Driving Northwest: The 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports

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by TOM VOELK / KING5 Car expert

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KING5.com

Posted on January 21, 2010 at 11:32 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 5 at 10:59 AM

Chances are you will never lay eyes on a Bentley Continental Supersports.It’s produced in very small numbers.  Ironic, because in a word it’s about more.  More exclusive than an already rare standard Continental GT.  More cylinders than two Toyota Corollas.  More money, too (but you probably figured that one out by now).  The economy may be in tatters but targeted buyers won’t fret about plunking down $274,000.They’re better off than the average Chevy customer.

And yet the Bentley and Chevrolet have something in common.  This ultra high performance machine that runs with Ferraris and Lamborghinis can run on E85 fuel.  Crazy but true.E85, if you don’t know is a blend of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol (hence the name).  Hand built in Crewe, England, this Continental will happily draw its power from Iowa corn.

A quick Continental primmer before hitting the details.  Identifying Supersports status over the standard Conti GT a bit tough.  The rear flanks of an SS bulge a bit more and the shiny bits get a smoky tint.  Badges just behind the front wheels are nearly invisible.  An owner’s best bet for being spotted is the twin hood vents.  Really though, isn’t driving a Bentley a strong enough statement?  Do you have to rub it in?  There are also engine and suspension upgrades and the car is some 300 pounds lighter.

Why is this a big deal?

Supercars generally gulp a strict diet of premium gasoline. This 6-liter, twin turbocharged 12 cylinder makes 621 horsepower while running on gasoline, E85 biofuel or any combination of the two (a GT makes 552HP).  In this case it could be argued that more isn’t just about power, more means eco friendly.  Looking at it on a “well-to-wheel’ basis, E85 can offer up to a 70 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.  Always good but seriously, no one’s going to confuse this with a hybrid.  Last I checked, Prius doesn’t shoulder a $2,600 gas guzzler tax.

That said fuel sippers don’t bolt from 0-60 in 3.7 seconds.More g-forces = more fun.  The 200 MPH speedometer is not posing, the Supersports is fastest Bentley ever with a 204 miles per hour top speed.  Running with all-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic transmission featuring blink-of-the-eye shifts, the Super Bentley lays down its power in a smooth masculine swagger. The rear wheels get 60 percent of it under normal circumstances.  The deep growl of the W12 is orchestral.

The rear track of a Supersports is 2 inches wider than a GT, a stance that assists the SS in further defying physics through curves.  No small task.  The Conti is not a lightweight and even though the SS sheds the weight of two average people, it’s still a chunk.  The heft is felt but this big boy is still deft on its ZR20 Pirelli Ultra High Performance treads.  Looking for the limits on anything but a race track is ill advised.Somehow it manages to remain very docile in everyday traffic. Fuel economy?  Those two words don’t belong together here.  We’re talking 14 MPG on average. 

Supersports comes equipped with carbon ceramic brakes, the front units being as big as manhole covers.  Alone, they would cost as much as some cars.They are very, very effective.  Intense heat generated by repeated hard stops is shrugged off by these units, temperatures that can warp regular steel discs.  Bentley boasts there are the largest and most powerful brakes ever fitted to a production car.

Back to more. 

The Supersports cabin finish is among the finest in the industry.  It ain’t naugahyde folks, though the leather from practically a herd of cattle is so perfect you might think it is.  Until you smell it.Mmmmmmm.  The stitching?  Perfect.  Between the trim panels and seat shells there must be an acre of spendy carbon fiber.  Switchgear feels like it’s milled from steel ingots.  Seats hold their occupants like a mother hugs a newborn.  Grippy diamond quilted Alcantara fabric inserts keep your kiester from sliding around in them. 

The ride quality is adjustable with the turn of a dial.  So is ride height so the expensive chin doesn’t scrape on steep driveways (the one leading to your view home perhaps?).Befitting a $274,000 car the sound system rivals the engine note.  An iPod jack can be found in the glovebox. 

Moving to the backseat…

OK, kidding.  Unlike regular Continentals the Supersports doesn’t have one.  It’s replaced by a shelf and carbon fiber bar to keep luggage from sliding around.  Carbon fiber bar?  Your purse or briefcase should enjoy the ride back here.  There’s a ski pass through too.

To make you feel better about not having the means to buy one of these, I’ve spotted some gripes.  Surprising that the sport seats are manually adjusted, to cut down on weight no doubt.  It’s easy to hit the shift paddle when reaching for the turn signal.  As always, I prefer touch screens, the user interface is a bit cumbersome.  Pity the rich.

Part of me feels like I should be doing the trunk test with cases of Dom Perignon champagne but bundles of Kirkland Bath Tissue is my standard measurement system.  The boot (what the English call a trunk) is better finished than most car interiors. For those planning a cross country trip, the easy 5 pack limit should serve two folks just fine.  It looks like there’s room for six but no amount of shuffling will get a half dozen to fit.  Trust me.  I’m a professional.

A little tech for the gear heads among us

All cars are miracles of technologies these days.  Here are some interesting tidbits about the SS.  The Conti is a flex fuel vehicle, interesting that power and torque remains constant whatever the ratio of gas to E85.  A fuel quality sensor detects the gasoline to E85 ratio and sends a signal to the engine control unit to use the right engine mapping.

The 6-speed transmission has gear shifts that are twice the speed of other Bentleys.During upshifts, fuel and ignition are cut for the briefest of moments to give faster gear changes.  It also helps the tranny to last longer.  The engine and gearbox electronics controller creates manual throttle ‘blips’ for rev matching when downshifting. The electronics ensure more confident double downshifts (from 6th to 4th).

Bentley says all of their vehicles will run on E85 fuel in a few years.  And Continental’s are almost completely recyclable.  Like that’s going to ever happen.  The company claims nearly 70% of all cars ever made are still on the road or in collections.  That’s an environmental good start.  I’ll make this plea- If you intend on recycling your Bentley, give me a shout and I’ll pay you full market value for the raw materials.  Deal?  The Bentley Continental Supersports is about more, more, more, with a little less impact on the environment. 

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