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Bentley has popped the cork on its centenary celebrations with a genuine ‘wow’ moment, unveiling a concept car that manages to be both swoopingly gorgeous and the answer to many of the tough questions facing cars in the 21st century.
The EXP 100 GT rolled into the spotlight at the company’s Crewe headquarters in England, the home to the storied British brand since 1938.
The low-slung two-door can – theoretically, at this stage – waft four people through traffic without causing a ripple using its autonomous chauffeur drive. Yet a keen driver may want to exploit its 300km/h top speed – in the right environment – or startle traffic with a 2.5-second sprint to 100km/h.
Electric drive means the EXP 100 GT makes no emissions, and is future-proofed with the ability to host an on-board hydrogen fuel cell.
The car can cosset its occupants with massage seats and filtered, scented air. It can even read the driver’s mood and create the ideal driving environment.
If you’re travelling through beautiful countryside the car can capture and store the outside scenes, or do a futuristic Google-style search to answer any questions about the world around you. If you point and ask about the clouds above, the car will listen and then provide a know-it-all reply.
This car could be seen as just another flight of fancy, but Bentley is adamant the technology in its EXP 100 GT is real and almost entirely ready for the road.
Adrian Hallmark, the CEO of Bentley Motors, told Australian Business Traveller that the fuel cell is one of only two pieces of technology not currently in production. The other is what is called ‘Level 5’ autonomous motoring, where the driver becomes another passenger.
Even so, the car already ticks the important box for the chauffeur drive, which has been part of the Bentley experience for decades.
It also allows for guilt-free entry into low-emission zones which are sprouting rapidly at the heart of the world’s biggest cities, led by London.
Bentley claims it can run for 700 kilometres without a plug-in recharge, and its battery can be boosted to 70 per cent capacity in just 15 minutes.
Hallmark talks like a politician, asking the 100 specially-invited media guests at the EXP 100 GT reveal to ‘vote’ for Bentley, with a motoring manifesto which is preparing his company for 2035 – and beyond.
That’s the target date to have a car like the EXP 100 on the road, although he admits that it will probably look a lot different by then.
The current styling is retro-futuristic, with an authoritative frontal treatment that incorporates both a Bentley mascot and a state-of-the-art LED light show, a swooping slash over the roof to the tail end, huge doors which pivot and stand to attention to welcome occupants, and a four-passenger cabin with all the luxuries.
It’s a Bentley, which means wood and leather, but this is the future so the wood is 5000 years old and has been rescued and recycled, then fused with copper. There are cut-glass crystals, plus an organic substitute for leather, and interior trim made from rice husk waste.
The roof is entirely glass – not for solar cells, but to capture sunlight and then pass it through fibre-optics to create a variety of moods in the cabin. There is also back-lit seat trim, and lamps which project patterns onto the insides of the doors.
Standing and staring at the EXP 100 GT in the metal – as you tend to do – and then analysing the thinking and talent behind the car, it’s clear that Bentley is making an aggressive push towards the future as one of the spearheads of the giant Volkswagen Group that runs from Skoda at the bottom end through Audi and Lamborghini to Bugatti at the top.
It is back into profit this year, the hulking Bentagya SUV is now the best-selling model in Bentley’s history, and the Crewe headquarters is being expanded and improved almost month-by-month.
But it’s the EXP 100 GT, as a celebration of 100 years for Bentley and its view of the future, which proves there is still life in a brand which could easily have gone the way of the rotary-dial bakelite telephone.