Bentley Hybrid Concept previews plug-in powertrain for 2017 SUV

There are big changes in store at Bentley. The prominent British carmaker is set to launch its first SUV, which will feature a plug-in hybrid powertrain.

That powertrain is previewed by the aptly-named Bentley Hybrid Concept, a plug-in version of the Mulsanne sedan set to debut at the 2014 Beijing Motor Show.

Bentley was mum on specifics, but the “6 3/4 Litre” badge in the concept’s engine bay indicates that it uses the same 6.75-liter V8 as the stock Mulsanne.

Hybridization increases power by 25 percent (presumably over the standalone V8) according to the carmaker, and a 70-percent decrease in CO2 emissions, although this is probably on the more optimistic European test cycle. The Hybrid Concept can also travel up to 31 miles on electric power alone.

Visually, the Hybrid Concept is distinguished from its less-green siblings by copper exterior and interior trim. It’s unclear what the connection between copper and zero-emission motoring is, but the stuff looks good on the grille bezel, headlights, brake calipers, and various other parts of this massive sedan.

Bentley says it is the first luxury brand to present a plug-in hybrid. The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid apparently doesn’t count, nor does the upcoming Mercedes-Benz S500 Plug-In Hybrid.

While it may not be the first, Bentley probably won’t be the last luxury brand to offer a plug-in hybrid.

As global emissions standards become more strict, even small-volume carmakers will have to have greener models in their fleets. That’s why Rolls-Royce is considering a plug-in hybrid of its own, and why Mercedes may one-up itself with an all-electric S-Class.

It’s also why Bentley may soon offer a plug-in version of every model it makes. Bentley Motors chairman and chief executive Dr. Wolfgang Schreiber says that “by the end of the decade, at least 90 percent of our production will be available as a plug-in hybrid.”

That’s good news for the buyer who can afford a Bentley, but can’t afford to keep its massive fuel tank brimmed with premium.

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