Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible [w/video]

 Soaring Over New England In The World's Fastest Four-Place Drop- They were imaginary, nothing morfabrications conjured to stimulate dreams. Highly decorated and embroidered with bright colors and tassels, the enchanting tapestries appeared everywhere in Arabian fairy tales. The capacity to hover effortlessly a few feet off the ground, or move comfortably and seamless between great distances at high speed, was all make-believe – items in a well-told fable. But the magic flying carpet really does exist.
We recently traveled to New England to spend a weekend with the 2012 Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible. At first glance, the range-topping droptop appears to be yet another Continental GTC. But looks can be very deceiving. The Supersports has been meticulously engineered to showcase the automaker's performance capabilities, yet it never forgets its Bentley DNA.

 The result is not only one of the most powerful cars on the road, but one of the most comfortable too. It is, for all practical purposes, a magic flying carpet. The standard Bentley Continental GTC, a convertible version of the popular two-door GT, is an amazing piece of machinery. In its most powerful iteration, it is fitted with a twin-turbocharged W12 generating 567 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. With a six-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive, there is enough motivation to move the 5,501-pound convertible to 60 miles per hour in about 4.5 seconds before it tops out at 198 mph. Plenty fast, but the $212,000 standard GTC has been engineered primarily to coddle.
 For affluent customers seeking the most capable droptop Bentley, and a factory-fresh way to differentiate themselves from their status-conscience celebrity neighbors, Bentley has created the Supersports Convertible. In a nutshell, the Supersports is what happens to a GTC after an extensive spa treatment at a racing shop. The Supersports is what happens to a GTC after an extensive spa treatment at a racing shop. First, some of the mass is addressed by fitting the Supersports with lightweight carbon fiber sport front seats (saving approximately 100 pounds). The already massive iron brakes are upgraded to standard carbon-ceramic rotors with four-piston monobloc calipers up front and single-piston sliding calipers in the rear (saving 44 pounds of rotating mass), and unique 20-spoke aluminum alloy wheels wrapped in 275/35ZR20 rubber are bolted on each hub (saving 22 pounds). The new curb weight is a slightly more palatable 5,280 pounds. Next, the Supersports receives a few mechanical and cosmetic tweaks.

The Continuous Damping Control (CDC) air suspension system is retuned with stiffer bushings and the rear anti-roll bar is thicker. The steering response is also tweaked to provide better turn-in and control. The rear track is widened by about two inches and the car is dropped about half an inch (the rear quarter panels are flared slightly to accommodate the more aggressive new stance). The bright exterior trim is toned down to a 'smoked steel' finish, and there are larger twin elliptical exhaust tailpipes, a resculpted rear valance and a fixed spoiler on the decklid. Up front is a more aggressive front air dam (the large air intakes on each side provide 10 percent more airflow to the intercoolers), and the hood is ventilated. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the 6.0-liter W12 is massaged and boosted to develop 621 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. The all-wheel drive, with a 40:60 front/rear torque split, is retained, as is the ZF-sourced six-speed 6HP26 'Quickshift' automatic transmission. According to the automaker, this Supersports Convertible will launch itself to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds and its top speed reaches 202 mph. The grand total was $305,030. Magic carpets don't come cheap. Our beautiful test vehicle was dipped in Moroccan Blue paint over Beluga dyed hides. Its base price was $280,400, but there were many options that pushed the price even higher. The blue color was an upgrade ($4,225), as was the special embroidery on the seats ($930). It was also equipped with the Naim premium audio ($7,180), rearview camera ($1,375), red-painted calipers ($1,365), valet key ($325) and alloy fuel filler cap ($305). Note that it was also missing the carbon fiber seats, instead configured with the comfort seat option ($2,725) with massage function ($605). The grand total, including gas guzzler ($3,000) and destination ($2,595) was $305,030. Magic carpets don't come cheap. The Supersports Convertible, like all modern Bentley automobiles, is much more impressive in the flesh where its physical stature may be absorbed and appreciated. It is massive and muscular, especially compared to other vehicles, with well-proportioned lines and a wheel/tire package that smartly fits each well. The fit and finish is impeccable, the materials top notch and the aroma of the leather will make your mouth water. Despite its 2012 model year certificate, keen readers will note that the Supersports is still being built on last year's pre-update chassis (note the tell-tale panel gap bisecting the headlights). Nobody in the real world seemed to notice, or even care. As mentioned, we spent three days gliding aboard our magic carpet in Boston and its surrounding areas, retracing some of the route we explored in the Bentley Mulsanne last year. While the calendar said it was the middle of summer, the skies were overcast and the temperatures hovered in the low-70s.
 Ask someone who owns a droptop, and they will tell you climate like that is nearly perfect for open motoring. Its enhancements over the GTC are subtle, tasteful and all functional. From the driver's seat, the Supersports' enhancements over the GTC are subtle, tasteful and all functional. The primary instrument cluster has been reconfigured to be easier to read and sportier (e.g., the tachometer has larger single-digit numbers for better at-a-glance acquisition, and the temperature gauge has blue markings on the low side to indicate the engine is too cold). The steering wheel is wrapped in suede-like leather for a more aggressive feel, and all of the polished wood trim has been replaced with carbon fiber. The well-bolstered comfort seats are indeed an upgrade over the standard chairs in the GTC. The engine is started by holding down the aptly labeled 'Engine Start/Stop' button, located to the left of the driver's seat temperature controls, which is just aft of the transmission lever on the center console (of course, one should always appreciate British ergonomics). After a whirl from the starter – and an awakening growl from the exhaust – the W12 settled to a nearly imperceptible idle. Driven like a well-heeled gentleman, it is surprisingly comfortable and poised. Most convertible owners keep the top up after the initial novelty wears off (no worries, as the Bentley's power-operated multi-layer insulated soft top fits as tight as a Tupperware lid). But thanks to excellent air management, we kept it stowed nearly the entire time we were behind the wheel. Even with all of the windows down, there was very little buffeting. Taking things one step further, an isolationist who prefers roofless travel may erect a crafty set of wind blockers, roll up all four windows and crank the seat heaters without ruffling a hair on the scalp. Rear seat passengers (and we did put someone back there for the ride from the airport) won't find the accommodations nearly as appealing. Driven like a well-heeled gentleman, the Bentley Supersports is surprisingly comfortable and poised (looking at the specifications on paper, we expected it to ride much harsher). The throttle is progressive and easy to modulate, and the steering (despite lacking a lot of road feel) is nicely weighted and accurate. When the Continuous Damping Control is configured to its softest setting, the massive 20-inch wheels roll over everything with astonishing polish. The ride would never be called floaty, as all body movements felt deliberate, controlled and smooth. "Creamy" is a more appropriate adjective. But treating the Supersports Convertible as if you are a chauffeur is missing the point. We mashed the alloy accelerator pedal to the floor on our very first onramp and the Supersports flew. One moment we were sitting motionless, and then a few seconds later we were at highway speeds. If you've ever ridden one of those new launching roller coasters, the kind with the all-electric linear induction motor that shoots the cars out of the station, you know the feeling. But unlike an amusement park ride, the acceleration in the Bentley was accompanied by a mouthwatering mellow throaty roar from the oval tailpipes. Slightly more than a year ago, when we drove the Continental GT, we said the sound reminded us of "the signature sound the wing-mounted engines of the old Lockheed L-1011 TriStar would make under take-off power." The Supersports sounded just as intoxicating, but from a more audible seating position – like on the wing. A large pizza at Domino's is more than two inches smaller in diameter than the Bentley's carbon ceramic front rotors. When driving the Supersports, it is best not to worry about what is happening beneath the alloy skin. Sit back, hang on and let the slick six-speed automatic choose its own gears (forget about the column-mounted paddles) while the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system determines which Pirelli PZero tire has the best grip. The Supersports is by no mean svelte, but 590 pound-feet of torque can mask plenty of tonnage.

Off-the-line acceleration is thrilling, but the thrust at highway speeds when the Bentley is already on a roll is even more remarkable. The standard GTC is plenty fast, but the Supersports seemed to take to the air. Bentley says the front brake package, with massive 16.5-inch front carbon-ceramic rotors (a large pizza at Domino's is more than two inches smaller in diameter), is the most powerful currently fitted to any production passenger vehicle. We had no way to verify the claim, but we also had no reason to question it. A firm press on the brake pedal brings everything to a stop uneventfully, as if the two-door weighed a ton less than it really did. We tried it faster, and still no drama. For giggles, we attempted a much quicker decelerating approach around a decreasing radius turn. The Supersports nailed that, too. There was no fade, no brushing (the term for the noise many ceramics make when driving at low speeds) and no vibration. We still can't get over how large those front rotors are. It has more than enough talent to make owners of other supercars check their rearview mirrors. The Supersports hides its mass when accelerating (offset by horsepower) and braking (offset with oversized brakes), but it also does an admirable job sucking in its 5,280-pound belly when it comes time to hit the curves. The same CDC-massaged air suspension that impressed us with a creamy ride also understands how to properly lock things down when switched over to Sport mode. Configured in this manner, the Bentley's ride firms up and body roll virtually disappears. Corners may be attacked aggressively, and the rear end will even step out ever so slightly if prodded (just don't remind yourself of the sticker price when doing so). While the Continental GTC left us feeling disconnected, the Supersports engaged and challenged us. Of course it will never corner with the agility of an Audi R8 GT (physics will always win), but it has more than enough talent to make owners of other supercars check their rearview mirrors. One would have to be cold and emotionless to not fall head-over-heels for a Supersports Convertible. The sleek two-door is masterfully engineered and beautifully styled. It exudes luxury to those who want to be spoiled, and it is sporty to those who want to be roused. As children, we read books about imaginary devices that would allow us to joyfully glide between faraway cities, watching the landscape pass by at high speeds. After a weekend with the Bentley drop-top, we are convinced that a fanciful magic flying carpet – in some ways even more capable – genuinely exists.