Bentley's board is plotting a four-door coupe to take on BMW’s M6 Gran Coupe and Merc’s CLS63 AMG, as it considers a car beneath the Continental GT. The new baby Bentley is on the cards following a seismic board meeting earlier in 2013, where chairman Wolfgang Schreiber and his team assembled to discuss the expanded Bentley range out to 2020, and the platform that will underpin it.
An SUV – previewed at the 2012 Geneva motor show – is confirmed in for 2015, as are the new Mulsanne and the third-generation Continental GT family. But the shock news is the exploration of a new baby Bentley for 2018, either as a standalone model or part of the Conti range.
The four-door coupe would be similar in size to the 4.8m-long Continental GT. This baby Bentley is being pitched as a sporty, dynamic model, and Crewe’s biggest volume car with 5000-6000 deliveries a year. Expect a price in the €125k to €150k bracket, and potentially V6 and diesel engines. A Porsche architecture will underpin it, though the car will get its own sheet metal and interior.
Bentley's new backbone
Choosing the underpinnings was the critical decision taken by the Bentley board on 30 January. They mulled over two options: the D5 platform masterminded by Audi, and an MSB architecture conceived by Porsche. D5 is the aluminium spaceframe bound for the next A8 saloon/A9 coupe; MSB stands for modular rear-drive matrix arriving in 2015 with the Porsche Panamera II.
While the Audi platform is light, plus hybrid and W12/V8 diesel compatible, the D5 platform lost to MSB. ‘For the Continental range of cars, D5 would have probably done the job almost as well,’ explains a high-ranking Bentley official. ‘But we were looking at the big picture, for 2020 and beyond, when the brand will need a more flexible platform to underpin a Mulsanne successor. And it allows us to keep dreaming about a small Bentley. By small I mean sub-5 metres, but only just!’
Unlike D5, MSB offers a highly flexible choice of materials. Though aluminium-intensive, it can incorporate high-strength steel, various composites and other exotic lightweights. The designers love it, because it allows them to pull the front axle forward by well over 100mm, unlocking great proportions.
Engines will be mounted in a front/mid-engined position. Bentley and Audi will continue to develop the W12, but Porsche is in charge of the next-generation V engines. The grapevine predicts a new 3.0-litre V6 and a related 4.0-litre V8, but with brand-specific differentiation on performance, turbo technology and cylinder deactivation.
Like the designers, the engineers also appreciate MSB, for giving them a choice of rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. Says our source: ‘Unlike quattro which started life as front-wheel drive, MSB offers a more sophisticated AWD arrangement. It requires a second propshaft, a heavily modified sump and an integrated differential. The cost penalty, however, is marginal, and there is virtually no difference in weight compared to the D5 application.’
Not only is the platform lighter – MSB could shave the Continental GT’s weight by almost 450kg – but this versatile base could support three of the four Bentleys: the Mulsanne/Azure/Brooklands; Conti GT III; and of course the baby Bentley.
As for engines, MSB can accommodate anything from a humble fourpot to the mighty W12, all mounted north-south. Not that Bentley will be employing four cylinders: the Continental GT and Flying Spur will remain V8/W12 and four-wheel drive, though future high-performance Supersport models might go rear-drive.
New SUV, and Mulsanne
Five days after the platform decision, the Bentley boys signed off the all-new exterior design of the SUV, pushed through after the concept car’s terrible reception. This 2015 model is the odd one out in the platform strategy: it’ll be underpinned by the ‘MLB-evo’ platform destined for Audi’s Q7 Mk2. Bentley expects to shift 3000 to 4000 4x4s a year; petrol engines will be the only game in town.
Furthest away is the Mulsanne flagship limo, due in 2020. Known internally as BY841, it’ll become more expensive and upmarket, to compete with Rolls’s Phantom head-on. The charismatic but antiquated 6.75-litre V8 will be phased out, as the Mulsanne switches to 4WD and a W12 engine.
That’s not the only significant drivetrain switch: Bentley expects to have a V8-electric hybrid Flying Spur ready in about 2015. A lack of demand has put a diesel Flying Spur on ice, though that engine is possible for the baby Bentley coupe. That car and the SUV should double Bentley’s sales, from 8510 last year. Bold thinking from Crewe, and proof that the brand is determined to go places – and fast.