By Design: Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 Concept
While regarding the new Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 coupe concept in Geneva earlier this year, "it looks heavy," I said to Luc Donckerwolke, Bentley's design director, hastening to add "and that's a good thing." After all, Walter Owen Bentley's entire engineering background was established by 19th-century railroad technology, and given the relatively unsophisticated metallurgy of the time, his practice of making things big and strong so they wouldn't break was a sound strategy that paid off in multiple Le Mans wins in the '20s. That was effective in solidifying Bentley's reputation for the next 73 years until it won Le Mans again in 2003, albeit with a thinly disguised Audi racer. I wouldn't want to see a Bentley with the delicate grace of a Bugatti or the minimalist fragility of a Lotus, nor would the faithful clientele Bentley retained through two changes of company ownership.
"Yes, we had to add a little mass here and there," Donckerwolke acknowledged, proving that this very good Belgian designer—whose background includes leadership roles at Škoda, Audi, Lamborghini, Seat, and Volkswagen in the past couple of decades—has a proper appreciation of his present marque's real heritage. He also has the sensibility to evolve the Bentley look back toward true British sportiness, which was completely lost in the VW Phaeton-derived W-12 coupes and sedans that were entirely too Germanic. In size, the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 is comparable to other luxury GT models such as Porsche's current "fat" 911s and the Mercedes-AMG GT. These cars are really too well-padded and lavishly trimmed to be considered sports cars, despite the prodigious horsepower they possess. At least this Bentley and the AMG make no pretense of having a "plus two" capability, and they are better for that, close in spirit to early Ferrari coupes.
SangYup Lee, the Korean-born head of exterior and advanced design at Bentley, has obviously weighed all the expectations of wealthy buyers of luxury GTs and balanced those with design elements that have become traditional for the Rolls-Royce-era Bentleys. That there hasn't been a two-seat Bentley in decades is irrelevant. It's an idea whose time as come, and it is very well expressed here. This is not a finished design. Putting baggage in the back only through a lift-up backlight is obviously not going to play with future owners— production hasn't been announced, but only a fool would believe that this car won't soon hit the market. These owners are likely to go Grand Touring with substantial amounts of (no doubt bespoke) luggage. I see this concept as a beautifully executed 3-D sketch of a car that will be important to Bentley's future, one that should and will receive a thorough polishing. The designers all hope that the oft-heard "don't change a thing" will be ignored by management so they can refine and perfect their ideas. We hope that, too. The Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 concept is too good not to merit being made even better.
1. The use of hard lines in surfaces is typical of Luc Donckerwolke's personal style, as seen in current Seats. The rear fender profile works well with the wheel opening.
2. I suppose that the curve at the lower rear portion of the quarter window keeps it from being a straight crib of BMW's Hofmeister profile, but it's very close.
3. The slightly depressed center section of the roof is very apparent in this view, where you can see the hard upper edge of the transitional surface.
4. The front fender profile's hard edge is interesting in that it tucks under from the wheel center aft, fading at the back edge of the door. Crisp and hard to make.
5. Although you don't easily perceive it, there is a sharp, hard edge across the main headlamp that continues in the metal and in the smaller outer headlamp before fading away. Very subtle and very nice.
6. Again, a hard edge to the fender profile drops to the transverse hood surface, itself punctuated by a further depression and a central rib.
7. The grille simply seems too big on the show car. Its upper edge is about as low as it can go for pedestrian safety, but the bottom line could easily be a little higher.
8. Painting the model number on the radiator itself recalls common practice 90 years ago, a nod to the Bentley's distinguished past as a racing touring car.
9. This little spear, cantilevered from the outer molding section, is a decorative element that calls attention to the air inlet for brake cooling.
10. After the disaster of the huge holes in the front of the Bentley SUV concept four years ago, the composition of two very differently dimensioned lamps respects tradition in a new way.
11. Yet another hard edge, this time justified by the engine-compartment hot air outlet in the front fender, which then follows the rising door cut. Classical and elegant, one of the best features of the Speed 6.
12. Double-spoke wheels are huge and look appropriately strong. The rear tires are wider, as befits a rear-wheel-drive sports machine.
13. This engine-compartment outlet vent is functional and attractive.
14. More hard lines in the surfaces, one above the side window, the other in the roof panel.
15. The rear fender profile line runs all the way across the rear, creating a spoiler lip.
16. The outer rooftop crease flows toward the rear spoiler lip where it fades, with the rear window inset from the nominal surface.
17. Oval lamps are set out from the concave surface that traverses the tail of the car, itself marked by an indent between the lamps.
18. No imitation racing diffuser here, just a rising surface with a central rib joining the bulging pods housing the exhaust outlets.
19. Beautiful oval outlets are carefully integrated into the corner pod shapes.
20. Once again, a hard line fades as it reaches another hard-line feature, here the rear wheelhouse opening.
21. Over the top? Yes, but it's rather magnificent, all these bas-relief pyramids machined from a single piece of wood, with metal squares affixed to each summit.
22. The double-cowl effect in the cockpit recalls an infinity of British sports cars as well as the first Corvettes, which of course had the same inspiration.
23. Bentley's trademark lozenge seating pattern is repeated here in sculpted, thin, but supremely comfortable sport seats.
24. Knurled thumbwheels abound for various adjustments. There's even one on the transmission shift lever. They look and feel good, and they work beautifully.
25. Interior design chief Brett Boydell paid close attention to every part of the interior, including these elegantly detailed pedals.