The runway is straight and flat, but it's not smooth. Designed as a landing strip for the Space Shuttle, the concrete slab measures nearly three miles long, not counting the tarmac overrun at either end. It's wide, too, a regulation football field from edge to edge. The crown of the pavement puts the centerline two feet higher than the shoulders. Standing in the middle is enough to give you agoraphobia.
But while the Shuttle Landing Facility at John F. Kennedy Space Center is the third-longest runway in the United States, you wouldn't want to ride a skateboard across it. The surface is uniform, but it's crosshatched with grooves, the friction meant to slow 165,000 pounds of Shuttle recently returned from orbit. It's so toothy, it makes car tires hum.
I'm not making excuses. I'm just laying out some of the factors that worked against me as I attempted to hit 200 mph on the massive slab in the new Bentley Continental Supersports.
I didn't make it. The car is good for a claimed 209 mph, but on my best run, I was only able to manage 192. Not that I was lacking tools: With 700 horsepower and 750 lb-ft of torque, the Continental Supersports is the most powerful and speedy car to ever come out of Crewe.
There must have been a headwind or something.
The Supersports is the new top tier of the Continental lineup. Larger twin turbos, better intercoolers and an improved rotating assembly wring 67 more horses and 130 more lb-ft of torque from the familiar 6.0-liter W12 engine; the adaptive, height-adjustable suspension goes lower and firmer, and Bentley's brake-based torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, cribbed from the Continental GT3-R, keeps all that newfound power on sure footing. Bentley says the Supersports can do 0-60 in 3.4 seconds—especially impressive given that, despite new lightweight wheels, titanium exhaust and carbon-ceramic brakes, this big-body coupe weights a chunk more than 5000 lbs.
Bentley brought journalists and prospective buyers to Florida's Kennedy Space Center to demonstrate the newly-enhanced car's capabilities on the world's most secure closed course. A mockup of the Space Shuttle stood nearby. It was a fitting totem of thrust.
Organizers set up a 1.6-mile stretch of the runway for our acceleration zone, with the rest reserved for a gentle slowdown. Even with massive carbon-ceramic brakes (16.5-inches up front, 14 inches in rear), hauling a car down from 200 is no easy task—particularly in Florida's July heat. Better safe than sorry.
Lined up at the starting line, the procedure was simple: Just roll into the throttle and keep it pinned. The Supersports rockets off the line, nose floating skyward as a tidal wave of torque flattens your insides. This engine doesn't recognize the concept of flat spots—no matter where the needle is on the tach, the big W12 has an anvil of thrust to drop on you. It's giddying to throw down the hammer in this opulent, oversized two-door and make enough scoot to nose ahead of just about any performance car out there, carried on a cloud of 12-cylinder thunder.
Sixty mph comes and goes before the car is fully awake. From there to 120 mph, the car is in its sweet spot, flinging to the 6200-rpm redline with every upshift from the eight-speed automatic. The car walks around subtly, the briefest sway as the tires sniff at the grooves in the NASA-grade pavement. We pass 150, then 170.
But on three separate blasts down the runway, I can't seem to crack the elusive 200-mph barrier. At least I'm consistent: Each run lands me exactly at 192 mph as I cross the line beyond which we've agreed to start slowing down.
I blame the heat, the wind, the fuel. The only gas available to fill these thirsty behemoths is questionable low-octane swill from the station on the grounds of the NASA facility. Given better conditions—or a slightly longer runway at the expense of some shutdown area—I'm certain I could have polished off 200 mph easily.
Out on the road, the car is largely the same Continental we've come to know since 2011. The interior, here upgraded with checkered-flag-pattern carbon fiber, is as opulent as ever. Some touches feel a bit off-trend—the big shift lever seems more suited to a Ford F-150, and the analog instrument panel feels outdated in a near-$300,000 car. No matter: Click the dainty-feeling paddle through a few downshifts and blap the throttle and you'll be too busy grinning to pore over interior details. You'll keep smiling when you lift, too: On closed-throttle deceleration, the titanium exhaust system lets off enough pops and cracks to be nearly embarrassing. Like most things enjoyed by the extremely wealthy, it's easy enough to get used to.
The Supersports wears its intentions loudly—an optional rear spoiler puts the car's look squarely in the "racy" column, while the carbon fiber side sills, front splitter and rear diffuser are more subtle enhancements. The gloss black grille, hood extractors and fender vents, tasked with helping the burly engine ingest air and shed heat, give the car a sinister glower.
Even the least car-savvy observer can tell this is a serious machine. So be bold. When someone pulls up and asks how fast it'll go, don't equivocate. Tell 'em it'll do 209 mph flat out. Because it will—apparently, as long as I'm not the one at the wheel.