The new Continental Supersports Convertible is a car that must be driven to be fully understood. Behind the wheel it is immediately clear that a Supersports Bentley is a ‘fusion of extremes’ – the ultimate in extreme performance, every day practicality and unrivalled hand-crafted luxury.
Bentley’s Supersports programme began as an ‘under the radar’ project exploring the possibilities of weight reduction on the Continental GT Coupé but with more power and torque. The largely experimental project soon crystallised into an official new car programme, driven by the passion and enthusiasm of a small group of Bentley engineers and designers. Now the Supersports Convertible has received the same focus and the results are equally dramatic. Dr Ulrich Eichhorn, Member of the Board, Engineering explains the thinking behind the project:
“The ‘extreme’ Bentley stable now has a new occupant in the form of the Supersports Convertible – a car every bit as purposeful and potent as the Coupé but with the panache of roof-down motoring.”
A highly focussed, pure Bentley driving experience
With 630PS (621bhp) and 800Nm (590lb ft) of torque from its pioneering FlexFuel engine and new ‘Quickshift’ transmission, the Supersports Convertible is the fastest drop-top Bentley has ever built. It accelerates from 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds (0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds) and, conditions permitting, can continue onto a top speed of 202mph (325km/h).
The increased power and torque are transmitted to the all-wheel drive system via an uprated and rapid six-speed Quickshift transmission, which more than halves shift times (to just 93 milliseconds) and maximises the new Convertible’s enormous potential. The revised gearbox also has the ability to deliver double downshifts (sixth to fourth gear, for example) and improves acceleration across the entire gear range. To cope with the additional power and torque, the planetary gear set of the ZF transmission is also strengthened.
Positive torque during downshifts is achieved through engine and gearbox electronic controller interaction for extra throttle and fuel injection during the overrun. During transmission upshifts, fuel and ignition are cut momentarily to give faster mechanical shift times through torque reduction, also improving shift quality and durability. The extreme performance of the Superports Convertible is matched by precise, agile handling, while retaining class-leading levels of ride comfort and refinement. Developed from the GTC Speed, chassis enhancements include retuning of the electronic Continuous Damping Control (CDC) system, stiffer front suspension bushes and uprated rear anti-roll bar. The Supersports Convertible also shares its ride height with the GTC Speed, sitting 10mm (0.4in) lower at the front and 15mm (0.6in) lower at the rear than the standard GTC.
The front suspension trailing lever features a new design of hydraulic bush, 33 per cent stiffer than those of GTC Speed, for improved steering response while the uprated rear anti-roll bar provides improved body control and turn-in response. The retuned CDC system provides enhanced control of body movement to strike the optimum balance between agile handling and ride comfort during all driving manoeuvres. Agility is further sharpened by a 40:60 rear-biased torque split for the all-wheel drive system which reduces understeer during hard cornering and allows the experienced driver to modulate the car’s line and balance via precise throttle control.
The 9.5Jx20-inch forged alloy wheels, shared with the Supersports Coupé, offer a weight saving of 10kg (22lb) per car, reducing unsprung and rotating mass while the open 10-spoke design offers superior brake cooling. The rear wheels have a 25mm (1 inch) greater offset resulting in a 50mm (2inches) increase in the rear track, further benefiting handling and stability. The lightweight wheels are fitted with 275/35 ZR 20 Pirelli Ultra-High Performance tyres, providing excellent steering response. The standard-fit tyre monitoring system allows the driver to select tyres type and speed range parameters. As well as monitoring pressures, the system warns drivers if their speed is too high for the tyre pressures or if tyre speed ratings are exceeded on winter tyres.
The Supersports Convertible features an advanced electronic stability programme (ESP) that moderates intervention at low speeds, exploiting the potential of the more powerful engine and enhanced chassis, improving driver interaction and control. The new ESP also provides faster reinstatement of engine torque after intervention, giving the spirited driver greater control. The target slip is increased at greater than 90 per cent throttle to utilise all available longitudinal grip.
Corner exit agility is thereby also enhanced for increased driver involvement. Together the chassis, tyre and track changes deliver improved grip, turn-in and agility. Carbon ceramic brakes are standard fitment and provide a reduction in rotating and unsprung mass of 20kg (44lb) from the front axle, benefiting steering response, grip and ride comfort. The large diameter (420mm front, 356mm rear) lightweight discs and eight-piston calipers offer fade-resistant braking performance with minimal disc distortion under high thermal conditions. Pedal feel is also improved with shorter travel, high effectiveness and a precise pressure point.
Designing the ‘extreme’ Bentley convertible – where form follows function
The evolution of the Supersports Convertible’s design is very much a case of form following function, with new purposeful sculptural forms signalling the engineering changes beneath the skin. Key engineering-led design changes to the Supersports include:
* Revised front air intakes and new bonnet vents to improve airflow and cooling
* Flared rear wings to accommodate wider rear track
* Discreet bootlid spoiler benefitting aerodynamic balance at high speeds
The increased power and torque of the W12 engine necessitated an additional 10 per cent airflow to the twin turbocharger intercoolers and cooling system. With extensive use of Computational Fluid Dynamics techniques, Bentley’s designers responded with a purposeful and dramatic style, featuring large vertical intake apertures. Twin bonnet vents were added to ensure positive air extraction.
Similarly, all-new flared rear wings that accommodate the 50mm (2 inches) wider rear track are designed to emphasise the powerful stance of this ultra-high performance Convertible. The resultant Supersports Convertible style combines the looks of the graceful Continental GTC with a wide, low and muscular appearance that reflects its more extreme character.
The Supersports Convertible, in common with its Coupé stablemate, occupies a position within the Bentley portfolio which is all its own, as Raul Pires, Head of Exterior Design, explains.
“The Supersports Convertible and Coupé are the ultimate driver’s Bentleys and that is reflected in unique design cues that provide a bold, sporting look, from whatever angle the cars are admired. Even from 50 metres behind on a dark road, you can just tell it’s a Supersports.”
From the front, the radiator, lower grille and dual bonnet vents are finished in a striking Smoked Steel finish. Derived from an innovative technology normally used to apply a coating to luxury watches and specialised industrial tools, Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD) is a complex and time-consuming process that involves vaporised metal being deposited onto the surface of, in this case, stainless steel. Giving a darker, more solid appearance, it is the first use of a PVD finish on stainless steel in the car industry. In addition to the Smoked Steel finishes, a gloss black finish to the headlamp casings and rear lamp clusters gives the Supersports convertible’s distinctive face and muscular rear additional visual impact.
Restyled – and more aerodynamic – door mirrors match the exterior paint choice and the window and door surrounds replace polished stainless steel with a Smoked Steel finish to match the front grille. Eye-catching, black gloss Bentley-branded brake calipers act on the carbon ceramic brakes. Surrounding the brakes are the unique 20-inch, forged alloy wheels with Smoked Steel-finish which are exclusive to Supersports models. Large diameter tailpipe trims round out the car’s purposeful stance when viewed from the rear. Beneath the bonnet Supersports badges grace the cover of the 630PS (621bhp) W12 engine.
The Supersports Convertible has an electrically operated, three-layer fabric hood with advanced acoustic insulation to provide superb levels of refinement and comfort when raised. A choice of eight hood colours are available, including a new Dark Grey Metallic option, which is achieved by weaving a ‘grey’ acrylic fibre with a semi-transparent ‘metallic effect’ fibre in a twill weave construction to create a directional colour effect.
A re-interpretation of Bentley craftsmanship
Inside the Supersports Convertible, the cockpit is a dramatic execution of iconic Bentley design displayed in its full glory every time the roof is lowered. Dirk van Braeckel, Director of Design and Styling, describes the approach taken by his interior design team:
“The design team has fully embraced the spirit of Supersports to create a dramatic interpretation of Bentley luxury for the new Convertible where traditional craftsmanship and fine detailing are given a very different interpretation. Leather hides combine with new materials for Bentley such as satin-finished carbon fibre and AlcantaraTM to create a unique ambience with a distinctly sporting and contemporary style.”
Lightweight carbon fibre is featured throughout the cabin, from the unique carbon-weave treadplates with Supersports script in both doorwells to the sculpted lightweight sports front seats, which feature a carbon fibre clamshell back and Diamond-quilted Alcantara. Each seat weighs just 21kg and, in a typical example of attention to detail, the visible weave in the carbon fibre has a ‘Bentley-specific’ density to ensure the perfect visual finish.
The Continental Supersports is the first Bentley to offer a combination of soft-grip leather and performance-enhancing AlcantaraTM alongside the leather hide. AlcantaraTM is favoured by racing teams for its ability to provide additional grip under extreme conditions, such as cornering. But it is also sensational to look at, as well as being immensely supportive on the road or track.
The AlcantaraTM applied to the rear compartment, door panels and seat facings is quilted and in the Supersports marks the return of the much smaller ‘diamond’ upholstery pattern from Bentleys of old. To further highlight the car’s sporting nature, the steering wheel and gear lever are trimmed in new ‘Soft Grip’ leather with extra grip for a supercar feel, and drilled alloy sports pedals stand out in the driver’s footwell.
FlexFuel technology introduced on all 2011 Continental models
FlexFuel technology, pioneered on the Continental Supersports Coupé in 2009, is now extended to the complete 2011 Continental range, including the new Supersports Convertible. The W12 6-litre power unit now has the technology to run on petrol, E85 bioethanol or any mix of these two fuels – all from a single tank.Bioethanol is blended with petrol in a variety of percentages ranging from E10 (10 per cent bioethanol) to the most widely known, E85, a ratio of 85% bioethanol to 15 per cent petrol to ensure cold-start capability.
Bioethanol presents other unique engineering challenges compared with petrol, due to its chemical composition and characteristics. E85 biofuel has a very high octane rating of 105 but a lower energy content that requires a 30 per cent increase in the engine fuel flow rate. This necessitated a complete review of the fuel system to identify and, if required, replace components deemed to be insufficiently resistant to the properties of ethanol.
Increased fuel flow is achieved through a returnless fuel system, twin variable flow fuel pumps and a new closed loop fuel rail design with pressure sensor. For the fuel system all O-rings, seals, gaskets and pipes are new while new valve coatings and hardened valve seat material provide additional lubrication. New spark plugs with a wider heat range allow for slower combustion.
A sensor in the fuel supply system detects the blending ratio in real time and varies the engine mapping to ensure power, torque and emissions remain at the same levels whatever fuel is used.
FlexFuel offers the possibility of up to a 70 per cent reduction in CO2 net emissions on a ‘well to wheel’ basis, calculated by adding the CO2 emitted during the extraction and refining process (the ‘well’) with the CO2 released when the fuel is burnt during motoring (the ‘wheel’). Biofuels can be sourced from sugar cane or soyabean, or from “2nd generation” sources such as agricultural waste and forestry residues. As biofuels are not derived from fossil fuels, the CO2 released during combustion is reabsorbed by plants during the photosynthesis process, thus creating an unbroken energy cycle.
Enhanced choice for all Continental customers
In addition to the transition to all-FlexFuel engines, the Continental range receives a host of new exterior and interior specification enhancements for the 2011 models, which emphasise the unparalleled craftsmanship and materials that are used to create the exquisite interiors for which Bentley is renowned.
Six new colours are added to the Bentley colour palette (Citric, White Satin, Kingfisher, Magenta, Orange Flame and St James Red Pearl) and the Dark Grey Metallic Hood that is available on the new Supersports Convertible is also available on the Continental GTC models.
Traditional Bentley features such as seat piping and stitching options can be applied to the rich leather hides that are used to trim the cabins of every Continental. These include highly intricate fine line, cross and Z-stitching to decorate the seats, door panels and front console. A new Premium Pack for the four-door Flying Spur is available as a cost option and includes beautiful veneered picnic tables with vanity mirrors, a Mulliner ‘jewelled’ alloy fuel filler cap and chrome inlay strips to the door waistrails. Customers can also choose from lambswool rugs or deep pile carpet mats with leather hide binding to the edges.
Convenience Packs are available for both the Continental GT, Continental GTC, Flying Spur and Flying Spur Speed models. On the GT and GTC models this includes Adaptive Cruise Control with ‘Follow to Stop’ feature, an iPodTM interface linked to the Infotainment system, massage function to the front seats, a front privacy telephone handset, rear-view camera and Valet key. For Flying Spur models, the Convenience Pack also includes an additional rear privacy handset. The massage function for the front seats is already standard on this model.
Finally a new automatically opening and closing closing Powerboot is now standard on the new Continental Flying Spur and GTC models (not on Supersports versions).