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Geneva show: Bentley builds an SUV

Best of British bush-bashers: Bentley promises its SUV will have a high level of off-road ability, managing steep Saharan sand dunes and deep Russian winters.

Shock and awe in Geneva as Bentley unveils production-oriented SUV concept

6 Mar 2012

BENTLEY has signalled a radical change in direction with the unveiling of a sport utility vehicle concept that looks destined to become the hallowed British brand’s third model line alongside the regal Mulsanne limousine and sporting Continental range.

Dubbed the ‘EXP 9 F’ as a proper name remains under wraps, the Bentley off-roader represents a new-found confidence in the global motor industry that was evident this week at the 82nd Geneva International Motor Show – where Lamborghini let rip with a one-off convertible Aventador, Ferrari presented its long-awaited 599 successor, and indeed where exotic, luxury and mainstream brands alike all lined up with an array of concepts and production cars that shake off the GFC once and for all.

But a Bentley SUV?After the covers came off, and the gathered crowd felt the first wave of shock and awe, Bentley Motors chairman and CEO Wolfgang Duerheimer told journalists, including GoAuto, that the vehicle was slated to be built in Britain using the Volkswagen-Audi Group’s MLB platform and a modified version of the current 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 petrol engine.

The company also confirmed that the recently launched 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and a hybrid drivetrain – likely a V6 petrol-based plug-in system – “could meet the performance requirements of a pinnacle luxury SUV”.

Mr Duerheimer, who as Porsche’s former development chief was responsible for bringing the then-controversial Cayenne to production – now easily the German sportscar brand’s best-seller – also said the Bentley SUV would have genuine off-road ability and that “roughly about 100 per cent” of potential buyers would be existing Bentley owners.

“I think on average the typical Bentley customer has 8.5 cars,” he said.

In its official literature, Bentley describes the vehicle as “a natural progression for the company” given its experience with the all-wheel-drive Continental range.

54 center imageWhile Mr Duerheimer said Bentley will “look at what the journalists and customers tell us, and then we will make our decision”, GoAuto understands that the development program is ongoing and that the company has in fact made a definitive commitment to production.

Certainly, Mr Duerheimer’s comments in Geneva pointed in this direction.

“It will be produced in Great Britain. This is our target,” he said.

“The W12 engine will be modified. We just launched a new V8 engine as you might know, and this engine has minus 40 per cent CO2 emissions and consumption, and we will also bring this new engine technology into the W12.

“The W12 will be an engine that we carry on into the future, with the (latest) technology – turbocharged and direct injection.”

While there was no discussion of the relationship with the Volkswagen Touareg and Audi Q7, the Bentley SUV is sure to share components and have a host of other commonalities under the skin.

The MLB platform is currently used for a range of Audi models, including the Q5, and will underpin Porsche’s forthcoming Macan SUV.

“It will be on the MLB,” Mr Duerheimer said.

“We will use components we have on the shelf. Now, we are not talking about platforms anymore, we are talking about modules, and we will combine existing modules as cleverly as possible and then add them, for example, with the W12 engine that is not in the platform yet.

“So we will try to use future components but the final car also uses parts that are already around in the Group.

“We will not miss out on off-road ability. This car will be able to climb the steep sand dunes of the Middle East, it will be good in mud and dirt in winter, so there will be no limits in this car. It will have the latest transmission and all-wheel drive technology we have available in the Group.”

Bentley says the modified 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 powertrain, which is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, could develop 600hp (447kW) and 800Nm of torque, with key performance indicators such as top speed and 0-100km/h acceleration “setting new benchmarks for the SUV sector”.

The exterior design has heavily sculptured surfaces that are meant to emphasise “power, muscularity and robustness”.

Key Bentley cues such as the ‘matrix’ grille, circular lamps and the “strong power-line and haunch along each flank” are reinterpreted for the SUV, while the so-called ‘hewn from solid’ design language and detailing are meant to emphasise the “robust character” of the vehicle.

Bentley Motors director of design Dirk van Braeckel said the styling “had to reflect Bentley’s sporting character despite its radically different package and purpose together with sculptured, flowing surfaces in keeping with the Bentley tradition”.

“EXP 9 F had to represent the absolute pinnacle of the sport utility sector, setting a new benchmark for this type of vehicle,” he said.

The interior uses traditional handcrafted elements such as wood, leather and polished metals such as aluminium, bronze and gunmetal to create “a sense of British luxury” – albeit with a “fresh and contemporary interior ambience”.

With some owners preferring to be chauffeur-driven, particular attention is paid to rear-seat spaciousness, ambience, creature comforts and hi-tech equipment, the latter including full internet connectivity and a large infotainment screen.

Key markets identified for the SUV are China, Russia and the United States, while expectations are that it would fast become the biggest-selling vehicle in the Bentley range, with a proposed initial production run of around 3500 units – half the current annual output at Crewe with the Mulsanne and Continental lines.

This could rapidly expand beyond 10,000, if there is enough demand.

“We are very excited by the potential of a high-performance, ultra-luxury Bentley SUV,” Mr Duerheimer said. “We know that many Bentley customers already own SUVs, admiring their style, luxury, performance and versatility.

“With EXP 9 F, Bentley is making a clear statement of intent that we have both the expertise and desire to meet and exceed their expectations.” Bentley Motors sales and marketing chief Alasdair Stewart added: “A Bentley Grand Tourer doesn’t necessarily have to be a coupe, a convertible or a saloon – it could equally well be an SUV.

“What’s important is that it should be true to Bentley’s brand values and in line with the desires and needs of our customers.”

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