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Bentley unveils first-ever SUV in Geneva

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  March 5, 2012 04:41 PM

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Bentley-EXP-9-SUV-rear.jpg

Range Rover, roll over.

At the Geneva Auto Show, Bentley has unveiled a concept of what may be the most lavish production SUV ever built.

The EXP 9 F, especially from its tapered rear, may look like a custom Range Rover Sport with 23-inch chrome rims. But the engine, a 600-horsepower W-12 as seen in the two-door Continental GT Speed, is unlike any Range in a Wellesley strip mall. The center stack is a thin metal enclosure with a glass touchscreen -- there are actual iPads in the back seat with fold-down keyboards -- and the rest of the leather-swathed interior includes room for champagne flutes and a silver picnic set neatly folded in the cargo area.

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Bentley will fit an 8-speed automatic transmission from its Mulsanne, but we don't know if the EXP 9 F is riding on a unique chassis or is simply a taller version of the Continental (a coupe that already weighs more than most SUVs). Bentley says it may also offer a hybrid powertrain or the newly introduced 4.0-liter V-8 to customers, who should likely place enough orders for the British automaker to build it next year.

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But while the soft leathers and deep pools of polished wood look amazing, how much more luxurious can this Bentley SUV be from the Range Rover, the Rolls-Royce of SUVs that’s been making sumptuous trucks longer than anyone?

Last year, Range Rover introduced a limited-edition Autobiography model with similar specs to the Bentley concept: buttery-smooth semi-aniline leather covering every surface, including the roof and cargo walls; exotic woods; custom drink coolers and swiveling tray; two iPads; and a rear cargo floor made of solid teak. The engine? A supercharged V-8 with “just” 510 horsepower. All for $170,000. The Bentley will no doubt cost the same, if not more, and likely won’t be tuned to tackle the insane off-road challenges the Range Rover can.

But competition does improve the breed, and the bloodline of thirsty, exuberant, enormous trucks doesn’t look to die, even in the face of $5 gasoline.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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