At the Geneva Motor Show 2012, which took place in March, Bentley entered new territory – literally – with the unveiling of its first off-roader, the EXP 9F. Although presented strictly as a design concept, the ultra luxurious SUV (as much a Sumptuous Utility Vehicle as a Sports Utility Vehicle) offers a glimpse of what is to come with Bentley in the final stages of the development of a road model that is set to launch in late 2013.

Customer and public reaction to the EXP 9F is already being carefully analyzed by Bentley, with Dirk van Braeckel, Director of Design, already hinting that the road going version might be scaled down. “EXP 9 F had to represent the absolute pinnacle of the sport utility sector, setting a new benchmark for this type of vehicle,” says van Braeckel. Referring to the iconic matrix grille and round lamps borrowed from the Bentley Mulsanne, he adds: “The style had to reflect Bentley’s sporting character despite its radically different package and purpose together with sculptured, flowing surfaces in keeping with the Bentley tradition.”

While the muscular exterior of the EXP 9F might seem classic Bentley, inside pioneers a whole new approach to the Bentley cabin. Durability was a priority, with materials such as saddle leather being used for the seat backs and loadspace. The silk wool floor mats – a Bentley signature – are for the first time reversible with one side also finished in saddle leather for when the drive rand passengers are dressed for the great outdoors.

"The challenge for the interior design team was to create a cabin which provides a blend of luxury and utility,” explains van Braeckel of the EXP 9F, which also features a two-piece tailgate designed to be used a viewing bench or picnic table with an awning above and bespoke picnic hampers stowed to either side of the loadspace. “The result is a light and airy environment with a commanding view of the road and a versatile layout which showcases Bentley's craft and design language in an innovative and contemporary way."

Working on the basis that drivers of the Bentley SUV will be using the car in town as well as for country pursuits, the EXP 9F also introduces an innovative instrument display that Bentley has termed ‘bespoke interface engineering’. Three different drive modes – Comfort, Sport and Off-road – change the instruments visible on the digital TFT screen behind the steering wheel and can be easily changed at the flick of a switch. Referring to the Bentley SUV’s capabilities – as well as the demographics of its wealthy customers – Wolfgang Duerheimer, Chairman of Bentley Motors, summarised the importance of the EXP 9F: “We are offering a fascinating vision of the future….A vehicle that feels equally at home in the urban environments of America or China, the sand dunes of the Middle East and the elft lane of the Autobahn.”