Imagine you’re the successful your mom always wanted. You have cash to burn, successful career on autopilot and the mansion is finally mortgage-free, you’re in the market for a new car, one that speaks to your success and station in the community. But, you’re also in full mid-life crisis, sentimental for the tearaway youthfulness you now regret suppressing every time you open that second bottle of Chateau Lafite. Indeed, in your last act of impetuousness before children and creeping maturity reared their ugly heads, you owned an Aston Martin. Not one of these new namby-pamby ones, what with their button-down engineering and sophisticated electronics, but a real he-man-of-yesteryear Vantage with eight thundering pistons, a rock-crunching transmission and coil springs stiff enough to suspend the Golden Gate Bridge.
So, you head down to your friendly neighborhood British luxury car dealership only to find that the Aston’s oh-so-low seats that once gripped as you sported about now have you screaming about your arthritic back. As lovely as all sumptuous leather and V12 cacophony is, rampant lust is of no use if you can’t climb into the bed. What to do? You certainly don’t want to head to your friendly Audi, BMW or Mercedes dealers. Ruthlessly engineered their cars may be, but Teutonic efficiency is not nearly as welcoming as British warmth. Besides, everyone has an AMG or M5 parked in their garage and separating yourself from the herd is why you file all those litigious torts.
What about Bentley? Yes, there’s an entire spate of German engineering to its underpinnings, but it’s at least outfitted like a proper English motorcar. And, unlike the Aston, it’s not nearly as hard on geriatric spinal columns. But that’s to be expected, no? Bentleys, after all, are not nearly as sporty as Aston Martins.
That would have been true right up until, well, last week, when I popped into Grand Touring Automobiles, my local Aston/Bentley dealer, and spotted a brand new Continental Supersports conveniently tagged with dealer plates and no scheduled customer test drives for the next three days. For those unfamiliar with this latest Continental, the Supersports is, quite literally, the philosophical progeny of W.O. Bentley’s famed monsters that dominated Le Mans during the 1920s.
Still an imposingly large car, the Supersports is shorn of such unnecessary luxuries as rear seats. The front seats, meanwhile, still clothed in leather, are now genuine race items made of Kevlar by Sparco. They don’t even have electric adjusters. Yes, a $323,100 Bentley with the same manual seat adjustments as a $10,000 Hyundai.
But the changes do save weight. The seats alone are said to be 45 kilograms lighter. Throw in what Bentley claims are the largest carbon ceramic brakes on any production automobile as well some other little weight-
savings tricks and you have a Continental that’s 110 kg lighter..
That alone might not have warranted a Supersports moniker, but factor in an even more highly tweaked motor sporting six litres, 12 cylinders, two turbochargers and 621 horsepower and one is faced with a Bentley that thinks it’s a Porsche. Indeed, that comparison is not at all spurious. Those still thinking that a Bentley is just an old man’s car should know this – the Supersports is only 0.3 seconds slower to 96 kilometres an hour than the 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo. Most of that minuscule advantage, I think, comes down to the Porsche’s fancy electronic launch control system. The Supersports also tops out at a totally academic 329 km/h, but it’s nice to have that in your back pocket just in case you ever have to race a 737 or a low-flying space shuttle.
The Supersports goes about delivering this phantasmagorical performance in a curiously subdued manner. There’s no tire squeal, not only because it’s generally frowned upon in certain circles but because the all-wheel-drive system – hooked up to some serious huge P275/35R20 tires – makes it difficult even for the W12 engine’s massive 590 pound-feet of torque to get the wheels spinning. Once off the line, however, the big beast keeps accelerating like the very hand of God wants to push you deep into the clutches of OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino. Punching the throttle at 140 km/h is little different from leaving a stoplight – your head is forced firmly into the headrest, your passenger is either squealing in delight or threatening air sickness and the big Bentley does a fair impression of an Airbus 380 on takeoff. As for automotive comparisons, the only car that feels even remotely as relentless as the Supersports is Mercedes’ CL65 AMG, a car strikingly similar in execution – 12 pistons and two turbochargers – save for its cylinders arranged in a traditional vee format rather than the Bentley’s quirky W12.
Nor does the Supersports trail the aforementioned Porsche by so very much on a twisty road. Yes, it still weighs more than two tons, but its suspension has been tweaked for even better road holding, the rear track is widened and it is the only Continental to boast a sporty 40/60 front/rear torque distribution to its AWD system. Body roll during hard cornering has almost been banished, at least when the electronically adjustable suspension is on full firm. Yet, in its softest mode, it’s almost as coddling as the base model, a car known for its exemplary ride. In both ride and handling, there’s precious little price to be paid for the Supersports’ vastly superior performance compared with the base Continental.
That downside comes with the Supersports’ interior. You can no longer carry more than one passenger, not as great a sacrifice as it initially sounds – I once tried to fit four adults into a Continental and there was nary a smiling face among them. The front seats, however, will be simply a case of whether your particular corpus fits them. While they are adjustable for recline, they will fit a far narrower spectrum of tushies than the base Conti’s multi-adjustable items. I found them to be comfortable; some of my passengers did not. Lawyers, doctors, and Indian chiefs are therefore well advised to test thoroughly before signing on the dotted line. And have traffic paralegals on speed dial.
Type of vehicle: All-wheel-drive luxury sport coupe
Engine: Twin-turbocharged 6.0L DOHC W12
Power: 621 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 590 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000 rpm
Transmissio:n Six-speed manumatic
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
Price: base/as tested: $323,100/$347,030
Destination charge: $4,995
Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km: 24.5 city, 11.6 hwy.
Standard features: Power door locks, windows and mirrors, climate control air conditioning with micron air filter, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, iPod interface, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, DVD navigation system, cruise control, power glass sunroof, information display, tilt steering wheel, leather seats, lightweight front seats with diamond-quilted Alcantara leather, manual seat adjuster, heated front seats, power trunk, power door closing, auto headlights, dual front air bags, side curtain air bags, electronic stability control