March 12, 2012

Bentley EXP 9 F takes the SUV ultra-premium (VIDEO | 21 PICS)

Whispers about a Bentley SUV - some of them coming directly from Bentley chief Wolfgang Duerheimer - have been floating around for ages. At this week's Geneva Motor Show, Bentley finally puts a face to the rumors. Its EXP 9 F may or may not lead to an eventual production SUV, but it gives the world a look at what a utilitarian Bentley could look like.

There are plenty of luxury SUVs on the market. Every likely suspect (Land Rover, Audi, BMW, etc.) and some not so likely suspects (Porsche) offers one. But a Bentley SUV would be the first ultra-premium SUV. Such a model would be the "Bentley of SUVs," both literally and figuratively.

Bentley envisions the EXP 9 F as a new take on a Bentley grand tourer, a vehicle that is comfortable transitioning from an opera gala to an expedition over sand dunes to the fast lane on the highway. The concept gets customary Bentley power in the form of the Continental's 600-bhp 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 engine, but the automaker leaves open the possibility of offering its new 4.0-liter V-8 option or a hybrid system.

The EXP 9 F is a lesson in repurposing design language in a new application. The model is distinctly Bentley thanks to its bold, round headlights and mesh grille shared with current Continental and Mulsanne models. But it's more than just a larger, AWD Continental thanks to the squarer, more upright lines throughout. It definitely has the look of an SUV dressed in fancy Bentley clothes.

In designing the concept, Bentley used inspiration from history and other manufacturing disciplines. The "F" stands for falcon, a bird of prey that underpins the car's power and speed. The wheels were inspired by turbines, with the multiple spokes similar to blades. Bentley says that the wheel nuts reference Bentley Le Mans racers of the 1920s as well as the modern-day Speed 8. The taillights take inspiration from jet fighter engines.

While the outside certainly has the Bentley look, it's the inside that really separates the EXP 9 F from more pedestrian luxury SUVs. The interior is defined by top-end elements like soft-touch leather; reversible, silk-wool/saddle-leather floor mats; wood veneers; and polished aluminum and bronze. The rear of the cabin is equipped for both work and play, featuring fold-down keyboards and Internet connectivity for the former, and seats with reclining footrests and an infotainment screen for the latter. Underneath the rear armrest, passengers can keep their drinks chilled in an integrated cooler.

The driver is connected to the monstrous W-12 by way of three driving modes: Comfort, Off-Road and Sport. A TFT display provides 3D navigation information front and center, while functions like cabin temperature and entertainment are shared between driver and passenger via a touchscreen mounted on the center console.

Out back, the lower section of the two-piece tailgate serves as both table and bench. If you're using it as a table, you can set it with utensils from the integrated picnic baskets on either side of the hatch. An awning protects you from the sun's rays, while two umbrella holders allow you to enjoy your picnic in the rain.

Bentley has not yet committed to building an SUV. It says that it will analyze the reaction of potential buyers and the public at large beginning at the Geneva Motor Show. It will use this reaction in formulating a decision on whether to make the SUV the third model line. Duerheimer has said that the decision should come by the end of 2012.

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