Bentley is as quintessentially British as the glorious sound of leather on willow, cream teas on the pavilion lawn and cucumber sandwiches washed down with a cup of Earl Grey. With nearly 100 years of motoring heritage Bentley is one of the most British of automotive brands.
Craftsmanship pervades the famous haven of motoring excellence located on Pyms Lane, Crewe.
Bentley have a tasteful approach to design, sometimes conservative but always cultured. A Bentley does not have to shout from the roof tops to be noticed. Even as a young boy I knew a Bentley when I saw one. It is a brand that is synonymous with enduring quality, adroit artisans and characterful cars. There is no second best. Perfection is a way of life for the Crewe-based workforce. They are exceptionally talented people, gifted with skills passed down through generations.
Bentley made the news with a successful record breaking feat
On the 10th February 2011 on the frozen waters of the Baltic Sea in Finland, four times world rally champion, Juha Kankkunen, broke the World Ice Speed Record achieving 205.48 mph (330.695 kph). This was completed in a bio-fuelled car.
To celebrate this momentous achievement Bentley created the Continental Supersports Convertible ISR, a limited edition of 100 cars, capturing the essence of that record breaking achievement.
A Testing Time
I was recently invited to Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, England to drive the ISR.
Millbrook is one of the best custom built vehicle test facilities in Europe offering a wide variety of development resources to the motor vehicle industry. It has a number of different test tracks allowing, manufacturers to test their products under various conditions.
On the day, we had two facilities on offer, the Bank, a high speed, two mile, five lane, circular track and quite appropriately, the Alpine Handling Course.
Replicating a Swiss mountain road, the track provides a thorough test of the car’s handling abilities with a series of differing cambers, some adverse, hairpin bends, brows and dips, linked together on a hillside.
It was my chance to be a Bentley Boy, with my fellow writer at Escapement, Angus Davies, in the front passenger seat. I was going to be a modern day Woolf “Babe” Baranto driving my own modern day Blower Bentley.
Loud and proud
The ISR is certainly a car with presence and somewhat extrovert by Bentley standards. It is far from diminutive in stature and not quite the usual restrained British gent. It has flamboyant flourishes of colour on its flanks and wheels. Key design cues give a clue to its record breaking prowess; red bonnet vent surrounds, the diamond turned and finished red alloy wheels and most unusual for Bentley, door graphics – “ Supersports ISR “ – loud and proud.
Bentley summed it up succinctly: “The most potent and radically-styled convertible ever to bear the famed winged B emblem”
The ISR has all the luxury, creature comforts and quality of finish that you would expect from a car of such high calibre. However, once again the break with convention extends inside the cockpit. Gone is the traditional wood veneer, replaced with high tech carbon fibre weave in a contrasting red and black. Drilled alloy brake and accelerator pedals add to the cars sporty persona.
Four deeply quilted but cocooning seats, each embroidered with the cars name “Supersports” with racing red trim, offer august accommodation. The traditional, logical Bentley cockpit layout is retained.
Available in three colours, Arctica White, Quartzite and Beluga Black. Our test car was presented in Beluga Black and felt as decadent as caviar for breakfast. It had been superbly prepared by the Bentley crew, with a lustrous paint finish as deep as Lake Baikal.
An attentive Bentley technician provided an overview of the user-friendly controls.
Everything has an aesthetic appeal and tactility which will impart pleasure to the fortunate owner.
I pressed the start button and the engine sprang into life. Even the starter motor had a very distinctive sound; however, it didn’t take much to coax the W12 into life. A low rumble from beneath the bonnet and a burble from the exhaust was gentle music to my ears.
The car wafted to the track with a cosseting ride despite its overtly sporting character. With 631 bhp under my right foot, I did feel a sense of apprehension. This was the most powerful and expensive car I had ever driven.
Devastatingly quick performance
With a light touch of the throttle it soon became apparent the ISR had an immense capacity to accelerate. The ISR is the most powerful Bentley produced. Pressing the volume pedal a little further and the claimed 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds seemed readily believable.
I confess I am not the world’s fastest driver. However, the ISR instantly put me at ease, instilling confidence in its capabilities. It soon became apparent that despite the demanding topography and challenging characteristics of the track, the car’s handling allowed swift progress and flattered my modest abilities.
I swept up hill into a crested hairpin bend with adverse camber and then exiting downhill. The ISR soaked it up with ease. The 40-60 split of the four wheel drive provided peerless traction.
On occasions, my exuberance surpassed my abilities. I entered corners with a tad too much alacrity. The Bentley’s grip and the carbon ceramic brakes ability to retard speed coolly helped me deal with my misplaced enthusiasm. Devoid of body roll the ISR was flat and felt firmly planted despite its substantial 2400 Kilo kerb weight.
Notwithstanding its leviathan proportions, this is a surprisingly agile car.
100mph with the roof down
The banked track circuit is constructed of concrete slabs.
The surface lacked the smoothness of a talented crooner. Its coarse texture would loosen your fillings in a lesser car. However, with the roof down and despite the nodular surface of the track, conversation was achievable without the need to raise one’s voice.
I have sat in open top cars previously where an unsightly wind deflector had to be raised to mitigate buffeting. I don’t know whether Bentley offer this option but based on my experience I would see very little need for it and no need to compromise the elegant aesthetics.
Sublime refinement is readily provided.
With its four wheel drive it has a firm hold on the ground below it, but the Flexfuel capability means that it treads lightly on the planet. Bentley’s innovative approach to CO2 reduction will have benefits for future generations whilst retaining the performance we have come to expect from the brand with the Breitling clock in its dashboard.
A breadth of talents
The nomenclature, “Ice Speed Record” may lead some to perceive that this is an out and out sports car, but this car has many more facets to its talents.
Enthusiastic driving through the fast sweeping bends of the Grimsel Pass could be admirably dispatched. When the driver’s mood changes and a grand tourer is required the ISR will serenely cross continents with minimal fuss. On other occasions, lower the grey, “metallic look” soft top on the Côte d’Azur and enjoy the sun’s warm, comforting embrace.
This is not a stripped out racing car devoid of creature comforts to mitigate kerb weight. Titanic performance is provided with impressive manoeuvrability belying the car’s dimensions. However, the Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible ISR bestows its passengers with a palatial cockpit filled with numerous luxury trappings.
I don’t think I will ever forget my brief encounter with the ISR.
Life is for living and I could think of no better way than living life to the full with the Bentley Continental Supersport Convertible ISR.