At the 2009 Goodwood Festival of Speed, CAR was granted a passenger ride up the hill in the new light(er) weight Bentley Continental Supersports. It’s the new biofuel Bentley – the most powerful road car ever to roll out of Crewe’s gates is also the cleanest. And the driver of our E85 eco saintly sports car? One Derek Bell Esq.
We meet Bentley at the Conti’s bay in the rammed supercar paddock and hop onboard at the allotted time. I’m driven down to the start line by a Bentley PR in a supercar convoy worth millions of pounds and I’m struck by how much queuing around there is at Goodwood. We wait for a good quarter of an hour, helpless incumbents in a mirage-like supercar sauna, before being ushered forwards by a FoS marshal. It gives me ample time to soak up the Supersports’ interior and the rump of the Aston V12 Vantage in front.
CAR lives with the 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8
Inside the new Bentley Continental Supersports
The Conti Supersports is based on the regular Continental GT, but given a two-stage eco work-out. Most obvious is inside, where the rear bench is removed to save weight. Instead, a very smart helmet cover lies in the cargo bay monogrammed with Derek Bell’s surname in a retro fashion and a Virgin Upper Class sticker. Instant respect.
It’s a focused interior for a Bentley – sort of Ranulph Fiennes meets Formula One. The front seats are carbon clamshells that grip hard but still offer the support a Bentley owner would expect (they also save 45kg over the standard armchairs). Composites and Alcantara trim swathe most visible surfaces, broken up by flashes of brightwork. The vibe is modern, edgy, purposeful – and yet there’s the usual Conti comfort and build quality. I like.
The preamble: waiting to go up Goodwood's hill
As we crawl down to the start line, I’m impressed by the tractability of the W12, tuned to a new biofuel diet. The lump’s internals have been upgraded with new electronics to reset the ignition depending on its diet and a tenth more air is rammed into the turbochargers: it’ll run on everything from full E85 to full unleaded, with everything in between. Net result? When running on full biofuel mode, Bentley claims its CO2 emissions are 70% lower well-to-wheel. Look past the woeful provision of biofuels in the UK, and that’s no mean achievement. I sense though that Bentley will have a few dissenters to deal with – people who’ll point out that a 2240kg, 17mpg, 388g/km of CO2 sports coupe will never be that green.
I’m now about to find out how it feels like when the taps are turned on. That’ll be 621bhp and 590lb ft of twist sent to Lord March’s driveway. Not sure what the police will think if they catch you maxing out at 204mph with nothing more than distillery smells emanating from the exhaust...
>> Click ‘Next’ to read how the new Bentley Continental Supersports drives on the road
So what’s the Bentley Continental Supersports like up the hill at Goodwood?
Derek Bell spies us on the starting line and jumps in, swapping seats with the PR. He’s affable, cool, friendly and has that twinkle in the eye that belies a driving record that encompasses five Le Mans wins and several stints in F1. We’ve met a few times before and he’s chatty, calm, immediately relaxed in front of the video camera thrust in his face.
We creep forward, the marshals insisting I cover up my bare legs with my raincoat, and then the flag is raised. There’s a brief squirm as the Bentley transmission copes with nearly 600 pound feet of W12 anger hurled through it. I’m struck by two things: 1) the relentless surge that’s pushing me into the grippy bucket seat as we pound past 60mph in 3.7 seconds and 2) the appreciation of the crowd members I can see whirring past at an increasingly fast rate. The ZF box is recalibrated for changes 50% faster than the regular car, and we’re surging forwards on one big wave of torque, barely interrupted by ratios.
And the first corner?
There’s a long tree-lined avenue at the start of the Goodwood hill climb and the Bentley feels like a big car (it weighs 2.2 tonnes) being thrust down it with the relentless force of a big aircraft during take-off. Straight-line performance is commonplace these days and I’m not easily impressed by vicious acceleration in this forced induction age. But the way the Supersports takes its first corner startles me.
Bell prods the left pedal and the standard ceramic brakes – the largest ever fitted to a production car and saving a hefty 20kg – instantly wipe away the mph’s as fast as they accrued on the Conti’s exquisite dial. The legend next to me then throws the Supersports into the right hander that’s longer than I remember, framed by a blur of haybales and white hospitality tents.
The next 50 seconds pass in a bit of a blur, if I’m being honest. The car rides very well, but any driveway belonging to LM (Lord March, not that other auto lord, Luca di Montezemolo) is going to be nothing less than perfectly surfaced. Bell keeps the throttle pinned for anything that’s not a sharp corner and I can feel the 4wd shuffling power between the axles as we point and squirt past the bridge.
Can you get the Continental Supersports sideways?
I never thought I’d write this, but yes you can. On the front driveway to Goodwood House. Just as we come into a fast left-hander near the flint wall, the road narrows and Bell flicks a wrist-twist of lock on to catch the back end that’s arcing out of shape. The Supersports’ torque split is now 60:40, like on an Audi. Bell catches the slide instantly and we hammer up the hill, the road feeling narrower and narrower until I can practically feel the haybales scratching my face. Although switched off, Bell reckons he can feel the ESP intervening on the limit, he tells me afterwards.
We hit 120mph maximum on the Goodwood hillclimb, and no sooner have we passed the finish line, than it’s back on the brakes, hauling down the Supersports to a standstill in another procession of mind-boggling exotica. The ticking and heat shimmers at the top of the hill are quite an experience.
Bentley Continental Supersports: verdict
We haven’t driven the E85 Bentley yet, but our brief test ride took in some pretty brutal acceleration, sideways action and tested the brakes to the full. Not bad for a one-minute test. As far as we could tell from the (very comfortable) passenger seat, it’s a well resolved car. It’s Continental, magnified, with a harder, purer sporting focus. It’ll punch at some stiff competition at £163,000, mind you – including pugnacious rivals from Ferrari and Aston Martin.
My abiding impression of the Supersports is that it’s a full-bore sports car for our times and a reminder that all cars, not just volume fodder, are having to adapt to this low-carbon zeitgeist. E85 might be hard to buy in the UK right now and it has its fair share of detractors, but other markets have readier access and modern biofuels are improving. Don’t underestimate the importance of appearing to be green, as much as actually being green. I find it heartening that the fastest Bentley of all time is also – potentially – its cleanest.
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