New-look Bentley SUV 'on track' for 2016

* Controversial concept gets all-new styling * Bentley has 2000 pre-orders already * Plug-in hybrid will follow in 2017...

New-look Bentley SUV 'on track' for 2016

The new Bentley SUV is 'on track' for a launch in 2016, according to the company's boss – and it's also had a full redesign from the controversial concept that was shown at the Geneva motor show in 2012.

The show car, called EXP 9 F, was widely criticised for its styling but Bentley already has 2000 pre-orders for an SUV from customers, even though the final looks, specification and price have yet to be confirmed.

Bentley Chairman and CEO Dr Wolfgang Schreiber has revealed that the production model will look 'very different' from the concept. 'We know that the exterior design [of the EXP 9 F] was not liked by everybody,' he told What Car?, 'and we got the message and have reacted to that. We have modified the design completely; it's a true Bentley, and we think it can actually start a whole new area of the market by being the first true luxury SUV.

'I was one of the first to drive the prototype of the car and those who drove it during the summer tests last year were very impressed with its performance and quality already. It's right on track.'

Bentley's head of sales and marketing Kevin Rose added that the new model should appeal to existing customers as well as new buyers. 'There's evidence that it has appeal with both,' he said, 'although with existing customers around 90% would be buying it as an additional Bentley, not a car to replace, say, a Flying Spur.'

Schreiber confirmed that the SUV would become Bentley's first hybrid, most probably using a plug-in system. 'There will be a hybrid version of that car, probably not at launch but about one year after, in 2017,' he said. 'It's possible with the SUV because it's on a new platform and the hybrid technology requires a lot of preparation in that area. Being part of the VW Group really helps us with technologies like this, because they're really expensive to engineer.'

Bentley has yet to announce any pricing for the SUV, but high-level sources freely admit that top-end Range Rovers are among its likely rivals.

The Crewe-based manufacturer has announced record sales for 2013 of 10,120 vehicles, a rise of 19% over 2012. The firm has ambitious plans to grow its sales to as many as 15,000 cars per year by 2018.

By John McIlroy