The long-awaited Bentley SUV is getting closer to its production debut, although we still don't know what it's called or what it will cost, we have a good idea of what it looks like thanks to spy pictures, teaser images and our own exclusive renderings. The new Bentley SUV is set to be made at the firm's factory in Crewe, Cheshire, rather than alongside the next Audi Q7, which shares its underpinnings, in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Bentley released a sketch to accompany this announcement, and it reveals a slightly sportier profile than the concept. There’s an uncanny resemblance to Porsche’s Cayenne, too, suggesting the two SUVs will share more than just a platform – they’ll have similar proportions as well.
We were already well versed with Bentley’s forthcoming SUV thanks to a barrage of teaser images and videos released by the brand, but then we spied the luxury SUV testing in its own production body. The spy images reveal how the showroom model will distance itself by some margin from the EXP 9 concept that previewed it back in 2012.
In comparison to the concept we can see the general shape and structure of the SUV will remain intact but a Continental GT face has been crafted onto the front end. Look closely at the images and you’ll see Bentley has added some rather bulbous cladding over the front and rear wheel arches in an attempt to hide its more curvaceous styling.
Viewed in profile and from the rear there is more of a resemblance towards the concept than there is round the front. The steeply raked rear windscreen and two oval exhausts give a more athletic look, while the number plate and rear lamp positioning seems unchanged from the concept.
According to a statement from the Crewe-based manufacturer, the black-and-white film apparently offers “a rare glimpse of the company’s design approach” to show how the new Bentley’s exterior is developing.
As you can see, the minute-long teaser doesn’t give much away, although there are fleeting shots of the flanks, rear and stylised alloy wheel, with the SUV apparently set to combine “contemporary and distinctive design” and the brand’s meticulous attention to detail.
Also visible towards the end of the clip is a full frontal view of the 4x4’s Flying Spur-inspired front end, as previewed by a teaser image in March that showed the car emerging from a dust cloud (below). While the two-part headlight configuration passes over unchanged, the grille itself appears to have been enlarged significantly, creating a more striking and pronounced nose.
Not only is the nameless 4x4 the first SUV from Bentley, it will also be the first model from the marque to feature a petrol-electric powertrain. The engine fitted beneath the test mule we spotted is the familiar 6.0-litre W12 engine but it’s expected the brand will also offer the more frugal 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, too.
The 2016 UK-built Bentley SUV is set to break new ground for the British brand on a number of fronts. Its CEO, Wolfgang Schreiber, first dropped the hint that it will be the first Bentley to use a diesel engine, and the first model to feature plug-in hybrid technology from 2017 onwards.
“We are definitely investigating a diesel engine. It will fit anyway into the platform we are using, so it could make sense to do it,” Schreiber said. “Sales in Europe for a car like that could be very high, and for relatively little investment on our part.” The most likely candidate is an updated 4.2-litre V8 diesel shared with the next-generation Audi Q7 (due in 2014), a car it will share its lightweight aluminium construction with.
Schrieber also sees plug-in technology as a fit for the SUV. “We will have a plug-in powertrain, but it needs to be more than the existing systems – with more power, more torque,” Schreiber confirmed. “The SUV will get it first, you won’t see it in our existing cars because it's too expensive, but by 2017 the SUV will get it.”
“Bentley is in a good position as part of the VW group,” said Schreiber. “With technology like hybrids you need lots of investment. Smaller companies will struggle, so it’s a good opportunity for Bentley to use synergies from the VW group. For example, batteries can be used across numerous models.”
The new Bentley SUV will go on sale in 2016, with the company set to invest over £800million in its Crewe HQ and developing new models before then. More than 1,000 UK jobs will be created as a result of this investment.
Dr Martin Winterkorn, chairman of the board at the Volkswagen Group, said: “We believe in the UK as a competitive location for industrial production. Bentley fans all around the world are looking forward to its first SUV. Together we will make this car another true Bentley – powerful, exclusive and successful.”
CEO Dr Wolfgang Schreiber told Auto Express: “We already have 2,000 pre-orders without customers knowing the price or styling. Since the concept we’ve worked hard on the exterior and interior, and it’s now ready for final development. It looks more like a Bentley; more modern.”
Schreiber doesn't expect to have the ultra-luxury SUV segment to himself for very long though: “Competition is always good for the customer. We all know Rolls Royce is thinking about an SUV, Aston Martin is also considering one we all know about the Range Rover. There could even be some others that come along.”
And Bentley's sales and marketing director, Kevin Rose, is confident that the SUV will be a showroom success: “Thirty per cent of our existing customers already have a high-end SUV, so if we can convince even a small amount of those into buying the car we have a very strong business case indeed.”
The plan is to sell 3,000 to 4,000 SUVs a year, which would make the new model a crucial part of Bentley’s aim to boost annual sales from 8,510 last year to 15,000 cars by 2018. The biggest markets are expected to be the US and China - accounting for around 50 per cent of sales - with Russia and the Middle East close behind.
Schreiber also said there’ll be a small overlap with the Range Rover on price, suggesting the SUV will start at around £140,000 but prices are likely to rise to £200,000 for the range-topping models.