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Bentley Reveals EXP 9 F Luxury SUV

Continental GTC V8 Convertible also debuts in Geneva.

by on Mar.06, 2012

Bentley rolls the EXP 9 F SUV concept into Geneva.

Luxury makers normally dribble out new products from an eyedropper, but Bentley’s got a big year going, as it demonstrated today with the launch of two new offerings at the Geneva Motor Show – notably including the maker’s first-ever sport-utility vehicle.

Technically, the Bentley EXP 9 F is a concept vehicle, but don’t let that fool you.  The British maker’s CEO Wolfgang Durheimer has made it abundantly clear that this project is his top priority and will come to market before the down-market sedan that had been favored by his predecessor.

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And with the apparent support of Bentley’s German parent, Volkswagen AG, it is expected to offer a production version of the EXP 9 F with an assortment of drivetrains that could include the marque’s familiar W12, its new V-8 and even a plug-in hybrid.

That new V8, incidentally, is also playing a starring role in Geneva this year – here under the hood of Bentley’s new GTC convertible.  The 8-banger is a key part of the luxury brand’s bid to drive up its less than stellar fuel economy.

Bentley claims a 40% gain in fuel economy for the GTC with the new V8 compared with the old W-12.

“A Bentley Grand Tourer doesn’t necessarily have to be a coupé, a convertible or a saloon – it could equally well be an SUV. What’s important is that it should be true to Bentley’s brand values and in line with the desires and needs of our customers,” said Bentley’s sales and marketing chief, Alasdair Stewart.

How much a production Bentley SUV would look like the concept remains to be seen – but the EXP 9 F certainly looks like a Bentley, with the British maker’s round headlamps, with the more subtle winged badge flying above the classic upright grille.  The oversized foglamps might be toned down a bit in production – something that seems to happen in a surprising number of concept-to-production transitions.

The split tailgate just might make the transition, however, and the lavishly outfitted interior is clearly aimed to appeal to the sort of buyer who would shell out upwards of $150,000 for a largely hand-fitted SUV rather than something even as mainstream as a Porsche Cayenne.

The Bentley EXP 9 F concept features a 4+1 layout.

One of the more elegant touches is a fold down champagne cooler – complete with glasses, tucked inside the rear armrest.  It can be tucked away to provide an extra seat in the EXP 9 F concept’s 4+1 layout.

That model, incidentally, was developed under the guidance of Durheimer during his previous life as Porsche’s product development chief, so there’s little doubt about his commitment to the new Bentley EXP 9 F.  Nonetheless, the maker says it will be listening closely to public reaction before giving the project the final “go.”

The SUV would be the third distinct product line from Bentley, following the flagship Mulsanne and mid-range Continental.  Key underpinnings are shared with the Continental line, according to Bentley executives.  But Bentley has the advantage of being able to draw on technology borrowed from its Volkswagen Group kin, notably including both Porsche and Audi, which have far more experience with SUVs.

A production Bentley EXP 9 F could be offered with a variety of powertrains - including a new plug-in hybrid.

Barring an unexpectedly poor public reception, few expect the EXP 9 F to be abandoned.  As Porsche proved, there’s a surprising amount of interest in SUVs among luxury buyers and even Lamborghini is reportedly looking to enter the segment.

As for the Bentley GTC, the convertible has been one of the brand’s most popular offerings in recent years and recently underwent the same basic makeover as its coupe cousin.  But the new V-8 could expand its appeal significantly, according to Bentley insiders.  Even the most affluent luxury car buyers apparently are worried about fuel prices, even if they just want to seem green and frugal.

The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 turns out 507 horsepower and 487 lb-ft of torque, so it’s not exactly a slouch, with a 0 to 60 time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 187 mph.  It nonetheless manages to boost the fuel economy of the older V-12 by 40%, Bentley officials claim.  In the British test cycle – which is based on a 5-quart gallon, that means a 25.9 mpg Combined rating.  The U.S. numbers have yet to be certified.

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