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British high-end luxury brand Bentley has unveiled the Bentley EXP 9F concept on the eve of the 2012 Geneva motor show, previewing an all-new SUV.

The Bentley EXP 9F is the Volkswagen-owned company’s latest experimental model, though while Bentley says it will monitor public reaction it’s understood the decision has already been taken to build the luxury soft-roader within the next few years.

The EXP 9F, which would adopt a proper name for production, would become the third model range in Bentley’s line-up, joining the Mulsanne limo and Continental coupe and convertible.

The Bentley EXP 9F is powered by the 6.0-litre bi-turbo 12-cylinder engine with eight-speed auto from other Bentleys, and the company says it could develop as much as 447kW and 800Nm in the all-wheel-drive SUV.

Bentley doesn’t provide any specific performance figures but claims the EXP 9F production model would achieve benchmarks for top speed and the 0-100km/h sprint.

The company’s recently released 4.0-litre V8 would also be under consideration as an alternative powertrain for the SUV, along with a hybrid drivetrain.

The inevitably opulent cabin combines a rich – literally – mix of materials, such as wood, including the one-piece wood veneer main dash section, leather and polished metals such as aluminium, bronze and gunmetal.

The leather upholstery features a diamond-quilted design and the floor mats are reversible – silk wool on one side and a more durable ribbed saddle leather on the other. A panoramic glass roof allows plenty of light to filter into the cabin.

Bentley says it wanted the EXP 9F’s interior to combine luxury and practicality, and at the rear a split tailgate design features a lower section that can be used as a bench or picnic table. To emphasise the latter, two picnic hampers are incorporated into the sides of the boot and slide out to face the tailgate bench.

“We know that many Bentley customers already own SUVs, admiring their style, luxury, performance and versatility,” said Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer. “With EXP 9 F, Bentley is making a clear statement of intent that we have both the expertise and desire to meet and exceed their expectations.”

Durheimer, who has previously made reference to a future Bentley SUV, has indicated to media that the model is likely to cost in excess of $200,000 as the company pitches it above luxury SUVs such as the Range Rover and Porsche Cayenne Turbo S.

If the prospect of a Bentley SUV wasn’t controversial enough, the styling – which we saw in the flesh at a VW Group pre-show event – is certainly going to be polarising, even if the ‘matrix’ grille and round headlights form a package of design cues that clearly mark it out as a Bentley.

VW Group sister company Lamborghini is unveiling its new SUV at the Beijing motor show in April, while Maserati has also shown its Kubang that will take the Italian sports car maker into rare SUV territory. Jaguar has also indicated in recent times that it is exploring the possibility of building an SUV – or at least a crossover-style vehicle that doesn’t clash with products from sister company Land Rover.

Bentley will be hoping the production version of the EXP 9F can help it surpass its current annual sales record – more than 10,000 in 2007.

 




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