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Bentley EXP 9 F SUV at 2012 Geneva motor show

Mon, 05 Mar 2012

This, believe it or not, is Bentley’s new SUV. Currently a concept, the Bentley EXP 9 F has been unveiled tonight on the eve of the 2012 Geneva motor show at the VW Group’s pre-show party. But the Bentley EXP 9 F shouldn’t remain a concept for long: it’s going into customer clinics across the world just as soon as the Geneva motor show is finished, and Bentley chairman and chief executive Dr Wolfgang Dürheimer has told CAR he plans to build this car (or rather, this Range Rover-sized 4x4).

Oh. My. G… Right, composure regained – what can you tell me about the new Bentley EXP 9 F?

Let’s start with why Bentley is building an SUV. Frankly, it’s because it’s the model that has the biggest potential for sales and long-term profit for Bentley: the USA is Bentley’s biggest market, where it says it has 23,000 active customers, and almost all of them have an SUV in the garage. But not a Bentley SUV. Emerging markets love SUVs too (China is already Bentley second biggest market), and 4x4s sales are growing in Europe too. Bentley could build a sub-Continental GT sports car, but then it’ll come up against 911 Turbos and Audi R8s, and the VW Group doesn’t really need such internal completion. A 4x4 it is then.

And what a 4x4! It’s longer than a Range Rover, and wider, and when it’s launched it’ll cost about £140,000. ‘It will not only be the most prestigious SUV on sale, but also the fastest in terms of top speed, and the most expensive in terms of price,’ Dr Dürheimer told CAR.

Click here for more on the Bentley EXP 9 F - to read about CAR's exclusive dinner with Dürheimer ahead of Geneva.

Okay, so tell me about the actual car. What should I know about the new Bentley EXP 9 F?

The front is most obviously Bentley, adopting the upright styling of the Mulsanne with its twin stacked headlights and large matrix grille. But there are two extra intakes, either side of the grille, while the lower headlamps are in fact daytime running lights combined with intakes for the charge coolers. Why? Because behind the grille and beneath the huge bonnet sits a twin-turbo 6.0 W12 engine with 592bhp and 590lb ft.

The elongated ‘Flying B’ vents just aft of the front wheelarches are also functional, while at the rear there’s a split tailgate, and rear lights inspired by the afterburners of a jet engine. The huge alloys are 23in in diameter, and like a Rolls Royce the central wheel caps always remains upright. Chunky metal body cladding at the front, side and rear (integrating the exhausts) is designed to protect the bumpers during off-roading and help this enormous SUV glide over sand and the like, rather than ploughing into it.

What about inside?

If the exterior is, err, challenging, then the interior is wonderful. What isn’t wood is metal, and what isn’t metal is leather – there’s no carpet, just hard-wearing saddle leather on all the lower surfaces. There’s seating for four, but Bentley says there would be a five-seat option – and if the customer clinics demand it, then it could be engineered for seven seats too.

A huge spar of wood dominates the dashboard (which is reminiscent of Dürheimer’s most recent concept, the Bugatti Galibier), with traditional organ-stop vents now modenrised with glass vanes. The sat-nav screen rises out of the dash to sit atop the air-con controls, which sit forward of the gearstick, seat controls, and rotary dial to select the Comfort, Sport and Off-Road modes. The dials ahead of the driver are digital TFT screens, and sit proud of the dash – Bentley design boss Dirk van Braeckel didn’t want them to create a black hole in the dash.

Rear legroom is apparently on par with the Mulsanne so this Bentley SUV could be used as a chauffeur car in some market, but as impressive is what’s in the boot. The tailgate splits, with the bottom half sitting vertical, strong enough to hold a few people, and with reversible cushions so you can sit comfortably, or stand on a hard surface. And to achieve the latter, the top hatch can open to 55 or 90-deg, so you can use the back of your Bentley SUV as an eventing platform to keep track of your polo pony.

Two umbrellas are hidden in the boot, as are two picnic hampers that sit in the space above the rear wheel arches, while buttons in the lights control the angle of the top hatch, the lower tailgate, and the height of the air suspension.

Anything else?

This isn’t just some last minute concept car that Bentley will now try and build a business case for – this concept has been in the works since July 2011 (and the idea for a Bentley 4x in Dr Dürheimer’s mind long before that) and that business case has been built. Dürheimer (and Bentley R&D boss Ralf Frech) both helped launched the Cayenne SUV during their time at Porsche, so both have battled against the naysayers before. Bentley’s plans are relatively modest: it wants to to build 3500 units a year, with production is planned to begin in 2015, timed to coincide with the Continental range and the Mulsanne starting the downward phase of their cyclical lifecycle.

The architecture underpinning the EXP 9 F is the platform matrix that will support the next Q7, Cayenne and Touareg. Bentley plans for its SUV to be less sporting than the Cayenne, but more so than the Range Rover, and while Frech admits it won’t match the Range Rover off-road, it will still have strong non-Tarmac capabilities. The flagship engine will be a new W12, with direct-injection and stop/start, and there are plans for a plug-in hybrid petrol V6, and a diesel V8. Yes, really.

Bentley bosses talk like the production go-ahead is a given, and although Dr Durheimer is keen to stress that it’s apparently not a done deal, he said this to CAR: ‘I am personally quite confident we will make it to the finish line and get the green light.’

Don't forget to read Gavin Green's blog on the new Bentley EXP 9 F 4x4 concept car here.

By Ben Pulman