The Bentley EXP 9F SUV has been one of the big talking points of Europe’s first major motor show of the year, but the British luxury brand’s head of design, Dirk van Braeckel, says the concept is designed to create a reaction.
“[This concept] is our first hit at [creating a Bentley SUV],” the Belgian designer (pictured below with the concept) told CarAdvice in an exclusive interview. “I’m sure people will like it, [but] people will [also] find it controversial in certain areas. “And that’s a reason why the vehicle has already been a success.
“I wouldn’t say [there's been a] mixed reaction, but I was convinced that certain elements, especially the exterior design, would polarise [opinions]. “But it’s exactly these discussions that will give the right feedback [for developing the production model].
“I think back when we launched Mulsanne, there was polarisation going on about the headlamps as well - why this? why that? - and it creates interest. And when you start explaining the historic link, people appreciated it.
“It [the concept] is a face in the crowd. It is unmistakably a Bentley. It’s not an Audi, it’s not a Ranger Rover.”
The Bentley EXP 9F concept was produced in just eight months, and van Braeckel admits it was a challenge to design an SUV that was in keeping with the Bentley brand.
“Of course we’re working with a new architecture [the VW Touareg platform rather than the underpinnings of the Mulsanne or Continental passenger cars], he says.
“An SUV of this size is built around the package that is the command driving position, sitting high up, panoramic driving views, the upright side glass, and seeing over front of the car so you can see where you’re positioning the car so you feel in control of large vehicle.
“Having said that, it’s up to us designers how we transfer the design cues, or values, of the brand and how we build them into that new [vehicle] environment.
“But we are already working on other ideas, other views … so we’re opening the avenue again to come to a final decision to give us a production car.”
Bentley will take the EXP 9F around the world to gather information and opinions from customer clinics, though the company says the concept is “a clear statement of intent” for production.
Van Braeckel says the company will need to make a decision soon, though, to get the SUV into Bentley showrooms within a couple of years. Bentley believes the SUV market is too strong for it to ignore as it seeks to boost sales volumes beyond its Continental GT, GTC and Flying Spur and Mulsanne car range. It also says current Bentley customers already own SUVs from other brands, such as Range Rover and Audi.
“We know for a fact we have thousands of Bentley owners with SUVs in their stable as well,” says van Braeckel, “and it seems very logical for us that the potential is great to actually lure these customers to be interested in a Bentley SUV.
“And the SUV market worldwide is buoyant and stable, and particularly our growing markets, including China which is now our biggest market. “In other emerging markets like Russia, SUVs are also interesting [for consumers].”
Van Braeckel says the Bentley SUV would be positioned above Range Rover, and a starting price in excess of $300,000 can be expected. The SUV would share its platform with the next-generation Volkswagen Touareg, which will use the VW Group’s new ‘MQB’ flexible modular platform set-up.