The legendary Bentley Motors Limited was founded in 1919 by W. O. Bentley, an aircraft engine designer. For much of its history, from 1931 to 1998, the company was owned by Rolls-Royce. Currently, Bentley is one of Volkswagen's premier marques. Although James Bond became associated with Aston Martin because of the movies, Ian Fleming wrote in his novels that he drove a 1930 Blower Bentley, a supercharged 4.5-liter car.
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Bentley has come a long way since James Bond owned one, with the 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports being the fastest Bentley ever. This car is based on the Continental coupe, but tweaked for performance.
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As a very high-end luxury brand, Bentley puts the base price of a Continental Supersports at $267,000, which, fortunately, includes plenty of standard equipment. Strangely, a rearview camera, included on our car, is one of the few options.
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Part of what makes the Continental Supersports so remarkably fast is this twin-turbocharged 6-liter W-12 engine, with an output of 621 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. In our testing, the Continental Supersports made it to 60 mph from zero in just 3.67 seconds. This car is also intended to affirm Bentley's green credentials, as the engine can run off E85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
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The Continental is a coupe with 2+2 seating, a grand tourer designed for short trips where the roads wind. But in Supersports form, the rear seat is removed to save weight. Likewise, the front seats are manually operated, saving the weight of seat motors.
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As there is no B pillar, rolling down all the windows gives the Continental Supersports a nice, open air feeling.
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With this much power, the Continental Supersports needs massive brakes. Standard are 420-millimeter carbon ceramic discs on the front, and 356-millimeter carbon ceramic discs on the rear wheels. The stopping power is excellent, and the brake pedal offers a lot of room for modulation.
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This automatic spoiler pops up from the rear of the car at speeds over 50 mph, providing extra downforce to keep the car stable up to its top speed of 204 mph.
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The Continental Supersports comes with an air suspension, which can be set by the driver for sport or comfort. The car is also all-wheel-drive, with 60 percent of torque biased toward the rear, although the torque split will adjust for driving conditions.
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Bentley molds many of the car's features into the body, such as the front and rear lights. The oval tail pipes are also a unique design feature, belting out the sonorous rumble of the engine.
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Even stripped for performance, the cabin of the Continental Supersports shows true luxury, with leather, suede, and carbon fiber elements. As mentioned above, these seats are manually adjustable, but they in no way feel down-market.
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Bentley puts a padded shelf where the rear seat used to be, providing more storage area than we are used to seeing in a coupe. There is also a carbon fiber bar running across the back, increasing body rigidity.
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At this level of cost and luxury, buyers can specify much of the interior detailing of the cabin. Our car was done up in black and red, which seemed to fit the performance character of the car.
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The steering wheel rim feels a little thin, but there is nothing wrong at all with the car's handling. It effortlessly holds corners, justifying the engine's immense power.
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The instrument cluster includes a useful display that can show information from the trip computer, audio system, and navigation system.
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The clock in the car is a Breitling timepiece, set at the center of the dashboard. Again, standard equipment in the Continental Supersports.
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A solid-feeling switchgear set in the steering wheel spoke lets the driver control the phone system and adjust the stereo volume.
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The standard six-speed automatic transmission is every bit a match for the engine and handling, in Sport mode delivering aggressive downshifts. During manual shifting, gear changes feel solid and engage quickly.
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The paddle shifters are stalks attached to the steering column. The left one shifts down and the right one shifts up.
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Buttons in the carbon fiber console set the suspension for sport or comfort, raise and lower the rear spoiler, and maximize the suspension height for speed bumps or other obstructions.
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The onscreen suspension setting lets you choose from four different levels, ranging from semisoft comfort to full-on sport.
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One of the worst features of the Continental Supersports is the navigation system. The maps don't look this bad in real life, but the screen is such low resolution that our photographer's very expensive camera couldn't quite capture it.
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An iPod interface is included, with a pigtail in the glove compartment. The onscreen interface is terrible, as it lists albums and artists in an alphabetical list, forcing you to scroll through hundreds of list items to find what you want to listen to.
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The satellite radio interface is a little better than the iPod interface, as you can choose a category of music to narrow down the list items.
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Although the audio interfaces were poor, the audio quality was supremely good. The Continental Supersports comes with a 10-speaker system, with a 15-speaker Naim system an option. But even with the standard system, this stereo reproduced our music near perfectly, bringing out layers that we only rarely get to hear.
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The optional backup camera is a good feature to have considering the small rear window of the car. It has trajectory lines to help with parking.