The Future of Luxury Cars by Bentley

At the Geneva Show in March 2008, Bentley CEO Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen announced the development of the FlexFuel system, compatible with both gasoline and ethanol, which would be available by 2012. This represented a public expression of Bentley's aim to confront the ‘environmental’ performance issues that had been avoided by luxury and sports cars around the world until now.
A year later, also in Geneva, Bentley unveiled a new model. This new model, named ‘Supersport’ after the famed classic of the past, was, as its name implied, the fastest Bentley ever built, yet it also boasted the world's highest level of environmental performance.
How did Bentley respond to the environmental issues surrounding the earth and automobiles, and to the Bentley users who always seek the best?

[The article below is a revised version of one that appeared in FLYING B No. 003 published in April 2010.]

■ Bentley's New Way to Luxury
In January 2009, I was seated at a certain table in a dreamy mood, completely forgetting that I was there on business. It was a neat table set beside a vintage pre-war Bentley. And while this presentation was spare, for an automobile enthusiast, nothing could have been better. In fact, I was in the building that was connected to Bentley's Crewe headquarters.
'The time has come for a new luxury car, and Bentley is aiming for the pinnacle of the most powerful sports cars,' Bentley’s CEO Dr. Paefgen said emphatically at the presentation of the new model preview, held prior to a dinner party for 25 journalists from around the world. The new model was the Continental Supersport. And it was, he declared, the most important model for the future of Bentley.
The name was so simple and direct. If a mediocre brand had used it, it would have sounded clichéd. But the fact that the name sounded so majestic and resonant was a testament to the tradition of Bentley's 90-year history. What’s more, the 21st century Continental Series, on which it is based, has been a great boon to the brand's revival.
In fact, this naming scheme closely follows Bentley's history: in the 21st century, the two-door models in the Continental series evolved from the GT to the GT Speed. And the only name left for a sports model that transcends ‘Speed’ is ‘Supersport’. For vintage Bentley fans, this is common knowledge.
Bentley's history began with the famous 3-litre series, which, when introduced in 1919, had already incorporated a number of ambitious technologies such as OHC, 4-valves, and twin spark. The series included various models with different wheelbases, but the 3-litre Supersport was the most legendary Bentley, of which only 18 were ever produced. This was the first Bentley to break 100 mph. In the 90th anniversary year of the brand's birth, the name Supersport, therefore, suited the most powerful road-going Bentley ever produced.
It is not only the most powerful Bentley ever. It is also the ‘greenest’ Flying B ever. Speaking about environmental issues at the Geneva Show in the spring of 2008, Dr. Paefgen announced the luxury automotive brand's environmental commitment, or CO2 strategy. In summary, by the year 2012, the company will:
1. reduce CO2 emissions by at least 15% across the entire model range
2. adopt powertrains that enable a 40% improvement in fuel economy
3. enable the use of renewable energy in all models

The core technology behind these commitments was the development of a flex-fuel compatible powertrain.
The reason Dr. Paefgen announced that the Supersport would be the key model for the future of Bentley was not only due to the fact that it was the most powerful performance model ever. Rather, it was because it became the first vehicle to fulfil the three principles of Bentley's CO2 strategy, or ‘commitments’ as they are properly called.
‘Bentley customers value speed and power above all else. As long as that is the case, we have no intention of denying them that power and speed -- even while placing great importance on environmental issues. We will build the best Grand Tourer in the world. That has always been Bentley's policy,’ said Dr. Eichhorn, the executive in charge of engineering. The main objective of the Green Bentley plan is to further solidify the automaker’s position as a flagship brand by simultaneously achieving the most powerful performance in history and self-imposed CO2 emissions reduction targets.

■Mechanisms Behind the Idea
Unfortunately, in the Japanese market, these are merely ideals, but since it is so important, let me explain the contents of the mechanism with the ‘environmental specifications’. Of course, the basic components are the same as those of the Continental GT, so you can envision the outline of the Supersport based on the GT’s specifications.
The 6-litre W12 twin-turbo engine with flex-fuel specifications (E0 to E85, from 100% high-octane gasoline to 85% bio-ethanol blended gasoline that can be used without special preparation) delivers 630 ps maximum output, 81.6 kg-m maximum torque, 329 km/h maximum speed, and acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds.
Acceleration of 0-100 km/h in under 4 seconds is truly the domain of ‘super' sports cars. To achieve both absolute performance and flex-fuel compatibility, Bentley engineers made significant changes to the specifications (injection system, fuel system, various materials, etc.) based on the existing W12 unit.
It is not just the engine power that has been intensified. The drivetrain also lives up to the Supersport name. The 4WD system features a dynamic drive force distribution of front 40: rear 60 even in normal operation, and the ZF 6HP26 (6-speed) automatic transmission has been reduced to half the shifting speed in comparison with the existing model’s.
This 6-speed A/T enables fuel cutoff when upshifting, blipping and double downshifting when downshifting, and direct and agile gear changes that are not much different from those of the popular dual-clutch transmissions. The high power output of 630 ps, coupled with the rear-leaning drive power distribution, is enough to give the driver a dynamic sports car-like driving experience hitherto unseen in the Continental GT series.
The suspension has naturally undergone major changes to match the extreme drivetrain. The air suspension CDC is specially tuned, and the front suspension is reinforced with aluminium forward levers. The rear track has been widened by 50 mm on each side, and the 275/35ZR20 P Zero UHP ensures that the big power/torque is transferred to the road. ESP is obviously also aligned with a dedicated sports setting.
But what makes this model a true Supersport is its lightweight construction. Lightweight is the key word for the future of sports cars and Bentley’s future is no exception. The Supersport is basically a complete two-seater, though a four-seater version is available as an option. The heavy luxury seats were completely removed at the rear and replaced with carbon bucket type seats at the front. In addition, the use of carbon brake discs, which are among the largest on the market, in the leg area has helped achieve a significant weight reduction, while the seats, interior, chassis and wheels have also been noticeably lightened. In sum, the model has been engineered with a successful weight reduction of 110 kg compared to the GT Speed. This reduction can be broken down as follows: 45 kg for the front seats (left and right), 26 kg for the rear seat, 20 kg for the four carbon brake discs and 10 kg for the four forged aluminium wheels.
Even discounting the fact that it is a flex-fuel model, it makes you want to drive it just once. The long-awaited chance for a test drive finally arrived at the end of September 2009, eight months after I saw the vehicle for the first time. The location was Seville, Spain's fourth largest city. The test drive took place at the Hacienda Benazuza Hotel, a hospitality venture by 3-star Michelin restaurant El Bulli, where eight Supersports were lined up on the patio. Two of us from Japan were offered a pearl white exterior model with red/black interior, which are the associative colours of the Supersport, and which act as coordinating design elements in the catalogue. We also liked the impressive matte black version, though!
The Continental Supersport has already been unveiled for Japanese customers, but let's take another look…
The first thing that strikes you about the exterior is the front grille, which has been altered to let in a lot of fresh air. The modifier 'powerful' truly comes into full relief. Air vents have also been added to the hood.
In addition, the previously plated silver shining components are now finished in smoke grey. The vehicle is coated with PVD, a coagulation treatment used on bearings and high-end tools. This has perhaps been the world's first attempt at applying this treatment to automotive exteriors.
The rear wings, which have been widened by 25 mm on each side to accommodate the wider track of the rear wheels, are also quite spectacular when viewed diagonally from behind. The tail end pipes are integrated into the new bumper design in line with the latest trends, giving the whole a unique character. For improved aerodynamics, the lower edge of the rear window has been raised by 8 mm to act as a spoiler at higher speeds. The exclusively designed 20-inch wheels (like the optional ones for the Continental and the Speed) are made by Japan Washi Mayer.
I opened the door and looked inside. The scuff plates are made of carbon and have the Supersport logo. Inside, at first glance, it appears spartan. The first thing that catches the eye are the Sparco sports bucket seats in red leather and black Alcantara. The steering wheel has the same design as the Speed, but the soft-grip leather feels comfortable in the hand. In the rear, of course, there are no seats, just red diamond quilting and carbon bars on either side. These bars, however, do not function as a tower bar, but as luggage stops. It also features a generous amount of carbon trim, a first for the Continental range. The interior is available in seven single-tone and three two-tone colour schemes.

■ First Bentley Truly Enjoyed on the Circuit
Let's move on to impressions from a day of test driving in Seville. Thanks to the bucket seats and lowered suspension, the seating position is quite deep and the view is completely different from that of a normal GT.
The push-up from the road is as direct as you would expect, but considering the weight of over two tonnes, even after dieting, it feels great. There is no thumping at all, and it settles down firmly and tightly. So it doesn’t feel uncomfortable or harsh, even on slightly rough pavement. If you like something softer, go for the GT series, but overall, the feel of the ride lives up to the brand name. If you prefer a harder but tighter ride, this will be perfect for you.
What impressed me, even while driving through Spanish cities and towns with lots of roadside parking and motorbikes, was the vehicle’s overall sense of concentration. Even though it is lighter, it does not have the thin-skinned feel of a golf practice ball. Overall, I felt like I was driving a Continental GT that was simply 15% smaller. I was also surprised by the precision of the movement around the neutral steering centre. There is almost no 'wobble' between the turn of the wheel and the movement of the nose. The agility is also excellent, as the vehicle settles into the neutral zone in a straightforward and comforting manner. This makes it seem compact and easy to drive.
Furthermore, there is no awkward weight, nor is there any chirpy, light front wheel movement, so it feels great to drive on the straightaways. After getting on the motorway, I was so pleased with the straight line stability when exceeding GT speeds that I threw the throttle open.
Even before hitting 2000 r.p.m. I was excited by the torque that seemed to literally gush out of this machine. In particular, when the engine reached over 4000 r.p.m. a hefty torque groove could be felt underfoot, and the vehicle became even more compact. Thanks to the A/T with fuel cut-off when shifting up, the feel is direct, dynamic and smooth. And because it is accompanied by a dynamic sound, not only is the downshifting pleasantly crisp, but it also makes you want to upshift unnecessarily!
The next stage was a mountainous stretch on the outskirts of Seville. The roads were exceedingly narrow and I was worried about the weight of the vehicle, which is, again, over two tonnes, but I gradually picked up the pace. In addition to the big, manageable torque, the rear wheels had a lot of energy, the front wheels were light and naturally responsive, and the braking system worked well, making it easy even for the novice driver to find the right balance when winding round the corners.
The Monte Bianco circuit on the outskirts of Seville was the final stage of the test drive. The low seating position was well suited to this circuit. The vehicle's grip on the surfaces of the road made it easy to handle.
The roll is kept to a level that is satisfying for a professional and manoeuvrable for a novice, so the stability around high-speed corners is impeccable. The extra drive distribution to the rear wheels, the lightness on the feet, the precise and agile steering near the centre and reliable braking performance all combine forcefully, enabling the Supersport to be driven around the circuit at high speeds. Still, I had to remind myself that I was commanding a '2-tonne-plus' automobile and to keep my impatience in check and my excitement in reserve.
Above all, it's fun to drive! I wonder if any of the recent road-going Bentleys have ever been so enjoyable to drive on the circuit.
Bentley has definitely reinterpreted its heritage as a verifiable sports car brand with the Supersport, and I believe it has succeeded in reimagining its image while staying true to its outstanding pedigree.

The test ride was held at the Hacienda Benazuza, a hotel in Seville, Spain's fourth largest city, produced by El Bulli, whose head chef, Ferran Adrià has made the restaurant’s “deconstructivist” cuisine the talk of the town while earning its three Michelin stars. Even in a locale with many parked cars and motorbikes, driving is painless and you can't help but pick up the pace. Above all, the Monte Bianco circuit at the end of the test drive was terrific fun!

One of Bentley's key considerations for the Supersport is weight reduction. This is because it is an effective means of achieving high levels of both sporting and environmental performance. Carbon panels are used in place of wood panels, and even the leather has been carefully selected. The colour scheme feels more spartan than luxurious.

The seats, the interior's centrepiece, are made from Sparco with a carbon frame. The upholstery is a combination of leather and Alcantara. The rear seats have been removed and converted into luggage space. However, the carbon bars on either side do not have a tower bar effect, but simply serve as a partition between the luggage spaces.

The front bumper has horizontal air intakes in the centre and vertical ones on either side. These have been enlarged to just below the headlights. Slit air vents have also been installed in the engine hood.

The rear view looks significantly different. A blacked-out movable rear spoiler is integrated into the lower edge of the rear window. The newly designed rear bumper's built-in tailpipes give it a sporty look.

ZF 6-speed A/T with faster shifting speeds: capable, in terms of actual speed, of matching the dual-clutch transmissions used by all other sports models.

Centre console with carbon instead of wood panels. Function switches line up in front of the shift knob. They can raise and lower the movable spoiler and the ride height, as well as control the variable dampers.

The dashboard is also made of carbon panels instead of wood. The Breitling, which is simple but has an extraordinary quality and presence for an on-board clock, is fitted in the centre, a detail seen in other Bentleys.

The power unit is a 630 ps specification that surpasses that of the Speed Series. These figures also mark the highest in Bentley's history. In addition, the flex-fuel system is compatible with petrol containing up to 85% bio-ethanol. It boasts a top speed of 329 km/h.

The audio system is Naim for Bentley, tuned exclusively for Bentley by renowned high-end audio manufacturer, Naim. Its DSP performance, which brings a sense of sound image localisation, is outstanding as an in-car audio system.

The big 275/35ZR20 Pirelli P Zero Ultra High Performance is fitted to the suspension. The wheels are specially designed for the Supersport and, like the Speed Series wheels, are made by Japan Washi Mayer.