By Grant Davis
What’s the first thing you think of doing when you get into the new 2011 Bentley Supersports, a 621-horsepower monster with 590-pounds of torque and all-wheel-drive that retails for $281,000? Why you rip the top off and turn it into a convertible, of course. The result is the Bentley Supersports Convertible, currently the world’s fastest four-seat convertible production car. With a 6-liter, W12 engine configuration and a top-speed of 202-miles an hour with the top up and 194 with the top down, this Bentley moves so fast that rain won’t likely be a problem when hitting triple digits, even with the top down; as any rain drops will likely be blown off the rear of the car before they can touch the hand-stitched leather seats and interior. Check out this stat: 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds.
When talking to the Bentley marketing guys at the Supersports worldwide press launch in Telluride, Colorado this summer, I asked why they thought a convertible version of the Supersports Coupe was necessary—I mean, who in their right mind would want a 200-mph convertible? The response was, “People will order more Convertible’s than Coupe’s.” Bentley saw this happen with the Supersports’ predecessor, the 600-horsepower, $231,000 Continental GTC Speed introduced in 2009.
Silly me, I should’ve known that the rich love convertibles just as much as the rest of us. Theirs just go faster and cost more.
On Board the Bentley Luxury Experience
First and foremost, you gotta understand: Bentley’s a LUXURUY performance car brand. “Performance” will never come ahead of “luxury” in that description. A massive percentage of the price of any car they make in Crewe, England—even the Supersports Convertible—comes from the hand-crafted leather work on the seats and trim, the dashboard’s inlays, and the paint job. For an extra charge, everything is made to order to a customer’s own unique desires. There’s 160 different colors of paint, 21 different variations of leather trim color treatments, and 8 choices for the soft-top. You want spinners, Bentley’s bespoke department will likely gnash their teeth about it, but they’ll do it.
This attention to luxury even extends to how they engineer they car: to keep the sweeping horizontal line from the Coupe, Bentley re-engineered the frame and rear axle to make space for the roof to fold flat into the rear without leaving an unseemly “bump” behind the rear seats. They added two more ribs to the soft top for a total of seven—not to boost the aerodynamic integrity of the roof at 200 mph—but so the roof wouldn’t sag over time like other premium soft tops and look like a “starving cow with its ribs sticking out.” Seriously.
A Twin-Turbo W12 with Brains
It takes balls to introduce a car to the world at an altitude of 9,400-feet. Most manufacturers hate leaving sea level, since the thin air reduces an engine’s power. But thanks to the Supersport’s twin turbo, it can shovel massive quantities of oxygen into the cylinders. The Bentley had no problem zipping up and over 11,000-foot mountain passes while snapping up to 100 mph and passing multiple cars at once on the twisting roads. All-wheel drive and giant 20-inch tires keep the 2.5-ton supercar moving forward instead of sliding around. The world’s largest ceramic brakes spec’d for a production car turns the behemoth into a much nimbler vehicle when flying into a 15 mph corner at 50 mph, and you need to stop NOW!
Back to the engine: Such a massive engine required a smart transmission. Without one, any shifts made at peak power (anything over 2,500 rpm) would blow apart the trannie, so Bentley wired the 6-speed transmission to shut off the engine between each gear shift. Somehow, they made this happen in 93 milliseconds—literally a blink of an eye. Drive the Supersports hard enough or whenever you need to pass a succession of RVs steaming up a mountain road in Colorado, and you’ll hear this transmission work: Punch it to redline, keep the gas floored, and pop the Formula 1-style paddle shifter on the steering column to upshift. You’ll hear a satisfying “pop” out of the dual exhaust pipes as the exess fuel that pooled in the cylinders’ heads explodes. Rare is the sportscar that delivers such an audible affirmation that you’re flat out driving the doors off of it.
E-85 Meets a Supercar
To help Bentley play the emissions game and be relatively “green,” they designed and built the engine to run on ethonol-based E-85 fuel which reduces what Bentley calls “well-to-wheel” carbon emissions by 70%. In most vehicles today, filling the tank with E-85 instantly neuters a sizable chunk of a car’s oomph. Not so with this Bentley. A fuel sensor can tell what the mix of ethanol-to-gasoline is at any time and will automatically adjust the fuel injectors to squirt more fuel into the cylinder if it’s sensing mostly ethanol. On the road, this translates into zero loss of muscle.
I didn’t believe it until the sneaky Bentley people told us that for the second half of our test drive, which climbed 4,500 feet to 10,200 feet in altitude, they filled the tanks with E-85. The only indication that something was going on with performance came from the fuel economy computer: it dropped from the 16 to 17 mpg range to under 14. Although, to be honest, I think that had more to do with frequent bursts into triple-digit speeds as I wove my way up through the Rockies. God help you if you’re behind the wheel of this thing on an empty road; there’s no way you’re keeping it under 100 mph unless you’re consciously trying to.
The Convertible Appeal
Between its hard-topped brother, the Coupe, and the soft top GTC, there’s little difference in performance, fit, finish, or price. But there is one major advantage to the ragtop I discovered, chicks really dig it. When I was tooling around in the Coupe, guys gave me the thumbs up and gushed over the car. With the top down and rolling through town in the Convertible, women came out of bars and boutiques to ogle the car and run their finger whistfully along the body panels. They wanted to get in, they wanted a ride—They wanted to know who the hell I was.
In short, having a Supersports Convertible for a day did more for my ego than six months of diet, exercise and expensive haircuts. I’m sure that for the billionaires among us, shelling out $280 large for something that’s a blast to drive and saves six months of self-improvement hassle qualifies as a time-saving bargain.