Bentley SUV steals the show in Geneva


Every car manufacturer wants to be the talk of every car show it attends.

But whether Bentley will appreciate the media storm unleashed by the reveal of its new SUV at this week’s Geneva Motorshow will remain to be seen. I think this is my 20th trip to Geneva and I cannot recall another car that so unexpectedly stole the limelight, nor for so many of the wrong reasons. And I’ve not forgotten the appalling Lagonda SUV concept that visited this place back in 2009.

In a day where the Bentley was by far the most common topic of conversation – entirely eclipsing the launch of Ferrari’s fabulous new F12 flagship – I met just one person who liked it and he worked for Rolls-Royce. Everyone else was at best disappointed and, at worst, really rather angry that Volkswagen would allow the name of Bentley to be attached to such a monstrosity.

Me? I liked neither the idea nor the execution. What I needed was a spot of perspective and the moment I saw former Bentley CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen wander onto the stand, I didn’t doubt from whence it might come. If you see the magazine this month and stumble across my track test of Bentley’s 2003 Le Mans winner, you’ll read how Paefgen set me straight about why the team did not defend the victory in 2004. Now he told me about the SUV: “Every time I went to certain parts of the world, the importers would say to me ‘where is the SUV? Build us an SUV and we will sell it.’” The parts he refers to are, predominately, Russia, China and the Middle East though there is clearly massive potential for such a car in the US too.

As for the reaction to its looks he said, “it is because we are in Geneva. If it had been Beijing, no-one would have minded.”

Of course he has a point. Two in fact. Compared to some of the cars that show their faces around the other side of the world, the Bentley SUV is almost tasteful. But perhaps more convincing is the fact that it will sell. And as Porsche has proven with the Cayenne, which precipitated not dissimilar mutterings when it was new, if you can sell such cars in large volume for big profits, that provides big money to spend on cars of a perhaps more traditional type.

The only area in which this argument falls short is in its assumption that it therefore somehow doesn’t matter that the car looks the way it does. My point is that it would sell equally well if it were gorgeous, probably even better in fact, without devaluing the brand and without WO hitting the rev-limiter in his casket.

Happily the SUV remains a concept for now, though a production version is a certainty. I hope in the interim Bentley looks at it again and alters both its proportions and detailing. To me just the idea of a Bentley SUV is unpalatable: but if it were at least reasonable to look at, that would undoubtedly make it easier to swallow.

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