If you think the Bentley EXP12 6e concept roadster, which made a surprise appearance at the 2017 Geneva auto show, looks familiar, you’ve been paying attention to Bentley’s comings and goings. The two-seater with the still-to-be-installed soft-top bears more than a passing resemblance to the EXP10 Speed 6 coupe concept Bentley first introduced at the 2015 Geneva show. But the Speed 6, a British racing green design exercise once tipped to go into low-volume production, has reportedly been put on ice. Not surprisingly then, the follow-up effort codenamed EXP12 (EXP11 is the new GT3 race car) was described as a conversation starter by chief exterior designer John Paul Gregory. Which is another way of saying that positive feedback would further support the case to build something close to it.
The 6e designation indicates the type of propulsion system, with the “e” standing for all-electric. At this point, officials claim that it is early days and powertrain details are sketchy at best. This is not quite true as far as the Geneva show star is concerned. The metallic white open-air proposal is in fact a runner, with a relatively small battery pack stowed away behind the seats and boasting two motors at each end, making it all-wheel drive. The real thing, however, could possibly be based on a Bentley-led, top-secret project known for now as the multi-traction platform (MTP), which is being developed to combine the best of all worlds: all-electric, plug-in hybrid, and combustion engine configurations. To do so, MTP is reportedly being engineered around a center tunnel structure with a transverse rear T-section. In the EV setup, this “skateboard” skeleton is filled entirely with energy cells. Sources say Bentley is interested in utilizing a high-power battery pack and three motors (two of them driving the rear wheels) for its EV application. In plug-in hybrid guise (85kW/243 lb-ft), the batteries are designed to live side by side with the propshaft, while the much smaller e-motor slots in between engine and transmission.
The key question is how MTP would fare in the alternative drivetrain competition that co-stars Audi and Porsche as potential partners or opponents. At this point, Porsche’s J1 program (better known as Mission E) is already well underway, while Audi engineers are laying the finishing touches on a C-segment EV to be marketed as e-tron. Trouble is both architectures are in essence nonscalable one-off shots from the hip. True, J1 may soon find second, third, and maybe even fourth homes at Bentley, Lamborghini, and Audi, but what the Volkswagen Group really needs is a pragmatic solution. While Weissach has reportedly edged Ingolstadt as the preferred development lead for a flexible, full-scale EV matrix, parallel activities masterminded in Crewe may still advance the versatile (and more complex) MTP approach, which can kill three birds with one stone.
EXP12 6e could have been a radically non-conformist approach to electromobility a la Nio, Faraday Future, and Techrules. But that wasn’t the case for this project. “The team took a step forward, but it wasn’t a leap,” acknowledges design director Stefan Sielaff. “Visually, the Speed 6e remains faithful to the proven Bentley DNA. We remained true to our roots by making traditional materials more contemporary, consciously avoiding to overload the car with bling. In a world of karaoke-crazy design, there is plenty of room for seamlessness and simplicity. Check out for instance the super-clean cutline management.”
Although the 6e’s footprint is virtually unchanged from the Speed 6, the absence of the coupe roof creates fresh proportions, which are further emphasized by the new rear side panels complete with the must-have haunches, the restyled front bumper incorporating a full-width air intake, the lower roofline (there is no longer an engine to be cleared), and the rear apron without traditional exhaust tailpipes. It’s also capable of inductive charging.
Among the many cross-references to the new Continental GT that is reportedly slated to debut at the 2017 Frankfurt show are its four curved jewel headlamps, the slim oval taillights, the lower and wider mesh grille, the lightweight 21-inch wheels, and the squared-off “horseshoe” trunklid. Not yet ready for production for legal reasons are the camera-operated rear-view mirrors and the backlit full-size No. 6 logo straddled by the Flying B, which is bound to please the diehard Bentley boys. Impressions gathered in the course of the first guided walk around include the massive five-spoke wheels (butch appearance beats aerodynamic efficiency), the beautifully detailed brightwork, deep air extrusion scoops in the hood, and the prominent air breathers in both front wings (more for show than for go). Similar to the very first Corvette, EXP12 also features round cut-outs for the seatbacks on the flush-fitting body-color rear deck. If this were a production vehicle, the cavity between the cabin and the cargo deck would house the batteries.
Inside, this Bentley is an opulent grand tourer trimmed in Olde English white hide, vintage-finish oxblood leather, matching carpets, chrome, and glass. The bucket seats combine tasteful diamond stitching with a generous adjustment range and plenty of lateral support. Brett Boydell, head of interior design, says: “Riding the rising center console that separates driver and passenger is a multifunctional copper-over-silver rotary knob that acts as starter button, gear selector, and drive mode switch. Higher up on the widening divide, you find a combination of easy-to-reach touchpad and curved LED display.”
The EXP12 6e’s conventional analogue speedometer with integrated range meter and a sparkling face made of multifaceted lead crystal is flanked by a rectangular monitor with a wide choice of readouts from phone book over sat nav map to energy flow. Since connectivity is now a big thing even at Bentley, a slim passenger-side black panel can relay all sorts of messages and information, and it also has a mind-reading electronic butler service.
Inspired by the Speed 6, the e-evolution model deserves top marks for its beautifully sculptured lightweight doors lined with wooden panels structured by a pyramid-shaped pattern and small copper dots. Not exactly typical Bentley style is the semi-circular steering-wheel which fuses aircraft and race car elements with the usual modern conveniences. The two copper-tipped boost buttons are a fun novelty item. Press them simultaneously and the propulsion system will release an undisclosed amount of extra torque for an undisclosed number of seconds. “This electric vehicle evokes fresh emotions,” Sielaff claims. “It celebrates contemporary sustainable luxury the Bentley way.”
The Bentley EXP12 6e certainly has what it takes, on paper at least, to become an effortless and cossetting silent grand cruiser. In 2018, we are going to see the Bentayga plug-in hybrid (more plug-ins are in the pipeline), plus at least one fully electric-only powered model sometime after that. All the EXP12 needs to be that EV model is goodwill from Wolfsburg, a platform, and a compelling business case.