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Friday 10th February 2012


DRIVEN: BENTLEY CONTINENTAL SUPERSPORTS ISR

Fancy hitting 200mph on ice? You'll be needing a 640hp Bentley with some daft stickers then


Conspicuous consumption isn't really the flavour of the month. Just ask RBS boss Stephen Hester. And as a result the driver's seat of a car that pretty much embodies financial excess on four wheels isn't an especially comfortable place to be, no matter how plump the quilted upholstery may be.

A Bentley has never been for the man shy of displaying his wealth of course. But traditionally it's something carried off with a modicum of style and a little - just a little - restraint. Excess is something the Continental Supersports Convertible Ice Speed Record celebrates unashamedly though - excess of speed, of cost, of power, of pretty much everything in fact.

A Bentley on ice - good for over 200mph
A Bentley on ice - good for over 200mph
The swansong for the first generation Continental GT and GTC, this car is a hurrah for the 205.48mph record set by Juha Kankkunen almost exactly a year ago and officially the fastest speed ever driven on ice. For a full three weeks, before some bloke in an Audi hit 206.05mph on behalf of Nokian tyres to rain quite comprehensively on Bentley's parade. Bit awkward that, given that Bentley had just proudly announced a limited run of 100 road-going Continental Supersports Ice Speed Record editions to celebrate the achievement. Ho hum. Bentley subsequently salvaged what it could and claimed the record for the fastest convertible ever driven on ice (with the roof up...) but, after this somewhat hollow victory, you'd have thought it might have downplayed the whole ice speed record thing. Not written it in big letters down the side of the car in a manner that would make even the bloke who does the stickers for RS 911s blush.

Hollow victory
Keep your eyeline above the sills and the ISR package actually just about works, the red surrounds to the bonnet vents lifting the otherwise sinister black on black bodywork and wheels combo. Better that than the red 20-inch Supersports wheels included with the Mulliner pack, the winter rubber meaning the switch to rather more subdued/tasteful black versions.

Not the place for conspicuous displays of wealth
Not the place for conspicuous displays of wealth
And if bragging rights matter the ISR does get a 10hp hike over the 630hp of a standard Supersports, torque staying the same at 590lb ft. Which is a lot.

Sinister looks are matched with a sinister noise, the W12 has never sounded better, especially if you slip the chunky, knurled gear selector another notch into the Sport setting. Like standard Supersports (and the new Conti GT range) the ISR gets the faster, more positive Quickshift six-speeder controllable by distinctive, wand-like shifter paddles covered with beautifully stitched Alcantara.

New money, old money
This is typical of the tactile delights to be found throughout the Continental, a car that, new money Bentley or not, still has plenty of the raffish class you'd hope for.

The real mastery of this package is not the mind warping figures - 0-62mph in 4.0 seconds, 0-100mph in 9.5 seconds and 200mph with the roof down - but the way it behaves at more modest speeds.

640hp is as mighty as it sounds
640hp is as mighty as it sounds
Making a fast car is easy. Making a fast car that's satisfying to drive slowly a whole different ball game but even with the monumental power at your disposal it's actually quite satisfying to drive the Conti around at a leisurely pace.

That sense of tactility extends to the controls as well, the steering surprisingly feelsome and well weighted, the big Bentley incredibly wieldy and nimble given its bulk and the potential of its 640hp pace.

From the inside you can't see the ridiculous stickers either, which is a bonus.

Power, corrupted
The hand wringing about rubbing people's noses in conspicuous displays of wealth lasts about as long as it takes to first dismiss some dawdling peasant who dares to get in the way of your Bentley too. You can argue the toss about its relevance but 640hp and, perhaps more significantly, that 590lb ft of torque, makes short work of pretty much anything.

Cabin about as tasteful as the exterior
Cabin about as tasteful as the exterior
For a turbocharged new-school engine the W12 does a convincing impression of being charismatic and characterful too. The bass-heavy rumble under load is, frankly, a bit scary, the slight lull before the turbos spool up like a gathering storm that, when unleashed, combines ferocity with smoothness in a uniquely Bentley kind of way.

It's too big and heavy (nearly 2.5 tonnes) to thread along with any sense of accuracy or poise but the body is stiff, the damping on the firm side but excellently judged and the steering lovely.

All of which makes living up to that Ice Speed Record claim on a snow-dusted fast lane on the M1 a rather tempting proposition...


BENTLEY CONTINENTAL SUPERSPORTS CONVERTIBLE ICE SPEED RECORD
Engine:
5,998cc W12 twin-turbo
Power (hp): 640@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.0sec
Top speed: 202mph
Weight: 2,395kg
MPG: 17mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 388g/km
Price: 189,550 (203,935 as tested)






Author: Dan Trent