There's a story my dad used to tell me about hot rodders in the 1960s, where some chap with a souped-up car would offer a challenge to his passenger. The driver would put a $10 bill on the dashboard and tell his chum that, after the throttle was mashed, he should try and pick it up. The driver would be so confident in the immense power of his ride that he knew his passenger couldn't force himself out of the seat off the line.
I finally understand what this story is all about. It's not about sharing, or foolhardiness, or how to trick a friend; there is no parable here. It's just about sheer, ground-shaking horsepower. Thank you, Bentley, for teaching me. And thank you for the Continental Supersports. The most expensive Continental, the Supersports is Bentley's attempt at making a grand tourer that will challenge real sports cars on the road and the track. It's lightened the car by about 110kg from the normal Continental GT, with plenty of carbon fibre, stripped-down seats, lighter wheels and other tricks.
But the real treat is found under the bonnet, which has been adorned with flared nostrils for cooling. The Supersports packs a twin-turbocharged, 6.0L W12 engine that puts down 621hp and an immense 800Nm of torque, all through an all-wheel-drive system that routes 60 per cent of its power to the rear wheels. It's the most powerful Bentley ever, and that fact becomes apparent when you sit behind the wheel and fire it up.
From a standstill, it gets to 100kph in 3.35 seconds; it doesn't matter how much money is on the dashboard, your passenger will probably leave the car with the same amount of cash they came in with. But that acceleration isn't the whole story; even on the motorway at speed, the car leaps ahead with a stab of the throttle with alarming ease, blowing past cars as if they were actually hitting the brakes at the same time. It's got such immense power that a driver really has to be aware of what his right foot can do; otherwise, the rate of acceleration can be shocking.
That engine dishes out an exquisite note, too, though it's really not loud enough for the pure enjoyment factor; perhaps Bentley didn't want to overrule the car's luxury aspect with a brutish noise. But it's there, and with the window down you can hear a lovely burble as you take your foot off the throttle, and then a furious roar with another push. The power is routed through a six-speed automatic gearbox, which works wonderfully. It's got quicker shifts than the Continental GT, and in the sport mode, shifts are held on longer for performance. There is a manual option with paddle shifters, but that gets tiresome after a while. The paddles are on long stalks high up on the steering column in a very unnatural place, and it's easy to mistake them for the wiper and turn signal controls. And trying quick shifts in twisty corners just isn't easy; leave it in sport mode and let the gearbox do the work for you.
To rein in this power, the Supersports gets a carbon ceramic brake system. The front discs are massive, almost filling the entire wheel. And though they do a great job of stopping the car, they surprisingly don't have the usual carbon ceramic feel in the pedal; normally, carbon brakes have a very firm pedal feel and just a small dab will jolt the car to a stop, but these feel, well, like a normal car.
Normally, the Supersports loses its two rear seats to save weight, replaced with a structural bar and a carbon fibre tub. But they remain as an option, a move spurred by demand in the Middle East. In this case, all the seats, covered in red leather and black, diamond-quilted alcantra, are firm but cosseting; the front ones are more than comfortable for those cross-country trips. Even in the back, the seats curve into the body, but with limited head and leg room, passengers wouldn't find a longer trip so inviting.
Inside, it's hard to see Bentley's efforts at paring down and saving weight. Yes, carbon fibre adorns the dash and centre console, but red and black leather is everywhere; dash, doors and console are swathed in it. A driver will not be lacking in that classic, grand tourer luxury here. Of course, the Supersports comes with a premium; at around Dh1,050,000 (Bentley is coy about the price of the model I drove), it's about Dh200,000 more than the Continental GT. Is it worth it? The gorgeous exterior is almost the same, save for flared rear haunches and some extra air inlets at the front on the Supersports. The overall design, really one of the more beautiful on the road that will remain a classic for decades, is shared by the Continental line, and the GT Speed still has 600hp to play with. Also, despite the weight savings, the Supersports tips the scales at more than two tonnes; this is not a car that will be challenging a Porsche or Ferrari on a track, even if any of them make it there.
But what it does do is makes for the perfect long-distance tourer (as soon as you get its cursed speed warning disconnected), and for those with the means, it may prove too tempting to pass up. Especially once they've been behind the wheel.