When W.O. Bentley founded Bentley Motors in 1919, it’s hardly possible that he knew the brand he created would survive to celebrate its centenary. Yet, here we are in Crewe—Bentley’s home since the 1930s—where the storied automaker showed us its 100th birthday present to itself, the Bentley EXP 100 GT concept. Following in Bentley tradition, the car’s EXP prefix designates it as an experimental development model, and its long-wheelbase, grand-touring focus is what Bentley has always done best. Symbolic links to the past aside, this Bentley concept is aimed squarely at the future with an electric powertrain and fully autonomous driving capability that the firm says represents the future of luxury mobility.
Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark debuted the concept in a stylish space on Bentley’s Crewe campus to a crowd of jet-lagged journalists, announcing the car on stage with a proclamation that the car is “designed to enhance and enrich every single journey.” While its self-driven journey onto the stage at the critical moment didn’t quite go as planned—Bentley isn’t the first automaker to have difficulties with concept debuts and it certainly won’t be the last—after several minutes, it did roll out under its own electric power and without a soul aboard while Bentley design director Stefan Sielaff touted its virtues, calling it “the greatest concept car that I or my team have ever delivered.”
Designed as a self-driving car for the year 2035 while still capable of allowing an ambitious passenger to take the wheel for pleasure, the EXP 100 GT’s construction is primarily aluminum and carbon fiber, helping to keep weight to a manageable level on a car that is positively huge—and looks it. Measuring in at a staggering 19 feet long and nearly eight feet wide, the vehicle’s sheer size had the room abuzz. Suffice it to say, U-turns in congested cities would best be left to autonomous mode. Even the car’s two doors, which open scissor-style via electric power, measure in at 6.5 feet long and stand an imposing 10 feet tall when open. The light-up front grille is similarly massive, but necessary, Bentley says, to cool the underfloor battery pack and four electric motors, which produce a combined 1106 lb-ft of torque, enough to get the EXP 100 GT from to 60 mph from a standstill in less than 2.5 seconds and to its top speed of 186 mph.
In addition to its strong performance, the concept is said to have an impressive range of some 435 miles thanks to advanced batteries that Bentley boasts have five times the energy of similarly sized conventional cells, while also being able to be recharged to 80 percent of capacity in just 15 minutes. The more potent battery pack also allows for lighter weight through physically smaller batteries. All in all, Bentley says EXP 100 GT weighs in at 4,188 pounds, which given the gargantuan dimensions is remarkable.
The concept’s cabin was set up to accommodate three people, with one in a chaise-style lounge, but is said to have configurable seating options based on needs and whether it is being driven manually or autonomously. More than that, an artificial-intelligence computer dubbed Bentley Personal Assistant will anticipate passenger needs (lighted Cumbria crystal elements in both the front and rear cabins allow control of the system via various hand gestures) and combines with Adaptable Biometric Seating to automatically change seating position and support, along with interior temperature and ambient lighting. The systems are also capable of tracking eye and hand movement and blood pressure. Copper and aluminum rotary switches are said to recall W.O. Bentley’s use of the materials in his WWI aircraft engine designs, while more traditional Bentley elements of wood, leather, and wool are all present and accounted for, including copper-infused riverwood from trees that have fallen naturally. OLED displays are found in the doors and on the dash and allow entertainment to be used when EXP 100 GT is driving itself autonomously.
The EXP 100 GT has five different modes in which it can operate, each tuned to the benefit of both driver (should there be one) and passengers. Enhance mode brings light, sound, and smells from the outside into the cabin while setting the car’s glass roof to transparent; Cocoon mode turns the roof opaque and purifies the air entering the cabin; Capture and Re-Live modes record and play back previous driving experiences; while Custom mode combines elements from the previous four modes at the user’s choice. If that’s not forward-thinking enough for you, Active Aero Wheels and Intelligent Tires adjust themselves for road conditions. The future, indeed.
Certainly, it’s best to think of this concept not as an even remotely ready-to-build vehicle, but simply as an exploration of design and ideas of functionality that will shape Bentley’s road ahead while allowing influence from the brand’s rich heritage. Should such a car be production ready in 16 years as the concept was built to symbolize, the future of luxury mobility will have well and truly arrived.