Many pundits claimed this day would never arrive, and yet here we are on the precipice of a new era which sees one of the great British luxury car makers diversify its portfolio into the off-road/SUV sector.
At the 2012 Geneva Auto Show, Bentley has offered a vision of the future with its sport utility vehicle concept, EXP 9 F.
The designers and engineers have endeavored to create a Grand Touring Bentley in the finest traditions, and its upright stance almost takes on Rolls-Royce Phantom proportions.
“We are very excited by the potential of a high performance, ultra-luxury Bentley SUV. We know 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,” said Wolfgang Dürheimer, Chairman and Chief Executive of Bentley Motors.
Key Bentley styling cues were re-interpreted for EXP 9 F with sculptured surfaces emphasizing power and robustness.
From a designer’s perspective, EXP 9 F was a dream project, the chance to create a completely new type of Bentley. From the very beginning, the design team had a clear vision for the new Bentley SUV, as Dirk van Braeckel, Director of Design, explained: “EXP 9 F had to represent the pinnacle of the sport utility sector, setting a benchmark for this type of vehicle. The style 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.” Bentley cues include the matrix grille, round lamps and strong power-line plus haunches on each flank.
The designers were inspired not only by the more functional nature of EXP 9 F but also by the ‘visible engineering’ of the famous Blower Bentleys. For example, the day-time running lamps also act as air intakes for the chargecooler on the twin-turbo W12 engine. Each has a dramatic, mesh-covered turbine fan design and ‘rifled’ inner finish.
The turbine theme continues with the 23” wheels. The multiple spokes are reminiscent of turbine fan blades, while the central wheel nut is a visual reference both to Bentley’s Le Mans racers of the 1920s and to the modern Speed 8’s high-tech racing wheels.
At the rear, the swooping lines of the tailgate avoid utilitarian overtones in favor of a sporting profile, while the wide, two-part split tailgate offers a high level of versatility when touring.
The bold design language of EXP 9 F is complemented by twin exhaust tailpipes with ‘rifled’ inner surfaces, their elliptical shapes echoing those of the rear light clusters.
The rear lights were inspired by fighter jet engines, uniquely designed so that they glow from within, spreading their light outwards.
Bentley is renowned for fusing technology and craftsmanship, luxury and performance, as Dirk van Braeckel explained: “The challenge for the interior design team was to create a cabin that provided a blend of luxury and utility. The result is a light and airy environment with a commanding view of the road and a versatile layout which showcases Bentley’s craft and design language.”
Traditional handcrafted elements such as wood, leather and polished aluminum, bronze and gunmetal are used to create a sense of British luxury.
Soft-touch leather contrasts with durable surfaces with the concept design, experimenting with the use of saddle leather for the seat backs, top roll and loadspace – while analogue bezels and dials are paired with TFT ‘virtual’ instrumentation.
Even the luxurious silk wool floor mats are reversible – with one side finished in durable, ribbed saddle leather for use when the driver and passengers are dressed for the outdoors.
The upright dashboard features a full-width, one-piece wood veneer with a subtle negative surface and instruments with a configurable display.
Traditional Bentley ‘bulls eye’ vents have a ‘rifled’ gunmetal inner surface for a contemporary and functional appearance.
The center console helps to create a central spine. The frame of the console is also a structural component with integrated, sculpted grab handles.
The flowing roof design with a panoramic glass panel was inspired by rally car rollcages, expressing both strength and lightness.
Rear seat passengers can chose between business mode, with generous legroom complete with fold-down keyboard and full internet connectivity via an iPad or tablet, or a more reclined position with powered footrest, drinks table and an infotainment screen for movies.
When the rear seats are not in use, they can be powered forward to create a larger loadspace for sports equipment or luggage.
The EXP 9 F seating is 4+1, with a rear armrest lifting to reveal a cooled compartment for champagne and glasses. Seats feature a diamond-quilted ‘shoulder line’ in soft-touch leather, echoing the traditional appearance of a British field sport jacket.
At the rear, the lower section of the two-piece tailgate may be used as a viewing bench or picnic table. Bespoke picnic hampers are stowed neatly to either side of the loadspace when not in use, but are located on rails for easy access.
An awning extends over the tailgate to protect anybody seated there; two umbrellas fit either side of the rear luggage area for when rain arrives.
Although the EXP 9 F concept is based around the Bentley 6.0 liter, twin-turbocharged W12 engine with an eight-speed transmission, both the company’s recently-launched 4.0 liter, twin-turbo V8 or a hybrid drivetrain could meet the performance requirements.
EXP 9 F is primarily intended to investigate new design territory, so all drivetrain options remain under consideration.
EXP 9 F represents the chance to take Bentley values into new terrain for the brand. Bentley claims its experience with the all-wheel drive Continental range makes the concept of a Bentley SUV a natural progression for the company.
Customer and public reaction will be analyzed following the unveiling of EXP 9 F at Geneva 2012, with the aim of refining the concept further.
Above all, Bentley will listen to the reaction of customers and potential customers around the world, prior to making any definitive commitment to production.
“A Bentley Grand Tourer doesn’t necessarily have to be a coupé, convertible or sedan – 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,” said Alasdair Stewart from Bentley.