A Bentley Continental is sophisticated, comfortable, and may very well be the result of some of the worlds most polished automotive engineers doing some of their best work. That they're occasionally sold to semi-educated, overpaid footballers with large, irretrievably vulgar houses just south of Manchester isn't a crime, but the Bentley marque does seem to have suffered more from the association than others.
Brian Gush - top engineering type
However, when the key for the 621bhp Supersports version was dropped into our hands by Brian Gush (Bentley's Director for Chassis, Powertrain, and Motorsport) who beamed as he instructed us to 'thrash it', we couldn't have cared less what anyone else thought of us as we drove it. But first we asked him how the Supersports came to be.
"It was an idea that gradually gathered pace as opposed to being the plan from the outset" he confessed. "The Powertrain guys had been on the dyno finding out what they could get out of the engine while the engineering department was looking into a weight-saving exercise. The transmission people at the same time had been working on a quick-shift gearbox with different valves and torque converter characteristics and a system which smoothed-out gear changes by cutting the fuelling in between shifts. Each of these departments had built a car, and we looked at each of them and decided to pull everything together and increase the track-width and move to a 40/60 split with the four-wheel-drive system to improve the handling."
Add to this mix the biggest carbon-ceramic brake discs ever fitted to any production car (which remove 20kg of un-sprung weight from the front axle and will, Bentley claim, last the life of the car) and you get a two-and-a-quarter-ton luxury vehicle which can hit 100mph from standstill in under nine seconds, and which has handling and braking to match. This is largely down to the Supersports' most impressive statistic, which is that it develops 590lb ft of torque from - get this - just 1700rpm. This means that, theoretically at least, before your foot reaches the floor you'll be accelerating a rate which will simply embarrass about 98 per cent of the world's production cars.
With Brian's advice still ringing in our ears as we peeled off a low-speed roundabout and onto a long, open piece of A-road we pinned the throttle. Few cars - even lightweight ones - can propel you down the road like this thing; the shattering amount of torque on tap seems utterly contemptuous of the car's weight and it feels like it could still do 0-100 in less than nine seconds whilst towing a caravan.
With just a short time to get to know the Bentley we departed the Crewe factory and headed west across country to see how it handled the fast and bumpy south Cheshire B-roads. Before too long we found a section which was ideal for assessing how well the Supersports accelerated, braked, and handled weight transfer (which with two and a quarter tons to balance was a key issue.) Although of course we'd already learned plenty about the acceleration side of things by then...
Leaning hard on the brakes before we entered a challenging left-right-left series of bends there was just the tiniest delay (presumably as the huge carbon-ceramic discs found their ideal operating temperature) before the car scrubbed off the excess speed. Threading it through the first few times was an education, with the car seemingly happy to go through much, much faster than we were initially prepared to push it. After a few runs we reached the point where it was just starting to slide as the weight transferred from right to left on the way in, but all the time there wasn't the slightest hint of any trouble. This is a full-size luxury car which can change direction in a manner reminiscent of a Japanese four-wheel-drive turbo car. Simple as that.
Behind the wheel the Supersports exudes a feeling of invincibility that other cars of a similar performance just don't. The drive back to the factory was a brisk and as effortless as the day's driving had been up to that point. It's not perfect of course; the steering could do with more feel (which is something we find ourselves saying quite often) and the interior shows that perhaps there can be too much carbon fibre in a car's cabin - although for a price they'll trim it how you like it.
But make no mistake; this is an epic driver's car. And if you've only got to pull on your boots a couple of times a week to earn the £163k asking price - well, why the hell wouldn't you?