Dinner with Dürheimer: CAR’s briefing on Bentley’s EXP 9 F

Published: 21 March 2012

The Mews is home to Dr Wolfgang Dürheimer, the boss of Bentley (and Bugatti, and VW’s worldwide motorsport activities). Built by his predecessor, Dr Franz-Josef Paefgen, it’s mere minutes from Crewe, and a much more appealing spot for quiet meetings and briefings than rolling into Bentley HQ. And it was perhaps with a hint of irony that the EXP 9F was unveiled to CAR ahead of the Geneva motor show in the house that Paefgen built, as it was he who refused to let Bentley build an SUV during his reign as CEO at Crewe.

As if timed to perfection, a Mulsanne carrying Dürheimer swept through the gates and deposited the boss (and an armful of bubble-wrapped boards) at the doorstep as we walked up the short driveway. Drinks were offered once we were inside, and before the PR boss even had a chance to welcome us for the evening, engineering chief Ralf Frech was already fielding questions on the off-road ability of this Range Rover-sized leviathan.

Dinner with Durheimer: a very Bentley meal 

Dürheimer joined us (he’d just flown in from Germany on the company jet), and dinner was served on a huge walnut table sculpted by Crewe’s own craftsmen – I’m sure the food was very good, but it was actually an inconvenience to be consumed when we were actually hungry for more on this new Bentley SUV.

We didn’t see the EXP 9F in the metal because Bentley’s design team was desperately trying to finish the concept ahead of CAR’s photoshoot two nights later. Instead, after the main course, those bubble-wrapped boards were unveiled to reveal renderings of the EXP 9F, and for the next hour or so until we were dragged back to the table for desert, we got answers to every question we asked.

Bentley EXP 9F: the background – and that name

The only thing Dürheimer and co wouldn’t reveal was what the ‘F’ in EXP 9F stood for – that was secret was saved for the motor show unveil. Apparently the new SUV has been inspired by a falcon (hence the ‘F’) from Cheshire called Lola…

Aston Martin revealed the Lagonda SUV concept at the 2009 Geneva motor show and the criticism was universal. Reception to the EXP 9F hasn’t been much kinder, but while Aston has kept mum on the Lagonda, the Bentley will be built. Dürheimer and Frech launched the Cayenne under a torrent of criticism while both were serving at Porsche, and while the initial business case called for 20,000 units to be built, nearly 60,000 were made in 2011.

Dürheimer, Frech and design boss Dirk van Braeckel gave CAR chapter and verse on the EXP 9F, and you can read the full story in the new April 2012 issue, on sale now. And don’t miss Gavin Green’s blog on the Bentley EXP 9 F off-roader concept here.

>> Don’t miss the seven-page exclusive photoshoot in the new April 2012 issue of CAR

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy