The new Continental Supersports model is the last hurrah for the car that has done more than any other to transform the modern image of Bentley. Ironically, when the Continental is finally replaced with a completely new model after an impressive 14 years (the current car is second generation in name but actually shares a substantial amount of engineering with the original 2003 machine), it will no longer sit at the top of Bentley’s sales charts. That honour will instead have passed to the Bentayga, the brash but capable SUV that currently cueing up a massive change in company fortunes.
Bentley was a company founded by gentlemen for gentlemen, a purveyor of personal transportation for the slightly wilder and more wayward spectrum of the British upper classes and industrial elites of the pre- and inter-war era. Bentley had its ‘Boys’, an undisciplined but fearless bunch of gentlemen racers who used their privilege and undeniable skill to pilot WO Bentley’s brutish machines into the sporting history books. Despite changes of ownership and focus, that sporting image has never really deserted the company, and outrageous performance has always been a hallmark of Bentleys old and new.
The Supersports name has its origins in 1925, the heyday of WO’s era, when 18 examples of the iconic 3 litre model were supplied in an enhanced ‘Super Sports’ guise, with shortened, lightened chassis (although no Bentley has ever been svelte) and uprated engine. These changes made the car good for a genuine 100mph, at a time when this fabled figure was all but unattainable, especially on the road. Back in 2009, the Supersports name was revived and applied to a strung out, stripped-back, bucket-seated, road-racing version of the Continental, a car which was duly crowned the fastest Bentley ever.
Body styling features a bold new rear bumper design with accents, carbon-fibre bonnet vents, side skirts and a rear spoiler to enhance the car’s aerodynamic capabilities. Courtesy of Bentley Motors
As the 2009 Supersports showed, we’re living in a 200mph era now, a top end that is as impractical now as 100mph was back in 1925. But raw figures matter in this part of the market. There’s an undeniable whiff of bragging rights behind the engineering, impressive as it might be. More than anything else, the new 2017 Supersports is about besting those figures. Yet again, this will be the fastest road-going Bentley ever made, an all-important title that presumably gets harder and harder to attain. With a top speed of 209 mph and a 0-60 time of 3.4 seconds (and a 0-100mph of 7.2s) there's no denying this car is hysterically fast. Just 710 examples will be made, split as per customer requirement between coupe and convertible variants, with the usual Bentley accoutrements ladled on according to taste, all the way up to the anything-goes fantasy land of Mulliner-specification.
In ‘basic’ configuration, the Supersports is a more than ample demonstration of Bentley’s skills with a sewing needle and materials swatch. The main story here is undoubtedly the performance. The Continental has evolved over its lifespan into a formidable grand tourer, and presumably no owner ever grumbled that their car wasn’t sufficiently swift or was brave enough to attempt high-speed cornering.
No one asked, but Bentley have still delivered. The 2017 Supersports is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it car, the kind that promises all things to all people. As the fastest officially certified four-seater in the world (although we would be surprised if that 209mph top speed was attainable with four full-size adults on board), it also makes a capable fist of preserving Bentley’s many decades of grand touring heritage. The 2009 Supersports was regarded as rather brash by Bentley standards, with race-inspired bucket seats and paintwork. This new model is far more refined, but it can still be flung around a racetrack with a deftness that belies its 2.2 ton weight.
Not all supercars are bought for the performance numbers, but there’ll always be certain models that are deliberately targeted at those for whom records matter. The Supersports fits nicely into this niche, giving the ageing Continental plenty of cachet ahead of the all-new model’s launch at the end of this year. For the purist, it’s more of a Bentley than the Bentayga will ever be, regardless of those soaring sales.