just putting their cell phones down so they can get back to the business of driving. Put the gas down a little harder and you push up to freeway speeds, the car showing very little effort. Introduce the pedal to the floor and you've begun a career in amateur rocketry.
With this kind of power we had to run some zero-to-60-mph tests. At the command of the driver, the car effortlessly leaped forward, all four tires gripping pavement while the center differential decided how much torque to allocate to which axle. Likewise, the air suspension forced each tire to maintain contact with the pavement, and traction electronics figured out just how to deal with the massive torque. Bentley doesn't let the electronics detract from what the driver wants to do, as the Continental Supersports, on our best run, made 60 mph in just 3.67 seconds, hitting Bentley's advertised performance.
In making these attempts, we mostly had the six-speed automatic in Sport mode. We could have manually shifted using the paddles on the steering wheel column, but the sport mode is well tuned to shift up as the tach needle closes on redline. Our limited analog brains had a hard time perceiving the tachometer needle as it shot toward the 7,000rpm redline, with the engine's huge torque getting it up to speed so quickly.
And with such a fast car, we appreciated that the brakes were so good. The big, 420-millimeter discs on front and 356-millimeter discs on the rear, all in carbon ceramic, delivered a lot of play when we wanted to modulate braking force, and also very apparent massive stopping power when we wanted to bring the Continental Supersports to a shuddering halt.
Tapping the performance capabilities of the Continental Supersports may be a lot of fun, but it will also cost you. The EPA fuel economy figures for the car are 12 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. Our mileage hovered around 10 mpg because of a short amount of time with the car, packing in much performance testing.
But Bentley has an eco-trick up its sleeve with this car in that the engine is designed to run off of ethanol mixes up to 85 percent, that biomass-based fuel known as E85. Bentley's flex-fuel effort is a response to tightening European carbon dioxide rules that have also caused Porsche to introduce a hybrid and Aston Martin to rebadge a Toyota. Bentley claims no performance drop for using E85.
To get within EPA fuel economy range, you can drive the Continental Supersports like a sane human being, putting the transmission in standard drive mode and giving the gas pedal moderate pressure. The car won't complain, although you may detect a slight pull from the steering wheel toward the open road.
The car is quite comfortable, despite being stripped down for weight savings. That air suspension can be dialed down to a comfort setting, taking some of the rigidity out of the ride. The cabin is really a work of art, with exceptional materials coating seats, dashboard, and even the door interiors. Pillowed Alcantara abounds, used for door panels and seat insets, and red leather lines the dashboard and carbon fiber makes up the console and glovebox.
Double-paned windows on the sides deaden exterior noise. In fact, we were highly amused as we rolled up the window while our photographer stood outside trying to tell us something. As the window went up his voice muted, although we could still see his mouth moving. As the Continental Supersports lacks a B pillar, opening up all the windows gives the car a nice, airy feeling.
Lending to the excellent cabin experience is a really remarkable audio system. You can get an optional 15-speaker Naim-branded system for the Continental Supersport, but even the standard 10-speaker system delivered some of the best audio we've heard in a car. Some high-end systems reveal all the imperfections from compressed audio sources such as MP3s, but this one handled our 192Kbps tracks well. Bass was delivered with a hard snap while highs came through with heavenly timbre. We were especially enchanted to hear layers in some tracks that get buried by lesser systems.
To listen to music, we primarily relied on the iPod cable in the glovebox, although the car also offered a disc player and satellite radio. The onscreen iPod interface is the only other thing we have to complain about this car. Choose to select music by artist, and you are presented with an alphabetical list on the screen that you have to scroll through. The scroll knob doesn't move easily, either, making the whole process exceptionally tedious when you have a list with hundreds of items.
We can say that the Continental Supersports has a decent Bluetooth phone system, which downloads a paired phone's contact list, making it available on the LCD.
If you happen to have 300 grand burning a hole in your pocket, the Bentley Continental Supersports would make an excellent present to yourself. You won't regret the money spent as you pilot this exceptional car over mountain courses, at speed on long, desert highways, or around town, jostling through traffic while being pampered by the exceptional audio system.
But you will want to reserve some money to have a high-end aftermarket installer put some decent electronics in the dashboard.