Back in July, Bentley confirmed that it will press on with the production of its first SUV having shown the divisive EXP 9 F concept at the Geneva motor show in 2012. Other than adding that the production model will be manufactured in Crewe, which will create some 1,000 jobs, specific details were kept quiet. PH caught up with Bentley engineer Stephen Davis to get the latest on an intriguing and potentially lucrative new project.
We started with the tricky one - how he thought the EXP 9 F concept had been received... "There was a mixed reaction to the styling of the concept car," he says. "Some people thought it was a real bold statement, others weren't so sure. It also got different responses front to rear and interior to exterior. The interior seemed to be unanimously well received and the rear end was received more positively than the front end.
"It was put out there to test the water and to see if an SUV would work at all," he continues. "There's been a lot of evolution of the styling since that early concept. The last images I saw were quite different to the concept, and I personally thought it was a big improvement. You'll still recognise it as being a Bentley, but the front end won't be quite as loud as the concept's."
Some relief there perhaps. Will it really be a properly capable off-roader though, or is that something best left to the Range Rover? "It needs to have an ability off-road," says Davis, "but it doesn't need to be a huge mud-plugger that'll go ploughing through fields. I don't think that's the expectation, but it can't just be a car on stilts. It's got to perform in the environment it looks like it's designed for."
Which is what - a sporting SUV or a luxury one?
"It's got to be at the sporty end of the SUV range, but it can't forsake luxury. It's going to be one of the most powerful SUVs, so we've got to work out how to put that power down properly. It can't be all-out luxury; it's got to be capable in corners as well," we're told.
Moving on to the engine we ask Davis whether there's any update on the 'consideration' expressed towards it featuring the 625hp W12 twin turbo.
"I would expect it to get the W12 engine," he says, simply. "There's a number of powertrains in consideration for it and it might be that it starts with one engine and we add two of three more fairly soon afterwards. The W12 is becoming one of the signatures of Bentley so I'm fairly sure you'll find it under the bonnet."
"Lots of modelling has gone on to work out how it should be priced," says Davis. "I expect you would find it priced above a Range Rover at a premium level to fit with the brand."