The sport-utility vehicle has finally become commonplace. Sure, there are thousands of them running around malls and school parking lots across the country, but that does not mean the concept has found a permanent place in the automotive world. Remember minivans and station wagons? They used to be very popular too. The true sign that SUVs have arrived is not popularity, but the fact that Bentley is thinking about building one.
If Mercedes-Benz is in the van guard of car design, Bentley is the traditional stalwart. While other companies rush to acquire the latest technology, Bentley focuses on meeting more subjective standards of refinement; just look at the company’s Mulsanne sedan. Now, this traditional marque is showing a concept SUV, the EXP 9 F at the Geneva Motor Show. “We are very excited by the potential of a high-performance, ultra-luxury Bentley SUV,” said Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer, “We know that many Bentley customers already own SUVs, admiring their style, luxury, performance and versatility. With EXP 9 F, Bentley is making a clear statement of intent that we have both the expertise and desire to meet and exceed their expectations.”
What the company calls “the Grand Touring Bentley” blends styling elements from the Mulsanne and Continental with a very Range Rover-esque roofline. It also has the Range Rover’s split tailgate. The huge 23-inch wheels are a little oversized, but will make quite a statement when the Bentley rolls up to an exclusive club. Bentley claims the EXP 9 F is designed to accommodate a variety of drivetrains, from a 6.0-liter, 600 horsepower twin-turbocharged W-12 and eight-speed automatic transmission to a hybrid system.
The interior is classic Bentley: soft-touch and saddle leather, wood veneers and aluminum, bronze and gunmetal trim. Bentley also augmented the analog gauges with digital “virtual” instruments. The EXP 9 F also sports a 3D navigation system. In back, passengers can recline with powered footrests while enjoying full Internet access with a built-in iPad or watch movies on a larger monitor. The armrest doubles as a champagne cooler, complete with glasses. The traditional Bentley customer doesn’t do tailgate parties, but that split tailgate makes a great table. Instead, Bentley included picnic baskets, umbrellas, and a retractable awning.
The idea of a Bentley SUV may sound heretical, but so did the Porsche Cayenne and Ferrari FF. When car companies step out of their niches, they hope to increase their appeal at the risk of diluting themselves. Bentley says it is “listening carefully to the reaction of potential customers throughout the world, prior to making any definitive commitment to production,” and, given the success of the Cayenne, it is possible that there will be enough takers to convince the Bentley brass. However, popularity does not always make a car great. That’s why Bentley never made a station wagon or minivan.