The Bentley mystique is partly about long-standing automotive tradition and legitimate racing history, but it’s also about meeting the demands of the modern luxury market. You can’t just park your bespoke tokus in stale designs and old ideas and still succeed in the highly competitive luxury segment; even after a stratospheric 19 percent increase in sales in 2013 — remember this is a ultra-luxury brand — Bentley must keep improving itself. The question is, where? They’ve already made big revisions to the Continental GT and Flying Spur. A sports car is out of the question. That doesn’t leave room for much else… except an SUV, something the automaker has essentially scoffed at in the past.
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And that’s exactly the direction they’ve gone. We’re right on the cusp of an official release of Bentley’s first SUV, rumored to be called the Falcon and to go on sale in 2016. Our knee-jerk reaction is that it’s a great name, though Ford might think otherwise.
As much as the brand may lament its vehicles’ association with rappers and TMZ targets, it can’t deny the lucrative results of such promotion, garish as it might be. A stilted 4×4 fits perfectly into the pop-culture climate. The luxury SUV market isn’t diminishing anytime soon, and a Bentley version might be the segment’s crown jewel. We can practically hear the driveway gates in Malibu yawning for the British marquee.
But bringing a Bentley SUV to the 1 percent is about more than just showing up in music videos. Bentley must respond to the market with a vehicle consistent with the rest of their lineup. It has to be more than just a luxury SUV that’s also fast. The design has to work, and like other Bentleys, it must wow. Judging by early reports and sketches things are looking good.
Bringing a Bentley SUV to the 1 percent is about more than just showing up in music videos.
This isn’t Bentley’s first foray with the segment. The Bentley SUV EXP 9 F Concept was unveiled to a lukewarm reaction at the Geneva Motor Show in 2012. Its big grille, large round headlights, huge greenhouse and body curves heavily borrowed from the brand’s successful stable of luxo-sedans. But in SUV form, it seemed to lack the impact and boldness the way we expect from Crewe — and certainly not in the way the Mulsanne does in a crowd of lesser luxury sedans. From what we’ve come to understand, the negative feedback was wisely taken to heart, and Bentley went back to the drawing board to give their newest SUV the kind of British punch and circumstance it needs.
By all accounts, the new SUV is sportier than its boxier debut car, with the underpinnings of a Porsche Cayenne and a shared platform with the next Audi Q7 — keeping it in the family. The Bentley SUV was recently seen testing with some mild body camouflage to conceal its true look, but from poring over spy shots and teaser pixels, the already large grille from the 2012 concept is even bigger on the new SUV — bolstering the bold facade customers expect from the marquee. Along with bantam quad headlights and an edgier design (and dropping the turbine fog lamps), the fascia feels far more cohesive and right in the ballpark of Bentley architecture.
Because nothing says Bentley like a well-placed and well-pronounced fender bulge, we’re almost certain the Falcon will have its fair share. The 2012 concept’s rear haunches gave the car an almost brazen stance, but we expect the Falcon will possess haunches that not only imbue a sporty look but also incorporate a longer body crease to provide a level-headed look while also taking away from the concept’s upright sheer. A steeper rear window rake will only help lean out the SUV further.
Further proof the SUV won’t rest on laurels? Dynamo. The available powertrains will likely feature Bentley’s first petrol-electric engine, very cool, along with the famous 6.0-liter W12 and the throaty but less thirsty twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8, which we’ve driven in the Continental GTC V8 S. Bentley has also intimated that the SUV could be the first Bentley to use a diesel powertrain (it certainly has a plenty of ground to work with) and the first model to use plug-in hybrid technology, possibly sometime in 2017. Back-fence talk also whispers rumors that Bentley will make use of extensive underbody aerodynamics to help the SUV attain a 200 mph top speed, a halo figure that utterly eclipses the Porsche Cayenne’s 175 mph limit.
Rumors aside, it’s nearly certain the Falcon will deliver in just about every diamond-quilted department, including style, creature comforts, gnurled metals, hand-finished detailing, performance and technology. The mere fact that Bentley has listened to the public demonstrates they’re serious about the market and likely won’t bring the Falcon to dealerships until it’s they — and their consumers — are entirely happy. It’s a long road from the Bentley British mystique of yore, but it also likely means this could be Bentley’s most successful vehicle.