Bentley Continental Supersports

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It may be the most-powerful and best-handling Bentley ever, but the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports seems conflicted between its luxury GT car foundation and its sports car aspirations.

It may seem surprising today, but Bentley was a racing powerhouse in the first half of the 20th century. Before they were turned into rebadged Rolls-Royces, high-speed Bentley motor cars known by their engine displacements (including the 3-liter Supersports) were hugely successful at Le Mans, Brooklands and other world-famous circuits. These cars were big and supremely powerful, known more for their brute strength than any semblance of delicacy or agility. In this historical spirit, the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports was created to rekindle some of the brand's long-lost performance glory.

Of course, recent Bentleys have not been wanting for power. The Continental GT Speed produces 600 horsepower and the old Arnage T cranked out so much torque (738 pound-feet), it could cause a wobble in the Earth's orbit. Yet turning was not a forte, so you'd certainly never relish taking one to a curvy road, let alone a world-famous race circuit. The 2011 Continental Supersports, however, can dispatch a winding road while actually showing a semblance of delicacy and agility that its great-great grandfathers could only wistfully imagine.

It all starts with weight. A fully loaded GT Speed hits the scales with almost 5,200 pounds, so the Jenny Craig method of modification was used to optimize the 21 additional horses extracted from the GT Speed's W12 engine that makes the Supersports the most powerful Bentley ever. Ninety-nine pounds were saved by replacing the standard front seats with manually operated carbon-fiber sport seats. The backseat was also pulled out and replaced by a parcel shelf, while standard carbon-ceramic brakes and different wheels further trim the pounds. The result is straight-line performance that matches a Porsche 911 GT2 and Nissan GT-R.

That loss in weight also helps the Supersports around corners, as does the retuning of the Continental's adjustable suspension (dampers and ride height). Our handling numbers at the track were consequently quite impressive, though not to the same degree as exotic supercars from Ferrari and Lamborghini that inhabit this price range. It may have lost some weight, but this Continental is still pretty big-boned. Also, its suspension tuning makes the Supersports' ride firm regardless of which setting you choose.

As such, there is a conflicted nature to the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports. It doesn't offer the ride of a "proper" Bentley like the Continental GT Speed, and with its manual-operated front seats and myriad black-out styling elements, it doesn't look or feel like one either. At the same time, this big Bentley still can't match the agility you'd find in a Ferrari 458 Italia or any number of similarly priced exotic supercars. Perhaps you could consider the Supersports as a sort of middle-ground choice, but the Aston Martin DBS strikes a better balance between performance, handling, luxury and comfort.

Even so, the Supersports indeed rekindles some of Bentley's long-lost performance heritage. If you dream of reliving the past glories of Le Mans and Brooklands, then perhaps it deserves a place in your garage.

The 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports is the highest-performance version of the Continental GT coupe and only seats two people. Standard equipment includes 20-inch wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes, a rear spoiler, bi-xenon headlamps, unique exterior styling, automatic wipers, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rear parcel shelf, four-way manual lightweight front seats, faux-suede upholstery and trim, sport steering wheel, carbon-fiber trim, Bluetooth, a navigation system and a 10-speaker stereo with an iPod interface and a lifetime satellite radio subscription.

There are fewer options available on the lightweight, performance-oriented Supersports compared to the regular GT. Still, options include a power trunk, a rearview camera, multiple two-tone interior color choices, a 15-speaker Naim premium audio system and a no-cost glovebox-mounted six-CD changer.

The 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports features a 6.0-liter W12 good for 621 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard. A Supersports will hit 60 mph from a standstill in 3.8 seconds -- astonishing given how large this car is. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined.

The Supersports come standard with antilock carbon-ceramic disc brakes, stability and traction control and side curtain airbags (coupe). In Edmunds brake testing, the Supersports came to a stop from 60 mph in a very short 109 feet.

The classy, old-world feel so typical of Bentley is muted in the Supersports, as the rich wood veneers found on the Continental GT models have been replaced by carbon-fiber trim. The comfy front thrones have been replaced by lightweight sport buckets that certainly keep you nicely in place. Those buckets, however, don't offer any power-operated adjustments, and notably don't offer any height adjustment. Bentley will custom fit the seat to your requirements, but that could be a problem for a different-sized second driver or should you need to sell the car.

Otherwise, the Supersports is as impeccably tailored as you would expect from a Bentley. Alcantara faux suede covers most surfaces while real leather fills in the blanks. Then there are nice touches like the Breitling timepiece and the numerous switches made of chrome and knurled metal. On the downside, the navigation system and electronics interface is notably outdated.

The trunk is actually quite spacious for a GT car, and bolstered by the rear parcel shelf that replaces the two-person backseat. It's nicely finished with diamond-quilted Alcantara, and since the Continental's backseat is on the small side anyway, we doubt many folks will miss it.

The 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports coupe weighs approximately 5,000 pounds, yet it managed to slip through our slalom course at the same speed as the 856-pounds-lighter BMW M3 Convertible. We've come to expect modern Bentleys to be far nimbler than their size would suggest, but it's a revelation for the Supersports to handle this well. Still, despite its theoretic capability, it's hard to forget you're piloting something with such huge dimensions. At the same time, its firm ride (regardless of which adjustable suspension setting you choose) may be surprising given Bentley's usually more comfortable ride quality.

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