We recently sat down with Bart Gerris, Bentley's Regional Director for Europe and Tom Housley, Bentley PR Manager Europe, to get into the depths of Bentley’s upcoming SUV.
autoevolution: What’s the message the Bentley SUV sends out about its owner?
Bart Gerris: I think it’s not typical the SUV, it’s Bentley. Bentley stands for luxury and performance, where luxury is the major part and performance always is connected with that. That is what we want to do, also for an SUV. So we have a coupe, we have two four-door luxury sedans, but this luxury performance, we think, is not there yet. With Bentley presenting an SUV, you will see the first SUV which will show that luxury and performance. That’s what we want.
ae: How about the platform - Will it be underpinned by the current architecture or the future one?
BG: We will use a VW Group platform, yes. It will be the next-generation platform.
BG: In general when we use Volkswagen platforms, that’s the basis, but all the other parts of engineering on suspension, engine or gearbox, axles, everything is Bentley specific. So yes, also the SUV will be very specifically built, with the Bentley engineers and the Bentley support. So it won’t be anything connected with the other brands of the Group, it will be specifically branded and specifically engineered by our guys.
Tom Housley: 80 percent, at least, of the car will be unique to Bentley.
ae: Will you offer multiple engine options? Let’s stick to the petrol engines now and we’ll leave the hybrid talk for later on.
BG: in general we don’t really talk openly about what we are developing, but you can imagine. At this moment, we are investigating multiple engine types. You know what is available within the Group, what we can develop ourselves. Yes, there is a lot of talk, but for now we don’t really openly communicate about this.
BG: It’s not really an issue or a topic when we’re developing an SUV. The SUV is a completely separate entity, which obviously has more 4x4 capabilities than a sedan or a coupe. So we won’t specifically lower the expectations or the possibilities on our 4x4 cars just to improve the position of the SUV. It’s such a different car, it stands on a higher chassis, so it has more ground clearance anyway, so I don’t believe that we’re really making room for the SUV.
TH: I think in the luxury segment there wouldn’t be the opportunity to do that, because our customers expect top-level performance. So, for instance, our engines are not restricted. We quote, for example, 330 km/h (205 mph) for our GT Speed, but you might find your car actually does more than that.
ae: Yes, that’s what we found out while driving Bentleys.
TH: For Bentley it’s very important and in the luxury sector we don’t put limits on things. If we build an SUV we need to do more, it’s not about limiting different products.
ae: Speaking of design, I know that Sang-Yup Lee, the man in charge of penning the project has previously said the styling will be a different venture compared to what we’ve seen on the EXP F9 Concept. Should we expect something like a shooting brake with a higher silhouette, or rather something towards the massive SUV affair?
TH: In the coming months, of course, we’ll communicate more about the details of this car. For now we’re focusing on the Flying Spur ant the new V8S and we have some other things to announced between now and then.
ae: Perhaps it will be in Detroit.
TH: I can tell you it won’t be in Detroit.
ae: Let’s move to the performance area a bit, because you’ve mentioned this from the very beginning. SUVs traditionally pose a challenge when it comes to driving involvement, because of their weight and high driving position. How are you going to cope with this considering that you want the SUV to send out the Bentley spirit.
ae: so what’s your favorite car (TH)?
TH: Me? Personally it would be the GT Speed.
ae: Part of the upper class society avoids driving SUVs these days, perhaps due to the image factor. - These cars bring up the owner’s status too much. For example, Prince Charles of Wales prefers Audi A6 Allroads to SUVs. So there’s this type of customer that doesn’t want the car to brag about his position. How will you deal with this?
BG: We still think there is enough potential. Obviously customers make their decisions, some of them are comfortable with this and some are not, but we are comfortable with the fact that there’s a lot of clientele who’s interested in driving such an SUV, so it’s not really concerning us actually, no.
ae: So it will show the Bentley status all the way?
BG: Yes, it will be a genuine Bentley, that’s for sure.
ae: We may handle cars in our office, but we can also give you different details about our motorcycle editor, Florin Tibu. For example, he weighs about 120-130 KG (265-287 lbs). In the same manner, despite this being an SUV interview, we are curious about the next Continental GT, a different department. We want to know if you have a weight target: below 2 tons, 2 tons (4,000 lbs), 2 tons plus perhaps?
ae: Have you also involved Naim in this? The audio system obviously weighs a lot and they could improve this, if they wanted to.
BG: This was actually a discussion, I know that. The magnet is massive - even that is being discussed, how you can find lower weight.
TH: In our cars you’ve got real materials and luxury materials. For instance you’ve got a seat massager, these functions all enhance the luxury experience and it’s what our customers want and that’s what defines a Bentley - it's a luxury experience, the cabin, but these are the things that add the weight. It’s a balance between meeting the customer demands and what you can do with the weight.
ae: The final question - what do you see as the closest rival?
BG: We really don’t want to be arrogant, but we are launching a car in a segment that’s not there. Actually, there is no segment for us, we are developing our own segment with the Bentley SUV.