2011 Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible Road Test Review

Brian Armstead - CAP staff
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Whenever I get behind the wheel of a megabuck supercar, my antennae go up to detect any flaws.  The reason of course is one expects perfection when shelling out more than $300,000 for transportation.  But the antennae have retracted back into my dense skull, as the 2011 Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible is no mere transportation; it's the ultimate application of power and performance that's evolved since 2003.

The 2003 model I referenced was the original "new" Continental, the GT.  Based on the same platform shared with corporate cousins VW Phaeton and Audi A8, the Continental  GT was instantly a hit with those who wanted to be seen in a near 320 km/h (200 mph), 12 cylinder car with an impeccable pedigree. Bentley's been doing it big since 1909, and I'm sure W.O. Bentley, founder and namesake of the company, would approve of the track the company took when it launched the Continental series.

Not content to rest on their laurels, and fully engaged in the war for supremacy with Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Ferrari and other marques, Bentley made improvements in performance with the Continental range in the form of the excellent "Speed" series.  Horsepower and torque were up with Speed models, and subtle styling enhancements let stoplight admirers know you were driving something special.  Take the GTC Speed Convertible for example.  This topless stunner was touted by Bentley as "Born of the same heart as the Continental GTC but with a different soul. Darker. Sportier. Tauter."  Performance was jaw-dropping, with twin turbochargers that boosted the power output to an astonishing 600 horsepower. The Speed sported a top speed of 320 km/h (200 mph) with the top up and a 0-100 km/h time of just 4.7 seconds.

But that was not enough, for this is Bentley.  During a recent visit to the Crewe, United Kingdom factory, I witnessed the passion for the brand that flows from the Board of Directors all the way down to the men and women on the production floor that largely hand assemble these remarkable motorcars.

The Supersports Convertible probably represents the pinnacle for the GT platform and features performance numbers that make even the GTC Speed seem tame: 621 horsepower, a tractor-like 590 pound-feet of torque, and a six-speed "Quickshift" transmission that shifts gears in a lightning fast 200 milliseconds and double clutches each downshift. Zero to 100 km/h comes up in a scant 4.1 seconds. Top speed is 325 km/h (202 mph) with the top up.  Two miles per hour more than the GTC Speed may not seem like much, but for each mph in top speed, power must go up almost exponentially.  Consider the "Big Dog" of top down motoring, the Bugatti Veyron Gran Sport.  Its 407-km/h (253 mph) top speed requires 1001 horsepower to get it there, and a check by you written in the amount of $2,000,000 U.S.

This Bugatti's price makes the Supersports seem like a bargain at $339,240 base. 

But there are no bargain bin bits that make up the DNA of this British road monster. Let me be careful though when I call it a "monster," as the Supersports Convertible is very, very civilized in normal driving scenarios.  This is a car that women and men would feel comfortable piloting, as it's pretty docile until you light up the intercooled twin turbochargers. The only visible concessions to all out performance before you hit the afterburners are the carbon fibre racing seats.  Big bums will be squeezed tightly by these form fitting seats, and there are no power adjustments of any kind to save weight.  But if your rear is not a problem, the Supersports will coddle you with the luxury you expect from a Bentley.  Leather, metal and electronic wizardry all combine to ensure the interior represents a true Bentley experience.

My tester was finished in Silver Tempest with Linen and Porpoise coloured hides.  The top was Dark Grey Metallic, and the seatbelts, door inserts, piping and stitching were a mix of Porpoise and Linen. You'll either love or hate the Black coloured alloy wheels, which looked great on my tester, but not so hot on some other colours at the press launch.  Those wheels house the largest ceramic brakes ever on a production vehicle, and they haul the Supersports down from ridiculous speeds without drama or fuss. 

Significant options on my test car were the special top, rear view camera and the Naim for Bentley Premium Audio System.  Naim has done a masterful job with this system, as lots of power is required to present music clearly with the top down.  But instead of delivering a lot of muddled bass thump because of the power, the Naim system sounds great playing Hip Hop or Bluegrass.

We drove the Supersports Convertible through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  This car is Bentley's attempt at going green, as it's built to run on E85 ethanol-based fuel.  Though ethanol returns less power than gasoline, you'll still get a 621 horsepower output with the fuel.  And you still get the same output when you are carving up the Rockies at 3,000 meters.  The twin turbo motor showed no signs of respiratory distress (although some in the press corps did, including yours truly) at that high altitude.  The combination of Mother Nature at her best and the sheer power of the Supersports was almost overwhelming at times.  It was the perfect venue to showcase the car.

On the safety front, side airbags work in tandem with front airbags, stability and traction control and pop-up automatic rollover bars to help keep you safe.  This is a heavy platform and should hold up well should you unfortunately be involved in a collision. The chassis is very rigid, as I detected zero cowl shake during more than 390 km (240 miles) of testing over varying road condition and terrain.  It's tightly built for sure.

With the top down, I was very impressed that even at triple digit speeds, I could hold normal volume conversations with my driving partner.  A windblocker that fits behind the front seats is standard, but you won't need it.  Bentley employed state of the art Computational Fluid Dynamics when designing the car, and they paid super close attention to the windflow over the cabin.  By contrast, I drove Mercedes-Benz' new E-Class Cabriolet recently with the "Aircap" windblocker that extends from the windshield header to diffuse air rushing over the cabin.  The Supersport's design accomplishes the same goal without complex mechanisms.

I thoroughly enjoyed my way-too-short time behind the wheel of this car.  Sure, you can buy the GTC Speed for a lot less, but this car clearly represents the boldest and best high-performance vehicle ever built by the brand.  Combine this winner with the super luxury Mulsanne, also new for 2011, and the future sure looks bright for Bentley.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Convertible, Bentley, 2011, Continental Supersports Convertible, $99,999+,

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