Put It in Neutral: Geneva Motor Show 2012
Geneva. It’s clean, it’s neat, it’s somewhat quaint and understated. It is then the least likely city to host what’s probably Europe’s (and arguably the world’s) leading car show. However, for a week every March, that’s what happens in the several acres of Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition hall.
This year, the buzz words have been iPhone / iPad in terms of improved dashboard technology. Touchscreen is here to stay, people, and it’s going to be nestled just behind the steering wheel alongside, if a couple of manufacturers have their way, monitors that will replace wing mirrors.
The biggest stirs however are the new model announcements. These range from the revolutionary to the predictable, the slight tweak to an existing model to the brand new concept vehicle. It was one of the latter that, if not stole the show, certainly caused the biggest stir: Bentley’s EXP 9F.
The “EXP” as you’ve probably worked out stands for “Experimental”. The “F” is for “Falcon”, the bird that inspired this concept in terms of speed, grace and adaptability. The whole thing is Bentley’s perhaps inevitable venture into the SUV market. Unlike, say, Porsche’s vaguely disastrous Cayenne – a quantum leap for a company best known for two-seater sporty numbers – Bentley’s proposed venture into the sector feels far more organic. They already make huge cars that ferry people in astonishing comfort on the road, why not apply the same engineering prowess, luxury – and V12 engine – to the off-road market?
The result, as it stands, is a bit of a beast that’s recognisably a SUV and also recognisably a Bentley. Suspicions that they might have the curves you’ve come to expect of this market were swiftly eradicated: the slightly boxy EXP9F looks like the Mulsanne’s sibling. A sibling with a country estate, admittedly, but still a sibling. Still, it’s early days – the car’s designer Dirk van Braeckel happily admits that it’s a work in progress. Indeed, instead of the 18 months of R&D he’d usually have on a concept vehicle, he had around six. And a lot of 24 hour days.
Given the likely demand from the emerging markets – and the falconry idea won’t do it any harm in the Middle East – it’s hard to see Bentley NOT pursuing this idea. Whatever the outcome, whatever the evolution, it’s never going to stir the loins like the new Lamborghini Aventador or the Bugatti Vitesse, cars for which words such as “phwoar” were made for. However, try to get one of those over a sand dune…