'The future of Bentley' were the words used to introduce the EXP 100 GT to the international media at Crewe yesterday. The concept car was real enough - and the second century ambition it symbolises very welcome - although the manufacturer's notion of what its customers might want to spend their (considerable pots of) money on in forthcoming decades remains conspicuously fluid.
The two-door EXP includes provision for fuel cell technology, but does not actually feature it. Solid state batteries will equip it with a 435-mile range - but of course they are not commercially viable just yet. And it envisions a near future where autonomous driving will seamlessly merge with the idea of taking the wheel yourself - despite the prerequisite AI still being very much in its infancy.
So the EXP is not for tomorrow or the day after then. Bentley pitches 2035 as the concept's inspiration - so it can hardly be blamed for hedging its bets. (Indeed, CEO Adrian Hallmark, as canny an observer of the future as you're ever likely to meet, highlighted the danger in placing all your EV eggs in one basket.) Plainly, though, the manufacturer is preparing itself to win the last war it fought; namely remaking and revitalising the Grand Tourer - in this case for a decade which might conceivably have other things on its mind.
To that end the EXP is as sleek as a stickleback and as big as a barn. Structurally speaking, it's made chiefly from aluminium and carbon fibre so that it can claim to be 'lightweight' at 1,900kg. Naturally it is all-electric, powered by four motors with a combined maximum torque delivery of 1,106lb ft and up to 1360hp, for a projected 0-62mph time of less than 2.5 seconds and a top speed of 186mph.
Needless to say this level of twist will be vectored in clever fashion, by something called the Next Generation Traction Drive. The really sophisticated bit, though, is the battery technology, where the solid state configuration will provide five times the conventional energy density - which means the batteries can be smaller while at the same time offering superior range. Bentley reckons the EXP can be charged to 80 per cent of capacity in around 15 minutes.
Chances are that will be too slow for car buyers in 2035, hence the brand's interest in a fuel cell-based answer to the reoccurring EV problem. "While a full battery powertrain could be a transitional solution, we believe a fuel cell hybrid, together with batteries, is the perfect mid-term solution for Bentley grand touring," noted Stefan Sielaff, Bentley's Director of Design.
The proposed hydrogen fuel cell would not be used to drive the EXP's wheels, but rather charge its battery while on the move. The benefits of a zero-emission closed system are obvious enough - especially in the context of a continent-crossing Grand Tourer - although Bentley concedes that the continuing lack of refuelling infrastructure remains a significant drawback to the real world application of the technology.
Predictably, the manufacturer is on firmer ground when it comes to styling and trim materials. At 5.8m long and almost 2.4m wide, the EXP is clearly intended to make a big statement about Bentley's design direction even while it tips its illuminated matrix grille at a familiar present. Its doors measure fully 2m on their own, and are pure show car - pivoting outwards and then upwards at the touch of button, and rising to a height of nearly 3m when fully open.
"Enhancing and enriching every single journey and the lives of every single person who travels in it" is the EXP's core premise and the striking interior is well-suited to the task. As you might expect from a firm of Bentley's prowess, the trim material selection is spectacular - and sustainable with it. Think 5,000 year-old rescued riverwood infused with copper, British Farmed Wool carpets and swathes of embroidered cotton. The concept also features a glass canopy which is said to feature embedded prisms that 'harvest' light from the surrounding environment and then transfer it into the interior using fibre optics. Funky.
The cabin can be reconfigured for two, three or four seats depending on your requirements, and Bentley claims the EXP uses AI to predict the emotions of its occupants - information it uses to tailor each driving experience. For much of the time, the manufacturer imagines you simply enjoying the scenery: in 'Cocoon' mode it employs the latest active noise cancellation technology and an air purification system to augment your sense of wellbeing.
The EXP's 'Drive' mode - accessed via hand gesture - would be preserved for the right kind of road (and mood, presumably) and would return complete control of the car. It is this mixture of 'driving and driven' that bemight be like in 16 years' time. Not quite as enthralling as the EXP 10 Speed 6 it unveiled at Geneva in 2015 (or the EXP 12 6E shown two years later) but with virtual confirmation that neither of those concepts will spawn a production 'luxury sports car', the EXP 100 GT suggests that Bentley is now preoccupied with one destination. How it actually gets us there we look forward to finding out.