Does the fastest Bentley in history have the handling to match its pace?
THESE are mighty numbers, even by supercar standards: 522 kw, 1 017 N.m and 336 km/h. But instead of being associated with a midengined Italian, they are the outputs of a four-seat, gentlemanly grand tourer developed by Bentley in the spirit of its original 1925 Supersport. At the time, its 3,0-litre, inline, fourcylinder engine powered it to a true speed of 161 km/h, which was double that of anything the opposition could muster. Can the modern incarnation stay true to the legacy?
Pressing the coupé’s starter button produces a subdued but purposeful rumble as the W12 engine catches. Having witnessed, as a passenger, the twisty road section leading to our lunchstop venue, I make no apologies for moving the tall, shiny gear lever to sport and toggling the air-suspension setting to firm; there is no do-it-all-in-one-go drive-mode selector and it takes a while to ready the steed. Turning out the gate, I drop the hammer and the respectful rumble from the titanium exhausts turns into a roar as a volcano erupts under the bonnet.
With the four-wheel-drive system sending that gigantic torque figure to all four wheels, the tyres bite the tar, catapulting the big Brit to the first corner faster than should be possible given the hefty 2,3 tonne mass. Stomping on the brake pedal forces the pads against the largest-diameter (420 mm) carbon discs in a production car and kinetic energy transforms into immense heat as the Zf-sourced eight-speed downshifts, with the overrun burble mimicking the sound of heavy arms fire.
Unless you like evoking excessive tyre squeal and understeer, care needs to be taken on turn-in; you need to allow the front axle to settle and the corner to open before unleashing the power again. The torque-vectoring system does help with cornering composure, but this is no hot hatch, and the current crop of hyper hatches would run with this beast on a twisty section.
This, of course, is not what a sophisticated GT is designed for (confirmed on the Autódromo do Estoril later in the day) and, as the corners gave way to a deserted stretch of motorway, I kept my foot planted. Any hyper hatch on its tail would now be vaporised by the Supersports’ exhaust wake as the speedo-