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Future perfect?

David Towers takes a closer look at the EXP 100 GT – Bentley’s sustainable vision of the luxury motoring experience of tomorrow

On 10 July 2019, exactly 100 years after Walter Owen Bentley started designing his first car, the 3 Litre, Bentley Motors unveiled the Bentley EXP 100 GT at its headquarters in Crewe, Cheshire. In essence, the EXP 100 GT is a futuristic version of the original 2003 Bentley Continental GT – a two-door coupe, experimentally redesigned to imagine what a grand tourer might look like in 2035. However, as well as looking to the future, it’s a concept car that references Bentley’s rich motoring history.

In particular, it harks back to the elegant Bentley R-type Continental of 1952, often called the R-type Continental Fastback, the chassis of which was built in Crewe and the body by the coachbuilders H J Mulliner in Chiswick, west London. The R-type Continental’s styling was influenced by wind-tunnel tests at the Rolls-Royce test establishment at Hucknall, near Nottingham. Its styling is often attributed to Rolls-Royce designer John Blatchley but may, more accurately, be the work of two of Blatchley’s departmental team – Ivan Evernden, Chief Project Engineer, and the visionary designer Cecily Jenner. Principal features are the car’s lowered headlamps, its curved front windscreen, its fins over the rear wheels to aid stability, and its sloping roof from the driver to the rear of the car. The standard R-type saloon would struggle to reach 100 mph, but the R-type Continental reached 119.75 mph at the Montlhery circuit in France in September 1951. It was the fastest four-seater car in the world at the time and, many would argue, the most stylish.

The 2003 Bentley Continental GT has many styling features of the R-type Continental, including the flare of the rear wheel-arches and the sloping roof from the driver’s seat to the tail, and the new EXP 100 GT also includes some similarly classic features. First up is the styling. The concept car’s “face” is dominated by its two large headlamp “eyes” and between them is the large radiator grille, the bar in the middle being its nose.

In this case, the term “radiator grille” is probably a misnomer as, with a battery and four electric motors providing the power, the radiator would be much smaller than in a petrol or diesel car. In this 2035 prototype, the radiator and headlamps are effectively a “light show”, with different moving shapes of lights and colours. The Bentley badge, headlights and radiator grille light up when the owner approaches. The front emphasises the car’s width, which is an expansive 2.4 metres (7 ft 8 ins), even without wing mirrors. Its height is probably similar to the 1,405 mm (4 ft 7 ins) of the 2020 Continental GT, resulting in a low height-to-width ratio that creates a striking sense of speed.

The styling of the side of the car is also significant. The EXP 100 GT is very long at 5.7 metres (18 ft 8 ins) –similar to the length of the current Bentley Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase (the marque’s longest model). The standard wheelbase Mulsanne is already long, at more than 5.5 metres (18 ft), in comparison with the large Bentley cars from the S-series to the Arnage, which were in the 5.2–5.5 metre range (17–18 ft). The EXP 100 GT is much longer than the 2020 Continental GT (4.85 metres or 15 ft 10 ins) and of a similar height, again conveying the impression of movement and speed.

The side of the EXP 100 GT is heavily sculptured – a feature of many modern cars. The wheels are very large (around 30 inches) with very low-profile tyres. This emphasises the current trend in wheels and tyres, which suggests that many stylists would like a solid wheel with no tyre! Low-profile tyres can give a terrible ride, but Bentley will presumably design the air suspension to smooth the passenger’s ride – possibly with a camera to see the bumps and hollows in the road and eliminate them through active suspension.

The side windows are long but narrow, in keeping with the low height of the car, minimising the frontal area. The roof line again descends from above the driver’s head to the rear, where it stops at the waistline, rather than the lower bottom of the body as in the R-type Continental – a distinction that some might prefer in the new model. The EXP 100 GT is similar to the 2020 Continental GT, but with its greater length, the descent of the roof is slower than that of the Continental GT.

The front doors are very long at 2 metres (6 ft 7 ins). If they opened straight outwards, like those of most cars, there would be problems getting out in most parking spaces and garages, let alone when parked in the street – imagine getting out into the main traffic lane! So, Bentley has created a complex door-opening system that initially opens outwards and then the back end raises up – let’s hope that there’s enough height to accommodate this in the owner’s garage!

The back of the car is where the side styling finishes and links to the end of the rear wing on the other side. It features a long and relatively narrow rear light that extends around the side – this thin red strip of light again emphasising speed. With the side view shaped like an aircraft wing, one wonders if there is a need for a spoiler to reduce lift, like that on the Continental GT?

The prototype’s interior has three seats (although there could be four) – a driver’s seat in the front-right position with a passenger seat behind it, and a single passenger seat on the left-hand side. All of the seats look like loungers; more for resting and reclining rather than watching the surroundings or driving the car. As this is a car of the future, however, it can be completely autonomous (driven by a computer, rather than the driver).

This may be possible by 2035, and seems more likely in a luxury car like a Bentley (the technology will, no doubt, be both complex and expensive), but fully autonomous driving is difficult to achieve. Some features already exist, such as adaptive cruise control, whereby one can set the cruise at 70 mph (or 110 kph). The car will try to achieve that speed, but if the vehicle ahead slows, the car will brake so as not to hit it – even stopping, if necessary. There is also lane assist to warn a driver if they stray outside a motorway lane and help direct them back into the lane, and side assist for when you are attempting to change lanes. However, achieving fully autonomous driving will be difficult – it will be hard for any system to cope with something like a pedestrian unexpectedly stepping off the payment into the road.

When the EXP 100 GT is in autonomous mode, there is no steering wheel. However, in normal driving mode, the steering wheel looks like a tiller or loop rather than a round steering wheel – more like double bicycle handlebars. There are five different comfort modes: Enhance (which harvests the characteristics of the outside environment), Cocoon (which dispenses extreme privacy), Capture (which records previous experiences), Relive (which replays highlights of a tour you might already have made in the car) and Customise.

Bentley describes light as the new luxury material, and most of the ceiling of the passenger compartment is transparent, probably made from glass, so the car feels like being in a convertible. No doubt, this can be progressively dimmed, much like an LCD screen. The company is also keen to promote the car’s “sustainable future luxury” credentials. These include the use of 5,000-year-old copper-infused riverwood; exterior paint made from recycled rice husks; a 100 per cent organic leather-like textile – a by-product of wine making; Cumbrian crystal interfaces; and British-farmed wool carpets and embroidered surfaces.

What, exactly, is “copper-infused riverwood”, you may well ask. Bentley explains that the wood comes from the East Anglian Fenland basin. These gigantic oaks died standing in water as a result of flooding. Inspired by Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered metals, Bentley has threaded recycled copper though the wood to highlight the beautiful, natural flaws. As for the car’s body, it is made from lightweight aluminium and carbon fibre.

The EXP 100 GT features a battery-electric powertrain, although it can also accommodate a fuel cell, which converts hydrogen into electricity that can be stored in a smaller battery or used to drive the car. At peak loads, the car’s electric motors use both the fuel cell and the battery, but at lower powers the fuel cell can power the electric motors and charge the battery at the same time.

There are four individually powered electric motors, one for each wheel, resulting in a four-wheel-drive system. These produce a maximum of 800 to 1,340 bhp – more than the original 16-cylinder Bugatti Veyron, which “only” produced 1,000 bhp – and an estimated 1,100 lb ft of torque, and can achieve 0–62 mph in 2.5 seconds (the 2020 Continental GT W12 produces 626 bhp, 664 lb ft and is capable of 0–62 mph in 3.7 seconds). So the current Continental GT has less than half the proposed power and only 60 per cent of the torque of the EXP 100 GT.

The maximum speed of the EXP 100 GT is slightly disappointing at “only” 186 mph (300 kph), whereas the Continental GT W12 can reach 207 mph (333 kph). However, how many times does one ever reach a car’s maximum speed, particularly with a national speed limit of 70 mph – which is only 33.8 per cent of the Continental GT’s maximum speed, and 38 per cent of the EXP 100 GT’s maximum speed? It’s unlikely you’d get anywhere close to that, even on an unrestricted German autobahn.

The anticipated battery range of the EXP 100 GT is an impressive 700 km, or 434 miles. And with an appropriate charger, it should reach 80 per cent of a full charge in 15 minutes. Bentley says it expects the battery to have five times the capacity of current lithium-ion batteries. This is ambitious in only 15 years, but a researcher into solid-state batteries believes it is realistic, and high-power charging stations will be far more common in 2035 than they are today. Batteries with five times the capacity could be a fifth of the weight – a very significant benefit as it appears that current large-capacity batteries can weigh 1,000 kg. The entire EXP 100 GT weighs only 1,900 kg.

The EXP 100 GT really is a most interesting car. Remember it is a Bentley, with low production numbers, so it should not be judged by the same criteria used for mass-market cars. As a Bentley it should be sporting and exclusive with advanced technology and, in the current age, it should use natural and recyclable materials.

You could argue that it is too large, both in length and width, but top luxury cars must be larger than other cars – if only to stand out and be noticed. You could also say that it is too powerful; however, it must be more powerful than its competitors, if only for the sake of bragging rights. And in those terms alone, the EXP 100 GT really is the Bentley grand tourer for 2035.