► Bentley's centenary gift to itself
► All-electric, autonomous GT concept
► 2.5sec to 62mph, 435-mile range
Not many car brands have ever reached 100 years old, so when Bentley wanted to celebrate, they did a little more than pop open some champagne. This is the EXP 100 GT concept and it’s Crewe’s birthday present to itself; a dramatic, two-door, scissor-doored, autonomous and all-electric grand tourer that looks firmly at the future. Specifically, the year 2035.
‘As the name suggests, it’s a celebration of our birthday,’ head of exterior design, JP Gregory, told CAR, ‘as with all birthdays it’s a change to celebrate where you are now and how you got there. This is really a car that honours our past but what it is, is a beacon for us in the future, like setting out our stall.’
‘It’s not about mobility, it’s about what happens between A and B. We’re a brand that makes grand tourers – we always have and we want to continue,’ he added.
‘The move to electrification and autonomous driving is changing the fundamentals of the automobile and society’s relationship with it,’ said Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark at the concept’s unveil event, ‘some would predict that the result of all this change is homogenous, utilitarian and on-demand.
‘We at Bentley have a very different view.’
And that’s quite a dramatic view…
Certainly striking, isn’t it?
It still looks like a Bentley to some degree, as the design team have tread the very thin line between focusing on the future while not forgetting what’s built Bentley from the ground up. ‘Nothing on that car looks retro, but the more you look at it you notice that its inspired by something we care about,’ said Gregory, ‘You’ve got the fast fly line, synonymous today with the GT, the proportional break-up of the side, deep body, muscular haunches and tapered rear. All of those features are familiar but they’re all executed in a new way.’
It’s 5.8m long from end-to-end and, while it might be a two-door car, Gregory tells us there’s as much room inside as a Flying Spur.
What really grabs your attention is the cut glass-effect front grille, with headlights that have been merged into the sculpted front end. Behind the 3D-effect acrylic detailing is a skipload of LEDs that all blend together, pulsing and sweeping light from beneath. ‘In autonomous mode it’s a communication device, the moment you go into driving mode the focus shifts to the main beam,’ Gregory adds.
When the car wakes up, the grille pulses to life with light and continues to the rear, passing through the new illuminated Flying B and finishes with the OLED displays in the rear end, as the rear lights animate similarly to the grille LEDs and are actually hidden beneath the paintwork.
A sweeping glass canopy starts from the edge of the windscreen, nicknamed the ‘chandelier’ for its light refracting properties and structural elements, can be seen from an overhead view. Since there’s no thumping V8 or W12 under the bonnet, the actual cab area is more central than that of a Continental GT, for example. Clever air ducts in the D pillars, finished in recycled copper, mean no spoiler is required. Even the multi-material wheels have aerodynamic properties, by flexing in and out to priorities aero or cooling.
Enough aero chat – what about inside?
Equally theatrical. Even getting in is a show, with twin scissor doors that measure 2.5m - longer than a Renault Twingo. ‘The door is not exactly shy and retiring,’ Head of Interior Design, Brett Boydell, told CAR, ‘it’s a little bit of show car fun, in reality, but hey - if you’re going to celebrate 100 years, there has to be a few fireworks.’
It can be up-to-a-four-seat car, with two large cream coloured armchairs making up the primary seats. In the car’s autonomous mode, the steering wheel folds away and the front seats slide further back to create a lounge environment. There are, however, two seats incorporated into the rear bulkhead that fold out.
The seats have individual air cells that look similar to Bentley’s diamond quilting already seen on cars it makes now; ‘With our diamond quilting, we haven’t just brushed it aside and reinvented from scratch,’ said Boydell; ‘there’s an intelligence to the design, where the car will biometrically know who you are and adapt the seating style. Each of the diamonds is an individual air cell – a technology that we’re developing now.’
Artificial intelligence hubs – for Bentley’s Personal Assistant – are fashioned from layered Cumbria Crystal and give the occupants a focal point for accessing vehicle information. A ‘Capture’ function, where the AI logs sounds, sights and smells for the user to experience at a later date, reliving a moment they particularly enjoyed. Along with ‘Capture’, ‘Enhance’ boosts light, cherry picks sounds like birdsong and pumps inside smells from outside to give the feeling of driving with the roof down, while ‘Cocoon’ blocks the outside world by purifying the air and turning the glass panels opaque.
Is it still furnished like a Bentley?
Well, yes and no. It wouldn’t be a future-gazing concept without a little environmentalism, but this is Bentley we’re talking about, so the minutiae of the materials used is obsessive. ‘We’re still using wood, leather and metal,’ Boydell points out, ‘but the material strategy in this car has been quite deliberate.’
The interior tub, for example, is upholstered in a sustainable cotton blend from Gainsborough Silk, while Bridge of Weir has provided a leather with minimal chemical interference for the light cream front seats and is a by-product of the meat industry – no cows were raised just to be killed for their hides. A vegan leather has been introduced for the rear seats, using waste pulp from the wine industry.
Spotted the panels of dark wood yet? It’s carbon dated to 3,300BC. No… we’re not kidding. It’s 5,000-year old fenland oak that’s been dredged up from riverbeds of yore in Cambridgeshire; as the land has been developed into that suitable for agriculture, the wood was thus far burnt as fuel. Until Bentley bought all of it and blended it with a copper powder to highlight the grain. ‘We’ve taken a 5,000-year-old material, combined it with some advanced technology and recycled that into something that’s gorgeous. It’s also rare – ten times the price of normal oak – but it’s given something really spectacular as a result.’
Is the powertrain equally excessive?
Of course. When the mood takes you and you want to take the wheel, the EXP 100 GT still packs a punch. The enormous solid-state battery pack powers four electric motors – one for each wheel, meaning all-wheel drive and a total output of 1106lb ft.
Bentley says the EXP 100 GT will sprint to 62mph in 2.5 seconds and keep going to 186mph, but is also capable of 435 miles of range and an 80 per cent charge in just 15 minutes.
Regardless, Hallmark only sees electrification as a stop gap for future Bentley propulsion; ‘Innovating for the future also means powertrain. Electrification, first through plug-in hybrids then through full battery-electric vehicles, but we see that as only an intermediate step,’ he said at the GT’s debut, ‘fuel cells with batteries for bigger cars, especially Bentleys, are the perfect solution.’
Is any of this actually going to be real?
Both Gregory and Boydell have assured us that this is more than just a designer’s doodle on a day off made real. Proper R&D investment has been spent here, with a team of folks in all departments of Bentley chipping in to ground the EXP 100 GT in some reality.
‘It’s not just a styling exercise but a stake in the ground for where we want to be in the future,’ said Boydell, ‘Where we want to be able to work towards. There are roadmaps that are supporting each of the principles that we’re showing.’
‘Normally in this case a concept car is quite one-dimensional but this is more than that,’ added Gregory. ‘We’ve worked with all our partners in engineering, sales and marketing. This is the kind of malleable brief that we all formed together, which was a challenge but that just means the end result is more rewarding’
‘The engineers are a lot more pragmatic. They have mapped out until 2035 a pretty detailed technology roadmap, so every one of the ideas we’ve played with here has some sort of integrity against that roadmap. It’s either stuff we’re developing for upcoming cars at Bentley or something that is an extrapolation of tech that we know we can deliver. None of it is fluff – it’s something we believe is right for the brand.’
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