I think it fair to say the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 caught a lot of Geneva-goers by surprise. We knew there’d be a new concept here, but not that it would be so sleek, so attractive and so very, well, Bentley.
Bentleys of late have been purposeful, even brutal looking machines, but none in the recent past has really lived up to the style of some of the most beautiful Bentleys of its past, all the way from the 1990s Continental R to the 1950s R-type Continental and, before even then, the pre-war and vintage Bentleys built in Derby and Cricklewood.
Nor, to me at least, have they quite recaptured the original Bentley design philosophy that was, from the very start in 1919, to build cars of overwhelming driver appeal. Perhaps the Speed 6 is the sign that Bentley realises that now is the time not only to take Bentley to a new level in design, but in dynamics too.
I hope so. I expect the motivation behind the car is to offer reassurance to the better than 10,000 plus people who already buy a Bentley every year that, as it embarks on its SUV adventure, the company has not forgotten the cars that made it great in the first place. The Speed 6, if built and if it’s as good to drive as it is to look at, will provide a wonderful counterpoint to the Bentayga.
There is predecent here, not at Bentley but elsewhere in the VW Group. It is no coincidence that shortly after Porsche started producing hard core, low margin, small production GT-series sports cars, it turned half a century’s production on its head and started selling a vast five door SUV that some, myself included, said should have nothing to do with Porsche. But now the GT cars and the Porsche SUVs live in this weird odd-couple co-habitation where the sports cars provide the credibility to allow Porsche to build the SUVs while the SUVs provide the hard currency to finance the development of the sports cars.
I know this too: whenever Bentley asks its customers what they want from the company, none comes back begging for cars that are slower or less exciting. On the contrary they always want more: more power, more speed, more Bentley. Though I have not yet driven it, it seems Bentley pulled its punch with the Continental GT3 R which was only a little more powerful, a bit lighter and made in limited quantities. But perhaps now that is going to change.
The Bentley of my dreams doesn’t need 700bhp, but it weighs less than two tonnes and is driven by the rear wheels alone and has a double clutch transmission. It is of course luxuriously appointed, but so too it is a very focussed driving machine. Its closest rival, conceptually at least, would be the Aston Martin Vanquish. Bentley doesn’t have a car like that at the moment, but perhaps it is not too much to hope that the Speed 6 could be that car.
Certainly calling it Speed 6 is raising the bar of expectation: in 1929 and 1930 it was a Speed Six Bentley that delivered the marque its final two Le Mans victories (the same car on both occasions) – the company has no more fabled nameplate in its history. I hope it makes good on that promise.