Green new deal Bentley builds a 100th-birthday concept that’s full of hope for the company and for the planet. By Jake Groves
Bentley’s vision of future luxury
Most 100-year-olds spend their time reminiscing about the life they’ve led and the impact they’ve made on the world. Not Bentley. With its new EXP 100 GT, it’s looking firmly ahead. While it may just be a concept, this 5.8m-long, up-to-four-seat grand tourer (with scissor doors that are longer than a Renault Twingo) is an early nod to a future all-electric autonomous Bentley.
‘As with all birthdays, it’s a chance to celebrate where you are now and how you got there,’ says exterior design head JP Morgan. ‘This is a car that honours our past, and a beacon for us in the future.’ It’s still clearly a Bentley to look at, with so many design cues from current and past models. ‘There are subtle abstract references to cars from our history like the Continental R-Type and S1 Flying Spur, but what I love is that you don’t see it immediately,’ says Morgan. ‘Nothing on this car looks retro, but the more you look at it you notice that it’s inspired by something we care about.’
Losing a big internal combustion engine from the nose means the cab area can be located much more centrally. That gives a more balanced silhouette, with a shorter bonnet, and those traditional muscular haunches aren’t impinging on the passenger space. Rear pillars plated in recycled copper conceal some clever aerodynamics, enabling the EXP 100 GT to do without a spoiler. Even the wheels are active, changing their shape to focus on aero or cooling.
A cut-glass-effect acrylic panel (similar to the headlight lenses in a Conti GT) flows across the whole of the front grille and blends into the headlights as one piece. It’s all backlit with LEDs, too, as Bentley uses both natural and digital light to full advantage.
‘In autonomous mode it’s a communication device, the moment you go into driving mode the focus shifts to the main beam. Drive or be driven, see or be seen,’ adds Morgan. When the car is switched on, the grille pulses to life with light in a movement that continues to the rear, passing through the new illuminated Flying B and finishing with the OLED displays in the rear end, hidden beneath the paintwork, as the rear animates in a way that mirrors the front grille’s LEDs.
When you get inside that cabin, it’s a feast of tech and ultra-exclusive materials. When the car is in autonomous mode the front two seats can slide back for their occupants to stretch out. ‘We are still using wood, leather and metal,’ says interior design chief Brett Boydell, ‘but the material strategy in this car has been quite deliberate.’ The interior tub itself is lined in a sustainable cotton blend from Suffolk’s Gainsborough Silk, while Scotland’s Bridge of Weir has supplied a leather with minimal chemical enhancements. While that is a by-product of the meat industry, alternatives include a vegan leather-style fabric for the retractable rear seats made using pulp from the wine industry.
Air pockets are incorporated into the seats, too; ‘With our diamond quilting, we haven’t just brushed it aside and reinvented from scratch,’ says 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.’
Wood that’s been dredged up from 5000-year-old river beds – no, really: it’s carbon dated to 3300 BC – has to be the most extreme material used inside. It’s been milled into a lattice in the rear pillars and layered into the structure of the seat supports and centre console. ‘We’ve taken a 5000-year-old material, combined it with some advanced technology and recycled that into something that’s gorgeous. It’s also rare – 10 times the price of normal oak – but it’s given something really spectacular as a result.’ 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 involves the AI logging 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, cherrypicks 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.
When you do feel like driving yourself, you’ll find the EXP 100 punches like a Bentley GT should. Crewe says the powertrain can get you to 62mph in under 2.5 seconds and on to 186mph. Four electric motors crank out a total of 1106lb ft, while solid-state batteries mean a 435-mile claimed range and an 80 per cent charge in 15 minutes. Not bad for 1900kg of ancient wood, grape skins and artificial intelligence.
IT’S NO PIPE DREAM
CONCEPT? NOT ENTIRELY...
You might be tempted to write the EXP 100 GT off as fanciful, but the team at Crewe are adamant that this isn’t just a designer doodle; serious R&D resource has been invested. Boydell says the car is ‘a stake in the ground for where we want to be in the future. There are roadmaps that are supporting each of the principles that we’re showing.’
Morgan adds: ‘Our engineers have mapped out until 2035. Every one of the ideas we’ve played with here has some sort of integrity against that. 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.
‘Our rotating display is a bit of luxury theatre, but for me it’s more than that, as it puts different things as a priority. Luxury customers don’t want to be surrounded by info, they want to be surrounded by beautiful materials, but the tech has to be there when they need it.
‘It’s no secret that we want to deliver our first EV by 2025, so it’s no stretch that by 2035 a car like this could be real.’
Full-length ‘chandelier’ mixes cut glass and LEDs in the ornate roof structure.
Acrylic grille and headlights are blended together, with the whole arrangement being backlit by LEDs. ‘In theory, you could watch a movie that will project itself onto the car,’ says the exterior design boss. EXP 100 GT equals Flying Spur for cabin space, with two very large doors.
Vegan leather, sustainable cotton, recycled copper... even the paint is designed to be eco-friendly; new ‘Compass’ colour gets pigment from harmful rice-husk ash. Using some here means less waste in landfill from the rice industry.
STINGS LIKE A BEE
Solid-state batteries and four e-motors translate into 1106lb ft of torque, a sub-2.5sec 0-62mph time and a range of 435 miles.