Bentley EXP 9 F. Looks are in the eye of the beholder

It can’t have escaped your attention that over recent years, more and more luxury carmakers have been making SUVs. Porsche started with the Cayenne. Everybody scoffed, then it sold squillions and the rest of the world stopped laughing and started paying attention. Now among others we’ve got Maserati’s Kubang in the works, Lamborghini’s Urus and Aston Martin still pondering the return of the Lagonda concept from 2009.

And then there’s Bentley. For years it’s made very high end coupes and saloons, but at the Geneva Motor Show this year it unveiled this, the EXP 9 F concept, showcasing what a Bentley SUV could look like. It’s reasoning is simple – it’s a segment that’s showing considerable growth, especially in developing markets like China, Russia and the Middle East, and it has the infrastructure behind it – the Volkswagen Group – to make it happen.

Reaction from the internet was, shall we say, mixed when the EXP 9 F was revealed, mainly down to its looks. But since its Swiss debut, the concept has been on a world tour, visiting countries where potential customers could look at it up close and discuss the intricacies with the team behind its creation. Last month, it came to Abu Dhabi – it’s final stop before a decision is made on whether or not it’ll go into production. All signs point to yes, and Geoff Dowding, Bentley’s regional director, is very keen to see a production Bentley SUV come to the Middle East.

“The primary reason [for creating the car] was to gauge reaction, and it’s been incredibly positive,” he tells us. “There have been differing opinions about the look, but in terms of the car as a concept and as a potential future segment for Bentley to enter, there have been absolutely unanimous views that it would be the right thing to do.”

From a business angle, that’s hard to argue with. The 4×4 market globally is growing, and it’s especially prominent in the Middle East – go out onto the roads of Dubai and see how many Lexus, Porsche and Mercedes SUVs you see. It’s a part of the world where four-wheel drive comes in very handy, and there are die-hard fans of this type of car. It’s not difficult to see why Dowding expects a production Bentley to be a big hit.

I must confess to being one of the people that recoiled in horror when the EXP was unveiled at Geneva. The car looked stark, square and ugly in photos. But in Abu Dhabi, seeing it in the metal, my thoughts have softened somewhat. From a distance it’s still no looker, but up close there are some nice touches and the interior is very cool. Clad in Thunder Blue paint, the exterior lines are a clear continuation of current Bentley design. Flying Bs adorn vents at the side and it sits on monstrous multi-spoke 23-inch alloys. Design aspects took inspiration from Bentley’s current model line up, as well as English hunting. Around the headlights, and on the door handles, vents and gaps between seat headrests and seat back, is a rifling effect similar to that on a gun barrel. And on the wooden steering wheel, gear shifter and centre console-mounted glasses case, is a knurling effect like that found on shotguns.

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