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Monday, March 5, 2012

Bentley SUV, or How to Stay Relevant by Courting the Chinese


Bentley released official images of the EXP 9 F SUV (not quite the same allure as "Continental" or "Azure") today and while the concept of an off-road going Bentley is intriguing, the execution of design leaves us wondering if the designer himself will be executed for this toss-up of shiny bits and overwrought lines. Featuring rear haunches from the Mercedes GLK, a tail from the Audi Q7 (Bentley is owned by VW after all), an assemblage of tacky bling-y bits such as a Flying "B" inset into the side gills, and a bit of a sad face created by the stern looking front fascia, this SUV really underwhelmed us. Why the rear door handles are the widest point of the vehicle is mind boggling, and the fact that the fenders stick out so far that the wheel arch is actually imbedded into the sheet metal at the rear while bulging at the front makes this look more like an elementary student's Play-doh creation that anything that would have come out of Old Blighty in the past. Chrome outboard mirror surrounds? That may work in the grey-skied homeland and possibly the Pacific Northwest where the sun is as rare a sighting as Jackie-O in a dune buggy, but in the rest of the sun shiny world that's what we call a severe safety hazard due to glare. The huge oval exhausts at least negate the need for a trailer if all you're carrying are two canoes, they should fit in there quite nicely with a couple of bungee cords to lash 'em down.

We think we know why the new Bentley is surprisingly unattractive, with growth focused in the Chinese mainland where excess and hugeness go hand in and (for the priviledged few anyhow), and over-the-top cars do very well at the top end of the market, we can understand why the brand would simply smile and nod while debuting a vehicle that would have surely turned out differently if it was aimed at traditional US and European dealerships. After all, I've never heard the American public screaming "we need more turbine-like fog lamps" or "gimme my goddamned lotus flower-inspired wheels!"


The "eyebrows" flanking the headlights give the car an unattractive, disapproving professorial stare, one that would make you feel like you did something wrong every time you approached it from the front. And what's with all that "junk in the trunk", every time we see a bespoke concept from Range Rover or any other high end off-roader company they toss in the requisite shotgun cases and picnic baskets... the few Bentley owners I know are regular people with regular needs, they take their kids to soccer practice and go to the grocery store, all activities that require real cargo space, not an imagined and antiquated idea of "high living." Surely these components are just for the concept, but make it an option not standard fare for a truck that will see every day use among it's eventual hordes of buyers.  Yup, despite out reservations in the looks department we are absolutely confident this thing will sell in unreal numbers even if left exactly as-is, and that's partly what's wrong with cars today, it seems in many instances "good enough" in the design halls is good enough for full production. The interior looks to be the stuff Bentley is known for, elegance and sumptuous quilting of fine leathers paired with exotic hardwoods, and we would have no objection to riding around in one of these, we just don't want to be spotted getting out of it. Given the opportunity, we'd choose a Bentley Dominator as the MotoArigato staff runabout, like those custom built for the Sultan of Brunei.

Photos courtesy Bentley Motors
 

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