Plans for Bentley's first-ever SUV hit a bump in the road when the EXP 9 F preview concept suffered cripplingly bad public reaction, but the project has been merely delayed, not derailed. The exterior is being redone by Luc Donckerwolke, Bentley's recently installed chief designer, so what you see here is the concept's interior, which is likely to remain intact as the vehicle transitions to production. The Bentley SUV will share a platform with the next-generation Volkswagen Touareg, Audi Q7, and Porsche Cayenne. Conveniently, Bentley's current head of engineering, Rolf Frech, comes from Porsche, where he was director of engineering during initial development of the Cayenne. Frech recently spoke with us about his role at Bentley and the new SUV.
What do you bring to Bentley?
"I bring the experience from a company [Porsche] that grew from two car lines to three, to four, and then to five, as you see today. Of course, I bring the experience of the SUV to Bentley. That's essential to Bentley at this time."
What are the differences between developing a new Bentley versus a Porsche?
"The value of the Bentley brand is luxury performance. If we are bringing a Bentley SUV, it has to fulfill brand value and be the most 'luxury performance' SUV on the road. From the engine to the interior, we need to be the pinnacle of the segment. The Cayenne Turbo S is a fabulous SUV, but we want the Bentley to be above that in areas like interior execution. We want to be above the Porsche with a twelve-cylinder engine, with the interior, with everything."
Is off-road ability important?
"We have to show that it is possible. It's like a 911 and the racetrack. How many customers are really going on the racetrack? The key is they know that, if they want to, they can."
Any interest in diesel?
"I think it makes the most sense for the SUV. We are looking at this and at a plug-in hybrid."
Why is an SUV appropriate for the brand?
"Looking at our customers, many of them already own an SUV. Why should it be a Range Rover or a Cayenne? It should be a Bentley."
Because no luxury brand can resist the siren's call of the SUV.
The Enclave is currently Buick's most expensive offering and the LaCrosse its biggest sedan, but neither is a proper halo model for the brand. When General Motors reregistered the Grand National and GNX names, rumors erupted that a hot-rod Buick would return. GM has reregistered the Riviera name, too, and it's this car that would best serve as a halo Buick. Folks in the know tell us that the new-age Riviera is a larger four-door coupe--perhaps much like our illustration--in the mold of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-class, BMW 6-series Gran Coupe, and Audi A7, although considerably cheaper. Overall length will be in the 195-to-200-inch range, placing it in the same full-size category as the Chrysler 300, for example. We expect the venerable 3.6-liter gasoline direct-injected V-6 to be the only engine. A Riviera GNX could be the division's riff on the Cadillac V-series, but it would likely have a turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 instead of a small-block V-8.
The question is which rear-wheel-drive GM platform the Riv would ride on. GM's flexible Alpha architecture already underpins the Cadillac ATS and will support the next Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CTS with its longer-wheelbase iteration. But even in that form, it might be too small. The Chevy SS's Holden Zeta platform is larger, but its long-term future is uncertain. Cadillac's Omega platform for the upcoming S-class fighter makes the most sense. That may sound expensive for a Buick, but the added volume would bring down its per-unit cost, and it would recall top-of-the-line Buicks from the time of the early Roadmaster to the 1963-1977 Riviera, which were only a half notch below Cadillac in prestige.
Buick needs a flagship to solidify its premium-brand credentials, and the name Riviera still has cachet.
The seminal '63-'65 Riviera was a design icon.
Ford's next F-150 faces quite a balancing act. It must maintain supremacy as the nation's best-selling vehicle without diminishing the kind of profit margins that come from cheap-to-produce body-on-frame construction. That's good reason to question rumors that the new F-150, as previewed by the Atlas concept, will be made mostly of aluminum. The hood and maybe the door panels, sure, but whole bodies and frames? Seems unlikely.
We do expect the 2015 F-150 to grab design cues from the Atlas, such as its profile, huge grille, and LED head- and taillamps. A next-generation EcoBoost engine powers the concept, and although Ford won't elaborate on what that means, stop/start technology will be part of the package. The six-speed automatic in the Atlas suggests that Ford won't follow the new Ram with an eight-speed.
Features such as active grille shutters, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist, trailer-backup assist, power-deployable running boards, and an electronic parking brake are more likely. The concept's active wheel shutters and drop-down front chin spoiler wouldn't help a tall vehicle with so much extra space around the tires.
The Atlas concept's 150-inch wheelbase is 5.5 inches longer than the current (and most comparable) short-bed F-150 SuperCrew's and would take advantage of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy "footprint" rule. Even with the longer wheelbase, the concept's overall length and height are similar to today's F-150, although it is even wider than a Raptor. To get a better idea of how the next F-150 will look when it goes on sale about mid-2014, imagine the concept about eight inches narrower.
Ford can't afford to let the F-series franchise grow stale.
Ford MustangThe most certain thing we know about the 2015 Ford Mustang is that it will premiere at the New York auto show on April 16 or 17, 2014. April 17 will be fifty years to the day that the original Mustang made its world debut in that city. That car had a base price of $2368. (How about $23,680 for the base '15 Mustang?)
We're also reasonably certain that the new Mustang will edge away from the current car's heavily retro appearance and possibly look like our spy illustration below. Our sources tell us that the new pony will be slightly smaller and lighter and will come close to retaining the current car's muscularity. Several years ago, Ford separated North American designers who would work on U.S.-focused models such as the Mustang and the F-series from Euro-centric One Ford designers. However, Ford will sell the all-American Mustang in other markets, including Western Europe.
The '15 Mustang will be trim enough that the current Shelby GT500's supercharged 5.8-liter V-8 won't fit. The big engine for low-volume, high-performance 'Stangs is tipped to be a 5.0-liter turbocharged V-8, the "EcoBoost Coyote," with a normally aspirated Coyote for versions like the Boss 302. From there on down, mainstream Mustangs are expected to come with Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, the normally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6, and the EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder. In other applications, those engines make 365 hp, 305 hp, and 240 hp, respectively, so they'll cover a wide variety of Mustang variants, including performance versions. The new Mustang finally gets an independent rear suspension, too. This opens the door for a much-needed rear-wheel-drive Lincoln flagship sedan built on the same platform, although we know of no plans for one yet.
Fifty years after the Mustang's blockbuster debut, expect Ford to set off some fireworks around the 2015 model.