Bentley Gets Plug-In Hybrids First, Then Diesels

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Like other luxury car brands, Bentley isn't immune to the political pressures of the environmental movement. With various regulations coming into effect over the next few years, the British automaker--like its German group cousins and other high-end makes--will start an intensive program of introducing greener powertrains into its lineup.

This year, Bentley has introduced a twin-turbo V-8 to the Flying Spur lineup, as an alternative to its hallmark W-12 engine. It joins the already existing V-8 versions of the Continental GT.

Back under the direction of Wolfgang Duerheimer--who had relinquished his post in 2012 to take over research and development at Audi--Bentley will kick off its powertrain push with its long-awaited sport-utility vehicle, due sometime in 2016. The vehicle, shown on the auto-show circuit as the EXP 9 F, has been confirmed for production by Bentley, though the radical shape of the concept is making its expected turn toward a more traditional look.

The SUV will introduce the production form of Bentley's plug-in hybrid technology, which it showed earlier this year in concept form integrated into a Mulsanne sedan. There's no official word yet on battery size, source, or chemistry, though it's expected the plug-in version will have an electric-only driving range of 25 kilometers (15 miles) or less, along the lines of the system found in the Porsche 918 Spyder. The handsome, novel copper cues applied to the plug-in concept should reach production, though Bentley will have to find a way to maintain its sheen over decades.

After the plug-in hybrid takes shape in the SUV, it will be applied to the next-generation Continental GT and Flying Spur cars, which are beginning to take shape. Bentley has narrowed the scope of styling themes for those cars, and will decide shortly on the final shape from a handful of candidates. Countering criticism of the current Continental/Spur cars, engineers are making a major effort at weight reduction, to push the Continental in more of a grand-touring direction. The addition of plug-in hybrid technology could add much of that weight back, though the plug-in models will be a small subset of Continental/Spur production.

Bentley also hopes to increase acceptance and use of the plug-in technology. Preliminary information coming back from other VW Group brands on plug-ins suggests there is plenty of room to educate and encourage use of the charging feature more regularly.

Once the plug-in technology is released, Bentley will move into diesels. The specifics of the new diesel engine haven't been discussed, but the proposed powerplant will come first to the upcoming SUV, and then will be available in the Continental/Flying Spur lineup.

There's no clear information on whether the Mulsanne will adopt one or both technologies.


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