The Bentley EXP 100 GT Showcases a Plan to Make EVs Luxurious
By Mike Duff, Car and Driver
Anniversaries give automakers the chance to reflect on past glories and hint at future ones, and the transition to three digits is a particularly good age to do both. Bentley is celebrating its centenary this week by showing this stylish concept, the EXP 100 GT, as the brand's look at the "grand tourer of 2035." We're told to see it as confirmation of both Bentley's commitment to electrification and autonomous operation, but also showing the design direction we can expect forthcoming models to take in the shorter term.
The EXP 100 is pure electric, with Bentley claiming that developments in battery technology and the arrival of solid-state cells will enable a car this large and grand to have a range of over 400 miles within the next 15 years or so. Yet, although the concept is an EV, company CEO Adrian Hallmark used the launch in England to confirm that the brand sees pure electric as being only an interim solution, and that we can expect models further into the future also to use hydrogen fuel cells to supplement their battery packs.
While technical details are limited given the 100 GT's role as a crystal-ball gazer, we're told that the targeted performance is a sub-2.5-second zero-to-60-mph time, a top speed of 186 mph, and a weight of 4200 pounds. Bentley says the concept hints at a future model with separate electric motors for each corner, with a maximum of 1100 lb-ft and the ability to vector this across axles to sharpen cornering responses. At the unveiling at Bentley's factory in Crewe, Hallmark told Car and Driver that Bentley predicts solid-state batteries will offer up to five times the density of existing cells and that the technology is viable: "it's coming, we're already planning for it."
Beyond its environmental credentials, the EXP 100 GT also offers plenty of what could be termed Bentleyness. It is a long and opulent coupe—the concept is 228 inches long—but despite the length of the passenger cabin, it only has two doors, and, as in all the best concepts, they hinge upward to give access to the cabin. While we have to agree with Bentley's claim that their 118-inch open height "adds to the sense of occasion on arrival," they would also limit access in most parking structures.
Inside is a reconfigurable layout with sliding seats that allow it to run in two-, three-, or four-passenger configuration. As the concept's vestigial steering wheel suggests, it is also being pitched as being able to operate with high-level autonomy. The interior is trimmed with the sort of high-end sustainable materials Bentley thinks that the next generation of hyper-wealthy buyers are going to insist on, including copper-infused wood from "naturally fallen" trees that have been preserved for thousands of years in peat bogs and what is described as a "leatherlike seating material" based on various byproducts of winemaking. This looks better than it sounds.
Much of the EXP 100's technology is effectively hidden. The interior is almost entirely free from conventional controls; Bentley design director Stefan Sielaff says the brand thinks gesture control will be able to handle far more complex tasks within the time frame of the EXP. The glass roof can transfer light into the cabin through darkenable prisms. There is also a mode that will give the impression that the car is open-roofed, despite the fact it's not. As Bentley's official release puts it, it "harvests inputs from the outside environment, such as light, sound, smell, and air quality, offering a holistic grand tour."
As with many other snazzy new EVs we've been shown, the EXP 100 keeps a conventionally proportioned front end with a long hood, despite no need to fit a correspondingly large internal-combustion engine in there. Headlights are similar to those of the current Continental family, although they incorporate many more elements, and the mesh of the front grille is actually formed from lighting elements. Rear lights are augmented by additional elements that can provide animated patterns, while the rear haunches pay tribute to those of the 1950s R-type Continental.
When C/D spoke to Hallmark at the unveiling, he confirmed that we can expect much of the EXP 100 GT to make it into production models well ahead of the 2035 deadline it is built to reflect, and that we can expect full electrification. He also admitted to being keen on the idea of doing low-series special models of this type, although he said this wasn't one of them.
But the EXP 100's size also indicates that priorities have changed at Bentley since Hallmark took on the roles of CEO and chairman last year. Four years ago, the company showed off the stylish EXP 10 Speed 6 concept at the 2015 Geneva auto show, a two-seat sports car that looked enticingly production viable. But it turns out that downsizing has no part in Hallmark's plans.
"I wouldn't say never," he told C/D when asked if we might still see a car similar to the Speed 6, "but I'd eat your note pad if we did. Why would we want to go into a segment that is already dominated by two or three players and which is in decline? We don't need to do it. Bentley has never been a sports-car brand. So to go into the smallest segment in the luxury market with a product concept that doesn't fit with the brand isn't the smartest product strategy for me. We build grand tourers, always have, and we don't do anything else.
"We focus on what we do. We've got a very well defined target group," he added. "We're 100 years old, and it hasn't gone too badly for us so far. This is our vision of how we see it developing in future, not a two-seater sports car that wouldn't fit for us."