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Maybe Not So Absurd

Thu, 28 Jun 2012

The big luxury utes are coming, and I've been thinking about them quite a bit lately. In particular, I speak of the Bentley EXP 9 F, the Lamborghini Urus and the Maserati Kubang. At first glance they seem illogical; they're all imposing and, each in its own way, over the top. They've often been snickered at by the assembled media types at whichever auto show they happen to be revealed. I say they deserve another look.

Let's start with the Bentley. It caused no small amount of tut tutting when it was unveiled in Geneva a few months ago, mostly because of its daunting, ginormous front end. The concept is powered by a 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12—of course it is; what else would you expect?—from the Bentley parts bin. The cabin is magnificent, all gorgeous wood and leather with stunning instruments. Bentley says it hopes that the EXP 9 F will shoot to the top of the heap in terms of interior ambience, and from what we've seen, it has a shot. Few argue against Bentley needing an SUV—nothing wrong with trying to tramp all over Range Rover. Besides, luxury utes can work: Half of Porsche's sales in 2011 were Cayennes. Half. So, no, it's not the idea of the EXP 9 F, it's Bentley's exterior styling that's raising eyebrows. With a new front clip, the thing could be a hit.

Next up, also from the Volkswagen Group, comes the Lamborghini Urus, a 600-hp monster shown at the Beijing motor show. We've been here before with Lambo—who can forget the outrageous LM002? The Urus' particulars are a carbon-fiber body riding on the same all-wheel-drive chassis that future Audi Q7s, Porsche Cayennes and Volkswagen Touaregs will use, along with, yes, the Bentley EXP 9 F.

The Urus gets more interesting if the rumors we've been hearing are true, that Lamborghini might, in combination with a plug-in electric motor, give the truck a modified version of Audi's new turbocharged 4.0-liter direct-injection V8. If the Urus goes into production, Lambo officials figure that it will cost just more than $200,000, will happen by 2016, and that they can move 3,000. That would instantly double the Italian supercar maker's sales. Maybe it's not such a bad idea.

And finally, the Maserati Kubang. Maserati's SUV will share its underwear with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Durango. Maserati will supply gasoline and diesel engines from Italy, and the Kubang will be built by Chrysler in Detroit. No, really.

Maserati CEO Harald Wester has spent much of his time lately trying to convince anyone who will listen that a luxury Maserati SUV is a natural. The company hopes to sell 20,000 to 25,000 Kubangs a year—Maserati sold 2,321 cars here last year. See a pattern?

So maybe Wester doesn't need to convince anyone. Maybe it will turn out that these three behemoths are no-brainers.

By Wes Raynal