We've been hearing about a Bentley SUV for what seems like forever now. The project has reportedly been on and off again for years. But recently Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer finally confirmed it was go time for a concept, and started dropping hints about what to expect, culminating in the Bentley EXP 9 F Concept rolling onto the big stage for the first time at the 2012 Geneva auto show.
One of the areas Durheimer hinted at was the new super SUV's potential powertrain options. Initial speculation centered on a turbodiesel V-12, followed by rumors of the new 6.3-liter W-12 found in the 2012 Audi A8L. Although Durheimer was coy about down-and-dirty details, he did confirm a 12-cylinder would be used as the main engine. Fittingly, the EXP 9 F uses a 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 good for about 600 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque paired to an eight-speed automatic. Bentley says other powertrain options remain under consideration for the production model, including the just-launched 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 and a diesel. Durheimer has also confirmed that the coming production version if built (the model still needs VW Group approval) of the SUV would be available with the brand's first-ever vehicle plug-in hybrid powertrain, the details of which are still under wraps.
Another clue Durheimer revealed was that the SUV "will contain all the necessary items a Bentley has." We wouldn't expect anything less. Bentley styling cues are splayed all over the EXP 9 F's sheetmetal, with razor-sharp side character lines flowing from the top of the headlights to the muscular rear wheel wells.
The front end starts with Bentley's signature matrix grille. Look closer, however, and you'll see that the daytime running lights double as intakes for the big W-12's intercooler. Inspired by the "visual engineering" found in the famous Blower Bentleys, the lights outline a mesh-covered turbine fan design. The turbine theme carries over to the massive 23-inch alloys, which are a nod to the historic Bentley LeMans racers from the 1920s as well as the more modern Speed 8's high-tech racing alloys.
At the rear, unique rectangular taillights are designed to mimic the glow of a fighter jet's exhaust. They sit on the bottom section of the EXP 9 F's split tailgate, which doubles as a bench or a picnic table equipped with all the fixings needed for a fancy feast alfresco. Plates, silverware, and cocktail glasses are packed in bespoke picnic hampers that fit neatly into the cargo area. There's also space for a pair of umbrellas, and Bentley has even included an awning that extends over the tailgate.
In true Bentley fashion, the interior is spectacular. The usual handcrafted appointments are found throughout, including the wood trim decorating the dash, center console, steering wheel and door panels. These bits of lumber are separated by polished metal trim that also provides an element of contrast. Top-shelf leather seats wear the signature Crewe diamond-quilted design. Given that the SUV could theoretically go off-road, its floormats are a clever touch. They're silk on top, but flip them over and you have a set of ribbed saddle leather mats.
As for tech bits, a touch screen deploys from the metal trim on the dash and affixes itself atop the glass surface of the center console, just above the dials. On-road, the screen displays 3D navigation, but once off-road (three driving modes include Comfort, Sport, Off-Road), the screen switches to a "sump cam" that shows all the nooks and crannies ahead when the estate's back roads get bumpy.
Of course, the rear passengers are also treated to high-tech bits and sumptuous luxury touches. In "business mode," a fold-down keyboard reveals an iPad or other tablet. When pleasure is preferred, rear passengers can recline and relish a powered footrest, drinks table, and movies played on an infotainment screen. Champagne bottles and glasses will stay chilled thanks to a cooled compartment in the rear armrest. Should rear passengers choose to enjoy scenery over infotainment, they can see the sky via the sweeping panoramic sunroof. As expected in a Bentley, legroom is vast.
As for the EXP 9 F's underpinnings, Durheimer had previously spilled some of the beans on the Flying B SUV's architecture, saying that it would not use an all-new platform. No doubt it borrows elements from the VW Group's large SUV architecture that underpins vehicles like the Q7 and Cayenne, and any production model would no doubt do the same.
We're betting the EXP 9 F is pretty close to what we'll see from the upcoming production model if it indeed gets the go ahead, and given that Bentley's top markets are America and China (in the latter, SUV sales increased by 25 percent last year), odds are Bentley will sell every one it can make at whatever the price, which will no doubt reach well into the $150,000-plus bracket.