We've already heard quite a bit about Bentley's SUV project. Bentley chairman and CEO Wolfgang Durheimer has excitedly talked up the luxury SUV for some time now, shedding light on various details regarding the new project. At the annual Volkswagen Group Night extravaganza before the start of the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, Durheimer finally gets to show off his new baby in the form of a concept version of a possible new SUV, the Bentley EXP 9 F Concept.
One of the areas Durheimer hinted at was the uber-SUV's potential powertrain options. Initial speculation centered on a turbodiesel V-12, followed by rumors of the new 6.3-liter W-12 found in the 2012 Audi A8L. Although Durheimer was coy about down-and-dirty details, he did confirm a 12-cylinder would be used as the main engine. Fittingly, the EXP 9 F uses a 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 good for about 600 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque paired to an eight-speed automatic. Bentley says other powertrain options remain under consideration for the production model, including a diesel V-8 and the just-launched 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. Durheimer has also confirmed that if built (the production model still needs to be confirmed by the VW Group board, a decision is expected by the end of the year) the SUV would be offered with Bentley's first-ever vehicle plug-in hybrid powertrain, the details of which are still under wraps. We hear that the plug-in's engine would be a supercharged V-6.
Another clue Durheimer revealed was that the SUV "will contain all the necessary items a Bentley has." We wouldn't expect anything less from the upscale automaker. Bentley styling cues are splayed all over the EXP 9 F's sheetmetal, with razor-sharp side character lines flowing from the top of the headlights to the muscular rear wheel wells.
The front end starts with Bentley's signature matrix grille. Look closer, however, and you'll see that the daytime running lights double as intakes for the big W-12's intercooler. Inspired by the "visual engineering" found in the famous Blower Bentleys, the lights outline a mesh-covered turbine fan design. The turbine theme carries over to the massive 23-inch alloys, which are a nod to the historic Bentley LeMans racers from the 1920s as well as the more modern Speed 8's high-tech racing alloys.
At the rear, unique rectangular taillights are designed to mimic the glow of a fighter jet's exhaust. They sit on the bottom section of the EXP 9 F's split tailgate, which doubles as a bench or a picnic table equipped with all the fixings needed for a fancy feast alfresco. Plates, silverware, and cocktail glasses are packed in bespoke picnic hampers that fit neatly into the cargo area. There's also space for a pair of umbrellas, and Bentley has even included an awning that extends over the tailgate.
In true Bentley fashion, the interior is spectacular. The usual assortment of handcrafted luxury appointments are found throughout, including the wood trim decorating the dash, center console, steering wheel and door panels. These bits of lumber are separated by polished metal trim that also provides an element of contrast. Top-shelf leather seats wear the signature Crewe diamond-quilted design. Given that the SUV could theoretically go off-road, its floormats are a clever touch. They're silk on top, but flip them over and you have a set of ribbed saddle leather mats.
As for tech bits, a touch screen deploys from the metal trim on the dash and affixes itself atop the glass surface of the center console, just above the dials. On-road, the screen displays 3D navigation, but once off-road (three driving modes include Comfort, Sport, Off-Road), the screen switches to a "sump cam" that shows all the nooks and crannies ahead when the estate's back roads get bumpy.
Of course, rear passengers (the concept is a four-passenger setup) are also treated to high-tech bits and sumptuous luxury touches. In "business mode," a fold-down keyboard reveals an iPad or other tablet. When pleasure is preferred, rear passengers can recline and relish a powered footrest, drinks table, and movies played on an infotainment screen. Champagne bottles and glasses will stay chilled thanks to a cooled compartment in the rear armrest. Should rear passengers choose to enjoy scenery over infotainment, they can see the sky via the sweeping panoramic sunroof. As expected in a Bentley, legroom is vast.
As for the EXP 9 F's underpinnings, Durheimer had previously spilled some of the beans on the Flying B SUV's architecture, saying that it would not use an all-new platform. No doubt the concept borrows elements from the VW Group's large SUV architecture that underpins vehicles like the Q7 and Cayenne. Any production model would likely use an updated and heavily modified version of that platform.
We're betting the EXP 9 F is pretty close to what we'll see from the upcoming production model if it's built, and given that Bentley's top markets are SUV-loving America and China (in the latter, SUV sales increased by 25 percent last year), odds are Bentley will sell every one it can make at whatever the price, which will no doubt reach well into the $150,000-plus bracket. If the green light is indeed given, we expect the production version by 2016.