The Bentley SUV Needs a Makeover!

Bentley has jumped into action for Geneva, bringing not only a couple of V8-powered models, the new GT coupe and GTC convertible, and a special version of the Mulsanne luxury saloon. But what people really wanted to see was something called the EXP 9 F, a concept that’s supposed to show what the future of luxury SUVs will look like. And we’re not talking Acura luxury her, but the full wine bar and champagne glasses in an off-roader platform.
If you think that’s a new idea they came up with, we’re sorry to disappoint you: the Range Rover, Mercedes C-Class and a whole bunch of other off-roaders built by Germans have already been converted to cary anything from million dollar hunting rifles to a fully stocked bar in the back. But obviously the US and Chinese market would gobble up the Bentley SUV like its a fast food hamburger roast beef duck noodle kung pao chicken mix!

Obviously, Bentley does it’s own thing in reality, but when the hot money comes from Volkswagen, thing have to be done in the boring German way. So the business case was built first and then they moved to the concept. But somehow the car that was supposed to sell itself ended up becoming one of, if not the, ugliest things on the Geneva Show floor. It’s something that most people agree is so ugly that it should not be built. So what happened?

Well, one of the issues comes from combining a case study with real life. The EXP 9 F concept was built with feat that it would be detrimental to the Bentley brand, since obviously it’s something people call a “dilution of the core values”. And so they fitted the lights from a Mulsanne, a grille that’s supposed to remind us of the blower Bentleys and other such old-school historic pieces.

It’s even got a set of ultra-expensive cutlery in the back. Really? You put forks and plates in the back of an SUV that rappers and Chinese upstarts are supposed to buy. Is Kanye West known for doing picnics on the tailgate of his car or something?

I know that people will hate for this but I’m going to suggest that Bentleys should be aimed as these sort of customers intentionally. I’t easy to thing that they should only make luxury saloons for the respectable, elderly customer because that sort of person is easier to like than the rapper with a gold chain. But let’s not forget that Bentley’s early days are filled with 20-something year olds racing their cars on public roads. And if anything, making another really heavy barge with no sporty feel is even further deviating from the core Bentley values in my opinion.

Let me talk pure design language for a second here, and please focus on the live photos we got from Geneva so we’re on the same page. The million spoke wheel and the strange mesh on the grille are a bit of an eyesore for me. They make the car look like a mess of small edges boxed in with large curves. You could never say that this car is inspired by the stance of a tiger or the curves of a woman as such.

I thing they came up with the design in an effort to be more retro with a car they know some people don’t want them to build. But this is a mistake, and I’ll give you a couple of very different examples where automakers have stuck to the past for too long and it has cost them. First off, the Mercedes E-Class: I get excited every time I look at a taxi based on the old W211, which looks like it’s got muscles. The double headlights have always been the E-Class’ thing, and they had to make little squares to keep the design, which basically does nothing for it except to make it look like a Chinese car.

The second example is the MINI Cooper, the regular hatch, which became quite ugly when they raised the bonnet to meet safety regulations. As a result, I’d rather have one old Cooper S from 2003 than a hundred new ones. What would have happened if they created a new design? Well, the Countryman is a perfect example - still a MINI, a huge commercial success (will probably outsell everything else they make this year) and in my opinion quite a good looking thing.

Bentley, you have been warned: don’t make the SUV a retro monster. Just make something like the Porsche Cayenne, not a boxy Toyota lookalike!

I know that Bentley Chairman Wolfgang Durheimer has got some very good experience with criticism. About ten years ago, he was taking flack for the Porsche Cayenne, and with the power of hindsight I can tell you he was right. The wold could live with the Bentley SUV as it is and they could sell well, but there’s time to create something magnificent and jaw-dropping instead of a simple billboard for some people’s opulence, which this clearly is.

Don’t get me wrong, Durheimer is like a god when it comes to luxury research and development, but even he is human, and he probably know the SUV needs to sell well for them to have money to pump into a new Continental.

Every millionaire on the planet wants an SUV that relatively big, supecar-fast and insanely well equipped. Bentley needs to sell it’s own, but the design needs to be spot on, because Durheimer’s previous work is already its biggest rival.

If I’m permitted to make fun of really expensive concept from the keyboard of my computer, I’d say it looks exactly like Sid the sloth from Ice Age. The ‘eyes’ are too far apart and the grille looks like a big nose. I haven’t built a million-dollar business case and invested heavily into research and development, and I have not asked any Russian or Middle Eastern millionaires what they thing. But the SUV is their chance to make Bentley truly global, and I think you’ll agree that styling from the 60s won’t work in 2015.
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About the author: Mihnea Radu
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Mihnea's favorite cars have already been built, the so-called modern classics from the '80s and '90s. He also loves local car culture from all over the world, so don't be surprised to see him getting excited about weird Japanese imports, low-rider VWs out of Germany, replicas from Russia or LS swaps down in Florida.
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