Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible Review: Tiger In the Dining Room

 
on August 10 2012 8:58 AM

The Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible embodies contradictions: British class and refinement contain the aggression and power of a tiger about to pounce. The Supersports Convertible strives to be perfect, and in most regards it is. Any review of a car of the Supersports Convertible's caliber has to focus on the details or limit itself to five short words: This is a great car.

The Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible can perhaps be summed up best with a seemingly unrelated anecdote from Kazuo Ishiguro's classic book The Remains of the Day in which he recounts what transpires when a British butler of the keep-a-stiff-upper-lip-in-the-face-of-danger variety encounters a tiger in the dining room of his employer's home in colonial India:

One afternoon, evidently, this butler had entered the dining room to make sure all was well for dinner, when he noticed a tiger languishing beneath the dining table. The butler had left the dining room quietly, taking care to close the doors behind him, and proceeded calmly to the drawing room where his employer was taking tea with a number of visitors. There he attracted his employers attention with a polite cough, then whispered in the latter's ear: 'I'm sorry, sir, but there appears to be a tiger in the dining room. Perhaps you will permit the twelve-bores to be used?'

The Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible is an awful lot like the butler in the story. It is the epitome of British refinement, politely asking for permission before speeding down the highway or hunting a tiger in the dining room. Like the butler, an expert at social decorum and tiger hunting, the Supersports Convertible is perfect for attending the opera or blazing down the highway with the top down at a ludicrously high velocity. That's what really makes the Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible; it is simultaneously an aggressive car deserving of the title Supersports and the ultimate sigil of taste defined by the Bentley marque.

The Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible boasts a twin-turbo, six-liter W12 engine that produces a commanding 621 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. In any other car, the power would be brutal, unleashed like the steely fibers and muscles of a tiger in mid-pounce, but keep in mind that the Supersports is the butler with the shotguns, not the tiger. The car's exceptional all-wheel drive means that the massive power of the engine is transferred directly to the road at all times, keeping you firmly in control and delivering prodigious speed and acceleration. The Supersports Convertible can hit a top speed of 202 mph and does 0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds.

While the Supersports Convertible is incredibly fast, under acceleration it can feel like the car is outrunning the run. It never feels out of control, never attempts to get out of hand, and is essentially always self-contained and self-possessed. There is none of the leaping, bounding and straining one would expect from 621 horsepower. This is in part because the car weighs in at 5,280 pounds on the curb, meaning it is robustly proportioned. But this is how it should be in a Bentley; part of its charm is that it isn't a car for hooligans. Even under rapid acceleration and at high speed the Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible feels like it's out on a very fast but nevertheless polite stroll around Kensington Gardens.

That's the key to the Supersports Convertible. It navigates the narrow gap between comfort and sport, ostentation and luxury, refinement and excitement. A perfect example is provided by the ride controls in the car. There is no knob to adjust it between standard and sport mode -- such an adjustment would be redundant in a car bearing the moniker Supersports -- but it allows you with two taps on the touch screen to adjust the ride height and suspension stiffness for more comfortable or sportier driving dynamics. However, it defaults to the most comfortable setting. Likewise, the default is for it to have all of the driver assists like traction control turned on. Again, the driver can easily turn them off to enhance the excitement of the drive. It's a bit like asking your butler to get the 12-bores to fight the tiger in the dining room.

The one area where the Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible is deficient, oddly enough, is the automotive equivalent of the dining room. In a car that is by and large a monument to design and engineering excellence, the cup holders feel like they were designed by someone who had never actually seen a cup or a cup-holder but was pretty sure he knew what they were supposed to do in theory. It seems nitpicky to single out the cup holders as a major flaw in the vehicle, but in a car that is as close to perfect as the Supersports Convertible, an essentially insignificant flaw stands out more than it would in a less exceptional car. For starters, the car only has two cup holders. Four seats. Two cup holders. That's two less cup holders than it should have. Even more aggravating is that the cup holders it does have, which are tastefully hidden under the front, center armrest, cannot hold anything larger than a small bottle of water. Forget putting two cups of coffee in the holder. They balance precariously, if at all.

Yet there are cup holders, even if they don't meet the platonic ideal. They will hold small bottles of water, and they are a small part of a car that is otherwise quite well engineered and sumptuously appointed. The interior is trimmed in creamy leather and carbon fiber and features many tasteful dials and controls. The A/C in the car is robust and does a good job regulating the temperature, even on the hottest days with the top down (queue environmental outburst), so long as the car is moving at highway speeds. At speeds below 30 mph or so, the six-liter W12 puts off too much heat to comfortably have the top down if it is sunny. On the upside, the roof can be deployed in a matter of seconds if the car is moving at low speed. The Continental Supersports is not eco-friendly and only manages 19 mpg on the highway and 12 mpg in the city, but if you're capable of buying a car that costs $305,000 with options, you can afford the gasoline.

The Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible looks incredible, inside and out, roof up and down. It lives and breathes refinement and sportiness at the same time. Gunning the engine or downshifting with the racing paddle shifters results in a throaty, purring rumble that strikes fear and wonder into the hearts of even the stoutest gearheads. The car garners attention from everyone: automotive enthusiasts to Wall Street climbers, beautiful women to hotdog vendors, but always at a respectful distance.

The story of the butler and the tiger concludes with the butler speaking to his employer thus:

'Dinner will be served at the usual time and I am pleased to say there will be no discernible traces left of the recent occurrence by that time.'

The butler then leaves, fires three shots, and returns to refresh the teacups. The Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible is similar. It can leave other drivers in the dust, roaring off into the distance to fight a tiger and then pull up for a refined tête-à-tête about the latest exhibit at the Art Institute. Like the perfect butler or the color black, the Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible is appropriate for any occasion.

Share this article