Bentley showed the world what an ultra-premium SUV might look like at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. Based upon the mixed reactions, it didn't seem clear if the world was really ready for an ultra-premium SUV – but it's going to get one. Bentley confirmed that it is moving ahead with production of what it says will be "the most powerful SUV in the market. It plans to launch the new model in 2016.
When it introduced the EXP 9 F last year, Bentley said that it would gauge public reaction to decide whether or not to pursue it as a new model. Bentley characterizes the reaction over the past 16 months as "extremely positive," leading it to announce that it will build the SUV as its fourth model line, adding it to the Continental, Mulsanne and Flying Spur. Bentley plans to invest more than £800 million (US$1.2 billion) into its Crewe, UK headquarters and new models, adding 1,000 jobs.
"This is fantastic news for Bentley and for the UK," says Dr. Wolfgang Schreiber, Bentley chairman and chief executive." Bentley is increasingly successful and this new fourth model line will leverage the success of the global SUV market. The support of everyone involved with the Company has been fundamental to this decision, which will ensure sustainable growth for the company.”
Bentley has not yet detailed the SUV's specs or how closely it will resemble the EXP 9 F, limiting itself to generalities like "a thoroughbred Bentley true to the brand hallmarks of luxury, performance, quality and craftsmanship." It says that the SUV will be the most luxurious and powerful on the road when it debuts. That may be true, but Bentley isn't the only exotic manufacturer preparing for entry into the new "Super SUV" market.
As constructed for last year's Geneva show, the all-wheel-drive EXP 9 F was powered by Bentley's 6.0-liter W12 engine. The company also mentioned that it could use the newer V8 engine or even a hybrid system.
Bentley's job in designing the concept was part raising the bar for SUVs to its own high, ultra-premium standards and part repackaging Crewe DNA into a large, rugged utility vehicle. It built signature cues like its matrix grille, round lamps and muscular haunches into a bigger, blockier form. It showed what could separate the experience of driving a Bentley SUV from a regular luxury SUV with amenities such as reclining rear seats with powered footrests, a rear champagne cooler and drinks table, and a split tailgate with built-in picnic baskets and awning.
The rough sketch that accompanies this week's announcement suggests some styling revisions, including a more raked windshield and swept back cabin. While the sketch stops short of the front end, it appears that the front might be a little more curved, a la the Continental GT, compared to the EXP 9 F's drastically flat face. Outside of that, we're left waiting to see how far the styling evolves. You can compare the sketch further to the original EXP 9 F in our gallery.