Bentley is lining up a fifth model to add to its range once its forthcoming SUV arrives – and a two-seat sports car is one of the candidates shortlisted for consideration.
The SUV will be unveiled towards the end of next year, with sales starting in 2016. Bentley's new chairman, Wolfgang Durheimer, has told What Car? that his team has already started to think beyond that car, though, hoping to build on strong sales performance in the US and spectacular growth in China.
'I am here to help Bentley to explore new ground,' said Durheimer. 'Part of that is assessing what could come after the SUV. We think there are two possibilities. These are a model whose price is above the Continental's but below the Mulsanne's. The other is a two-seater.'
The two-seat sports car would almost certainly have a V8 engine in its standard form, although it would also get plug-in hybrid capability and certain derivatives could even be rear-wheel drive. 'We believe four-wheel drive has advantages in safety and usability so it will remain the core of our vehicles,' Durheimer said. 'However, I could foresee certain niche models, small-volume editions, that would be rear-drive-only.'
The other car under consideration would be a two-door coupe, since Bentley already has the Flying Spur saloon below the Mulsanne in its model line-up. Durheimer said that no decision has been taken on which car to build, and that any project wouldn't get the green light until mid-2016 at the earliest. 'Right now the R&D department is running at full steam to get the SUV ready,' he said, 'and I want it to go straight from finishing that car into the fifth model. We're working on building the business cases and doing market research at the moment to help us decide.'
The SUV itself will be 'the fastest, most powerful SUV of the future,' according to Durheimer. He confirmed that it will be launched with a W12 petrol engine (a heavily modified version of Bentley's existing powerplant), and that it will be available only with that motor for the first year of sales. However, he also acknowledged that the SUV is likely to be the first Bentley to get plug-in hybrid technology, and the first to be fitted with a diesel; it's believed that Bentley will retune the 4.2-litre V8 diesel that's already used by Audi.
Durheimer added: 'If you fully spec up the competitor SUV in the UK market at the moment [the Range Rover], with everything on it, you end up with a price of around £140,000. We have solved the problem of not being able to spend more than £140,000.'