Bentley is preparing to build a 4x4 SUV, the new CEO Wolfgang Durheimer confirmed tonight. Speaking at a select dinner in Crewe, the Bentley boss said the luxury car maker would build a crossover SUV as a priority.
But in a revealing address, Durheimer also spelled out plans for diesel Bentleys, hybrid Bentleys and a return to the race track for Britain's famous luxury car marque.
Bentley SUV: project BY736
CAR understands the Bentley 4x4 already has a codename: BY736. It will be related to the modular architecture of the next-generation Audi Q7/VW Touareg/Porsche Cayenne - a lightweight matrix, which is designed to trim 200-400kg from the bulk of today's SUV.
Durheimer confirmed that future Bentleys would feature both diesel and hybrid technologies. We'd say the new Bentley 4x4 would be as good a place as any to start the new powertrain innovation.
Durheimer on Bentley's SUV
'I am a believer of SUVs in different markets,' said Durheimer, who was previously Porsche's R&D director who worked on the launch of the Cayenne. 'If Bentley were able to sell an SUV with the same level of craftsmanship as a Continental or Mulsanne, we could have an interesting success on our hands.
'I believe our version of the Cayenne could become our biggest selling vehicle... With an SUV, Porsche doubled in size.'
Durheimer is still working on the business case, but go-ahead is likely from Wolfsburg in 2011. He said from conception to launch would take around three years.
Although he refused to rule out a precise sales target with a big-selling SUV added to the range, he admitted the Volkswagen group wanted to push Bentley sales beyond its existing, pre-recession record of 10,000 a year. He even claimed that 30,000 Bentleys a year wouldn't devalue the brand.
What will the Bentley 4x4 look like?
Thanks to the aluminium spaceframe construction, Bentley's SUV can look quite different to its mainland European brethren. A five-door shooting brake is how insiders describe the 4x4 - a luxurious yet sporty four- or five-seater which features all available mod cons from air suspension to a complete set of driver assistance systems.
The Bentley crossover will be priced higher than the Cayenne or Range Rover. Project BY736 will be a coupe-like soft-roader will be much better at scoring street cred points than at making room for a third row of seats. Imagine our artist's impression with a dash more sporting style, and you're not far off.
The engineering story
Engineers at the VW group confirm the proposed Bentley 4x4 would be based around the MLB Evo matrix. The latest group architecture is so efficient, it would share around 60-75% of its parts with partner off-roaders by VW, Porsche and Audi.
Fixed points include the wheel diameter, the suspension geometry complete with steering assembly and brake system, the crash performance (front/rear/side) complete with airbags and seatbelts, the electronic platform and the drivetrains. Variables within a given bracket are wheelbase, height, length, width, track, overhangs and the exterior/interior design.
What will power Bentley's SUV crossover?
CAR understands a plug-in hybrid assembly will be available, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 borrowed from the 2012 Conti GT looks like the logical base unit for BY736.
Diesel is a dead cert. Durheimer admitted the biofuel experiment by Bentley had been a mistake, although an interesting detour. No further E85 development will take place, the company instead investing in the group's diesel and hybrid tech.
Although a more highly tuned 375bhp edition of the 4.2-litre V8 TDI should offer plenty of go and grunt, an EU6-rated V12 TDI would be a more natural fit for Bentley, which is becoming the VW group's centre of excellence for 12-cylinder engines, Durheimer revealed. The uprated direct-injection twin-turbo W12 is also there for the taking, although it would have little appeal in Europe.