It should come as no surprise that Bentley is still laboring at a luxury SUV project of its own, but the automaker announced today that the new SUV – once rumored to be named the Bentley Falcon – will go on sale in time for the 2016 model year.
UPDATE, 7/23, 5 PM EST: Bentley officials hold true to their 2016 timetable, but insist the SUV will not be named Falcon.
The news comes as part of Bentley’s announcement that corporate parent Volkswagen AG will invest over $1.2 billion into both updating the luxury brand’s manufacturing base in Crewe, England, and developing three new models. The Bentley SUV is one of those three models, and will be built alongside the Mulsanne and Continental ranges at Crewe. That seems like a given, but reports suggest Volkswagen’s plant in Bratislava, Slovakia – the same factory that builds the Touareg and Audi Q7 – was also once under consideration.
Bentley isn’t disclosing much else about the SUV on the record, saying only the SUV “will be a thoroughbred Bentley” with styling that will “set it apart from any other SUV on the road.” Thanks to the legwork of Automobile's European bureau chief Georg Kacher, we know quite a bit about the Bentley SUV.
Although its architecture is derived from the next-generation Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne SUVs, its long-wheelbase platform – codenamed PL73 – is shared only with the next Audi Q7, along with a new coupe-like Q8 crossover.
The Bentley EXP 9 F concept, unveiled at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, was intended to serve as a thinly-veiled preview of the production Falcon SUV, but negative public and critical reaction to the concept’s exterior styling allegedly forced Bentley back to the drawing board.
“I don’t think you should worry about the front of the car or any other design details,” Bentley designer Darren Day told us in April of last year. “I know that, once we go into production, this car will be a fabulous vehicle. We will listen to our customers and to the media and the design will be inherently Bentley.”
Apparently, customers told Bentley the SUV needed little reshaping. Despite former VW design director Luc Donckerwolke moving to Bentley design and the SUV project, Kacher’s latest report indicates a mild redesign was so well received at a customer clinic session, an attempt at a complete redesign was nixed. The line drawing teaser image issued today looks much like the EXP 9 F, albeit with a little more curvature to the D-pillars.
Power is expected to come from one of two engine choices. A 540-hp V-8 – likely derived from the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 used in the Continental GT/GTC V8 models – will likely serve as the base engine, while the monstrous 600-hp twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W-12 shown in the concept will be offered as an uplevel option. Although Rolf Frech, Bentley’s chief engineer, once told us the firm was working on diesel and plug-in hybrid options, Kacher’s latest report indicates both powertrains appear to be shelved for the time being.
Pricing and volumes for the Bentley SUV yet to be announced, but former Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer was rather enthusiastic about the Falcon SUV’s potential. Durheimer implicated the model could “attract at least 5000 buyers a year” and that Bentley could sell as many as 20,000 examples in the U.S. alone, all of them to “current Bentley owners with an SUV in the garage.”
In March, Bentley CEO Wolfgang Schreiber indicated the firm had already received 2000 pre-orders for the Bentley SUV, so we wouldn’t be surprised if Bentley’s leaders remain bullish about the Falcon’s future.