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December 11, 2009

News & Features

Bigger, faster, greener: Bentley designs a supercar that's not a super guzzler

New York Times News Service

2010 Bentley Continental Supersports

Bentley's 2010 Continental Supersports coupe. (Bentley)

MILFORD, Pa. -- The 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports coupe is a car that embraces extremes -- maximum power and speed with a minimized contribution to global warming.

The high-performance automobile is equipped with a 621-horsepower, 12-cylinder engine, and it goes from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. It's the fastest Bentley ever built, but is also the cleanest and one of the least-guzzling at 12 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. It also uses FlexFuel technology, which allows it to run on bioethanol, petroleum or a combination of the two.

It is a curious automobile -- part luxury ride, part science project, the progeny of a small group of engineers and designers given generous leeway to play with new technologies, materials and fuels in pursuit of a daily-use automobile with racetrack prowess and environmental bragging rights.

Comparing fuel use
  • The Continental Supersports is rated at 12 mpg city / 19 mpg highway. Some other V-12 supercar numbers:
  • Lamborghini MurciĆ©lago: 8/13
  • Ferrari 612 Scaglietti: 9/16
  • Maybach 57: 10/16
  • Aston Martin DB9: 11/17
  • Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe: 11/18

"It began as an experiment," says Brian Gush, director of engineering for the underpinnings (chassis, engines, transmissions) of Bentley cars.

Bentley's parent company, Volkswagen, wants to reduce the environmental burden of Bentley cars without harming the line's reputation for speed and handling. It's an engineering conundrum created by governments worldwide demanding more environmentally friendly vehicles.

The trick for Bentley and other manufacturers of exotic automobiles -- including Italy's Lamborghini and Ferrari -- is to deliver those cars without destroying what originally made them desirable.

Bentley's engineers and designers attacked the problem by attacking weight, substituting carbon fiber and other high-strength, lightweight materials wherever possible. This is most notable in the car's two seats, carbon-fiber shells that are thin but elegantly stitched and comfortable.

Strong but lighter-weight chassis components were used where feasible. Carbon-ceramic brakes were added as standard equipment. A six-speed automatic transmission, which also can be shifted manually, was redesigned to shift 50 percent faster with discernibly less effort than its predecessor.

When all of the experimenting and tinkering was done, the result was something the folks at Volkswagen and Bentley had not expected: "the extreme Bentley," they called it.

Although this combination of power and improved fuel-efficiency isn't available to the masses -- the Continental Supersports is expected to cost north of $250,000 -- Volkswagen plans to increase sales via innovation and turning seemingly exotic technologies into affordable standard equipment on mainstream cars. That means the Bentley that turns you green today could be, in part, the Volkswagen you drive tomorrow.

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