When you open the door to drive, the view is impressive, but a little odd. The seats – beautifully trimmed in two-tone leather and Alcantara – have basically the same carbon shell as those of a Ferrari Enzo, so they look smaller than traditional Bentley seats, and lower. They have inviting-looking side bolsters that grip your torso as soon as you slide into them. Adjustment is entirely manual, a weight-trimming measure. The steering wheel is familiar but feels compact, covered by a high-grip "shark skin" material that is positively delicious to touch. You need do no more than sit in the low seats and sight down the hood to know that this is a very serious car. Thumb the starter button, wait a second and you'll hear a kind of booming grumble as the engine comes alive. It's not loud, but somehow massive. Even the idle says 621hp.
Yet there's more to this car than power. Our hour's drive to Monteblanco showed that. More impressive on the road are its near-standard levels of low noise and fine ride comfort, mystically overlaid with signs that this is a fit competitor for Aston's similarly priced DBS and Ferrari's 599 GTB Fiorano. There's a bit more tire noise than in a GT Speed, plus half a notch of extra body control, plus a delicious stability even at seriously high speeds that allows you to deal out steering lock in fractions of an inch and feel instant, tiny effects.
Performance is delivered the Bentley way, via low revs and massive torque. This W12 engine is smoother and higher-revving than Bentley's traditional 6.75-liter V8, but for most road-going situations – even banzai passing maneuvers – you simply won't need more than 4000rpm. No need to bother with the gearshift paddles if you don't want to. This gearbox will deliver a two-gear downshift on kickdown, and given that this opens the taps rather a lot, you can expect to be hurled towards the horizon at a ridiculous rate. Given that the W12 has a torque curve as flat as the deck of an aircraft carrier, you never need to worry about operating it in a power band. Ask and it delivers instantly and in spades. One byproduct of the performance is that you never see the speed-related spoiler rise from its slot below the rear window; you're too busy looking down the road. Thus you only ever see it tuck itself away, as you descent again to town speeds…
Open-road handling is terrific. There's precious little roll and lots of grip. The car feels as if it understeers a bit, judging by a bit of steering effort build-up as cornering speeds rise, but at all sane speeds (and even beyond) the Supersports is perfectly predictable. You're aware of the weight – 4,850 lbs of it – but never aware of a penalty, beyond a distracted curiosity about tire and brake wear. Nosedive and squat are well tamed, and there is reassuringly strong retardation from the ceramic discs, easily modulated. Yet none of this necessarily makes the Supersports a good circuit car. At Monteblanco, I felt, the Supersports still had it all to prove.
After a slow lap or two to learn which way the track went, I set off in earnest, accelerating flat out down the third-of-a-mile straight to see how we'd get on in that scary-looking braking area, then right into the late-apex, right-hand hairpin. Bentley's engineering director, Ulrich Eichhorn, an extremely quick and consistent driver, reckoned the braking point (from 148mph, as it turned out) was just a few car lengths shy of the 200-meter board. It looked too late, and to tell the truth I only tried it because Eichhorn was in the passenger's seat, egging me on. Under full retardation the nose did dip, but only enough to give a better view of other people's rubber. The car instantly began stopping amazingly well, squirming a little as its rear wheels (instructed by the ABS) collected whatever fractions of grip were available.
Within a few seconds we'd washed off 110mph, enough speed for me to be able to turn briskly right, to hurdle the lower slopes of the hairpin's apex rumble strip, and then get instantly back on the throttle before throttle-steering neatly through an opening S-bend which the Bentley dismissed with effortless accuracy. Then came an evil-looking, fast-climbing right-hander which Eichhorn reckoned we could take at something close to 85.
It was something special, that corner, even on a Nürburgring scale. Taking it as fast as possible reminded me of one of those fairground rides where you leave your innards on the ground floor. It hurled the big car upwards with such relentless force that all four wheels went very light for a while, only touching down a few yards before the circuit demanded a well-timed jink to the left. Had this been a public road, I'd have negotiated it at 40, but the Bentley was stable, predictable, well damped and easy to steer at more than twice that speed. Just to prove the matter (egged on by Eichhorn), I did it another four times, the ESP working on its most laissez faire of settings. I'd have driven this track the rest of the day and half the night, but far sooner than that the track marshals waved me in. Still, the point had been proved.
There is a decent selection of cars today that will carry you across Europe in the lap of luxury, perhaps to a destination like the Nürburgring. There is another list of cars, different cars, capable of circulating that iconic circuit with the tireless speed and precision needed to make a top-class driving challenge. Only a very select group of cars have the qualities to do both things – but from today, the new Bentley Supersports steps into their front rank.-Steve Cropley/Autocar