The new Bentley 4x4 will out-punch a Porsche Cayenne, be more luxurious than a Range Rover and “mark a new pinnacle of SUVs in several dimensions”, according to Bentley chairman and CEO Wolfgang Durheimer.
As well as a new Bentley-developed version of the W12 engine – expected to produce around 600bhp and feature eco technology such as cylinder deactivation – the new car will eventually feature a V8 diesel model and a plug-in hybrid with a six-cylinder engine. Bentley will also plunder the rest of the VW Group’s technology in the search for weight-saving innovations.
Video: Watch our video of the Bentley EXP 9 F at Geneva
Officially, project EXP 9 F, on display at this week’s Geneva Motor Show, is a concept to gauge reaction from potential customers. But Bentley is well on the way to confirming production of the new car, which should be ready in 2015, slotting in neatly between the Continental and Mulsanne model cycles.
Bentley’s 4x4 sits somewhere between the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover in terms of size, dynamics and ride comfort, and is set to out-perform both. The only fly in the ointment comes from in-house rival Lamborghini, which is also planning a high-performance SUV, possibly using a version of Bentley’s W12.
However, the Bentley will bring a new level of luxury and price (around £140,000) to the class. Bentley will rely on its craftsmen to produce the most sumptuous 4x4 cabin using the very finest materials and including some neat touches from design chief Dirk van Braeckel and his team.
The concept features what van Braeckel describes as “a more modern, advanced interior, but with the usual quality of wood and leather”. However, Bentley is using harder saddle leather for the first time in areas that may be subject to harder wear – this is a 4x4 after all – with softer leather where customers are more likely to touch it.
The traditional, full-width burr walnut dash complete with bullseye vents is juxtaposed with a hi-tech infotainment screen that will emerge from the dash and seem to float above a panel with controls for the climate, navigation and entertainment systems. Full connectivity and Internet access with downloadable apps will keep the system up-to-date.
The instrument binnacle features digital TFT screens with analogue needles. The displays change depending on the driving mode and also show the view of exterior cameras. Major controls are larger than usual so the driver can use them with gloves on.
A full-length panoramic sunroof has a central metal bar running its full length and featuring grab handles.
Bentley has lavished as much attention on the rear quarters as anywhere else in the car. The boot features a powered, split tailgate, beautifully trimmed for two people to sit or stand on. Two hampers swing out from panels above the wheelarches to boost the car’s picnic appeal.
Rear passengers in two or three contoured seats sit further back than in rivals to boost leg and headroom – there’s 200mm more legroom than in the current Range Rover. Upright side windows add to the feeling of space and make it easier for the driver to gauge the car’s size – which is substantial.
The Bentley is taller and wider than a Cayenne, but lower and narrower than a Range Rover. It’s longer than both, with a longer wheelbase, too.
Outside, a wide matrix mesh grille is flanked by large Mulsanne-style circular lights. Under the headlamps sit similarly-sized circular air intakes, surrounded by LED daytime running lights.
The traditional Bentley ‘catwalk’ bonnet crease runs from the outside of the grille to the edges of the wide, upright windscreen. Further styling lines are fed from the headlights, wrapping around the side of the car with side vents inspired by the Bentley flying B.
Muscular Continental GT-style rear haunches are nicely integrated into the sides, but an inelegant roof spoiler is necessary to boost downforce at high speed.
The square rear lights look clunky until they’re switched on when they resemble a fighter jet’s afterburner. Chunky twin exhausts are integrated into metal under the bumper, which also features at the front and sides of the car.
The 23-inch turbine-style alloys with 800mm diameter tyres are clearly performance orientated, while there will be a sporty feel to the steering: “effortless driving, but not effortless steering,” according to Bentley engineering chief Rolf Frech. Yet the car will still be a proper off-roader, with Frech adding: “We have to show we can be good off road. If we build an SUV, it’ll be a real SUV, not a fake.”
After Geneva the car will go to China for the Beijing Motor Show, then to the middle east, mainland Europe and back to the UK. Dürheimer says the US will be the main market, followed by China, but there would be strong interest in the UK. He also says he could see the 4x4 in the Royal garage, alongside the other Bentleys already there.