One of the Geneva motor show’s biggest opinion-splitters this year has to be the Bentley EXP9F. As the clunky name suggests, it’s still an experimental prototype but is a preview to the company’s long-rumoured SUV. And the one thing Bentley is absolutely adamant about is it wants it to be the world’s fastest SUV, both in terms of top speed and acceleration.
Bentley is keen to move into the luxury SUV territory as it believes this is still an untapped sector of the market, just like the £100k+ Coupe market was before the Continental GT arrived in 2002. At an exclusive preview of the EXP9F just before its reveal in Geneva, Bentley’s Chairman and CEO, Wolfgang Durheimer, revealed to evo that the majority of current Bentley owners already own an SUV so he’s keen to make sure this becomes a Bentley in the future.
The EXP9F’s decidedly unsubtle styling, especially its rather bluff front profile, will provoke a very mixed reaction. Sloping tailgate aside, there’s been little attempt to disguise the car’s heft; the fact Bentley calls its design language as ‘hewn from solid’ probably tells you all you need to know.
The target for this car is undoubtedly the Range Rover, although there are hints of Range Rover Sport in the side profile, with a notable Continental GT-like sculpture line picking out the rear arches. The gigantic proportions don’t make the enormous, 23in alloy wheels look out of place, either, with their turbine-like spokes and locking nuts being inspired by Bentley Le Mans racers going back to the 1920s. Bentley’s traditional honeycomb grille is retained, as are the distinctive round headlights and side vents, feeding air to the numerous radiators tasked with cooling the twin-turbo, 6-litre, 600bhp, 590lb ft W12 fitted under its nose. The engine is linked to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which permanently delivers its power to all four wheels.
Apart from this all new 6-litre W12, Durheimer is looking at several other alternative powerplants, including Bentley’s new 4-litre twin-turbo V8 (recently debuted in the 2012 Continental GT), a six-cylinder hybrid drivetrain and, most controversially of all, a powerful V8 diesel engine for the European market in particular.
There’s much talk of the EXP9F’s possessing a commanding driving position, which is some 70mm higher than in a Cayenne but still 30mm below that of a Range Rover. The whole interior is undoubtedly where this car really scores, as it boasts all the lavish leather, wood and thick carpets one expects from a Bentley. The dash itself is made up of a large spar of timber stretching right across the width of the car, while the dials themselves have TFT screens within them but conventional needles to show the speed and engine revs.
Folding out of the dash is an iPad like device that houses all manner of ‘infotainment’ technology, including selectable Comfort, Sport and Off-road driving modes and even a sump camera for tricky off-roading, should the car’s cross country abilities ever actually be properly tested. Interestingly, sitting just behind the gear selector is a rotary dial, which looks almost identical to the terrain response used in the Range Rover. There’s certainly no doubting that Bentley is serious about this car possessing excellent off-road ability, even going as far as fitting extensive aluminium sump guards and sill protectors to this concept car.
Public reaction will be analysed throughout the Bentley EXP9F’s Geneva motor show appearance, after which the car will go on a world tour, where further customer research will be carried out. Secretly, Bentley expects to receive a certain amount of flak for even considering building such a vehicle but Durheimer is confident it will make production and hinted the current thinking is the vehicle will hit the showrooms in 2015, priced at around the £136,000 mark, or similar to where the Continental W12 is positioned today. Annual sales are put at around 3500-4000, which is less than 10 per cent of Range Rover sales, so it will never be a common sight on our roads. Which is probably just as well.