Clearly, this is a niche too good to ignore. With its EXP 9 F concept, Bentley has sent a clear signal: anything Porsche and Maserati can do, it can do better. Or more expensively.
The latest in a long line of experimental (hence EXP) models dating back to the original Bentley, the vehicle unveiled at Geneva this week is seen as a likely prototype of a third model line alongside the company’s Mulsanne and Continental ranges. It’s designated F for falcon, the regal bird that is said to have inspired the designers, not least for its ability to exceed 300 km/h in a dive.
Up to now, Porsche’s Cayenne has had the superSUV market pretty much to itself. Then, at the Detroit Show, Maserati unveiled its Kubang. Now that the sports car boys have had their fun, it’s the turn of the upper-crust old guard.
The Bentley show car is based on a 6-litre twin turbocharged W12 engine developing about 400 kW and 800 N.m, mated with an 8-speed gearbox. While coy on actual details, Bentley say that key performance indicators such as top speed and 0-100 km/h sprint time will set new benchmarks for the SUV sector.
However, alternatives such as a more modest V8 or even hybrid power haven’t been ruled out, although Bentley boss Wolfgang Dürheimer says that whatever is shoehorned into the engine bay will have the marque’s renowned thunderous performance. It’s a little ironic that Bentley, once referred to disparagingly by Ettore Bugatti as “the world’s fastest truck”, now comes from the same VW stable that produces Bugatti. (And let’s not even begin to think about a Bugatti SUV.)
Bentley’s reasoning is disarmingly simple: many of its customers own SUVs. So why not Bentley SUVs? “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,” Dürheimer says.
Here's what he means: given that it’s not always possible to send a manservant ahead to scout the surroundings off-road and guide the driver in particularly bumpy going, on the EXP 9 a “sump cam” will relay under-vehicle terrain visuals to the interior display.
According to design leader Dirk van Braeckel, his team was inspired not only by the more functional nature of EXP 9 F but by the “visible engineering” of the legendary Blower Bentleys. Daytime running lamp openings, therefore, also act as the charge cooler air intakes for the engine, with a grille-covered turbine fan design and “rifled” inner surface finish. Although some elements mesh a little awkwardly, the bold styling is unmistakably Bentley.
Similarly, the opulent cabin has handcrafted wood, leather and polished metals jostling with high-tech TFT virtual instrumentation that can be switched according to how the vehicle is being used. It has a practical side, too: the silk wool floormats are reversible, with ribbed saddle leather on the reverse for those mink and manure days.
According to Bentley, passengers in the (powered) rear seats can chose between business mode – generous legroom, fold-down keyboard and Internet connectivity – or a more reclined position with powered footrest, drinks table and an infotainment screen.The rear armrest hides a cooled compartment for champagne and glasses.
The tailgate is all set up for the ultimate tailgate party. Its lower section can do duty as a viewing bench or picnic table; bespoke picnic hampers are stowed either side of the loadspace and an awning extends over the tailgate. Two umbrellas fit either side of the rear luggage area.