Bentley is celebrating its centenary; that’s 100 years of incredibly imposing super saloons, coupés and convertibles, the epitome of British luxury to many and the car Ian Fleming had 007 driving in the Bond novels. On the other hand, Ettore Bugatti referred to the Twenties “Blower” Bentley as the “fastest lorry in the world”, a back-handed compliment if ever there was one. Fast enough to wipe the floor with its rivals in the formative years of the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race, mind you, thereby giving rise to the legendary Bentley Boys.
Crucially, in an age of Chinese and Californian electric start-ups, a century of sybaritic derring-do gives the company that most priceless commodity: authenticity. But despite the celebrations, now isn’t the time to stare indulgently into the rearview mirror. “What’s the future of luxury? What’s the future of Bentley? What’s the future of mobility?” Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark asks.
The EXP 100 GT is the answer. Or at least, a proposal for what the Bentley – and indeed the idea of grand touring – of 2035 might look like. “We’ve broken it down into five-year increments,” Hallmark says. “But really the only thing this car has that we couldn’t deliver in the next five years is level-five autonomy [in which a car can completely drive itself]. The rest of it is, oh, 95 per cent feasible.”
It is also utterly magnificent. EXP 100 GT is a thumping 5.8 metres long, 2.4 metres wide and its huge doors – two metres long themselves – arc upwards to a height of three metres. There is a lot of acreage on this car. Its structure is a mix of aluminium and carbon fibre, which helps peg its weight back to 1.9 tonnes. This is impressive given the car’s monolithic presence and monumental dimensions, not least because it’s also Bentley’s first pure electric car, and the associated gubbins are heavyweight items. The batteries power four motors, propelling the EXP 100 GT to 60mph in 2.5 seconds and a top speed of 186mph. Bentley is part of the vast Volkswagen group, whose synergies are no doubt behind the promise of high-density batteries that offer a range on a full charge of 435 miles. Bentley also claims that they can be recharged to 80 per cent capacity in just 15 minutes. (We suspect that this part of the concept’s promise belongs to 2035.)
This 100 GT also embraces the rising tide of AI, but attempts to humanise it rather than pitch us headlong into the world of Black Mirror. A new exterior paint finish called Compass uses a special sustainable pigment that evokes a spectrum of autumnal colours, and there’s a lot of copper in the 100 GT’s execution. The grille is made of a clear acrylic and takes the convention of it being a car’s “face” by actually being a form of communication with other road users. The illumination in the grille matrix changes depending on which mode the car is in, and the “Flying B” mascot glows as the owner approaches the car. In other words, it’s a friendly, soothing AI-infused giant.
“Innovation should keep human experience at the forefront,” Bentley’s design director Stefan Sielaff insists. “The EXP 100 GT can offer the occupants a digital detox if they prefer and the AI can curate or predict the driving experience.”
The tension between old-school luxury tropes and what happens next is deliciously resolved. Interior highlights include 5,000-year-old copper-infused river wood, 100 per cent sustainable organic textiles that use grape pulp leftovers from wine production, and wool carpets. This environmental saintliness is enlivened by fibre optics interwoven with hand-embroidered fabrics.
You can also forget the idea of a dashboard or even a conventional centre console: the Bentley Personal Assistant is the centrepiece of the main cabin console and uses illuminated crystal from Cumbria. The PA learns and anticipates the owner’s preferences, and biometrics are used to track head and eye movements and measure blood pressure. So even if you’re in the mood for Wagner or The Prodigy, the car may intercede with a more calming audio selection. The floor, meanwhile, flows into the seats, giving the entire cabin a sublime visual continuum.
It’s futuristic all right, but keeps the fallible (and likely Croesus-rich) human at the heart of the experience. There’s even a time capsule secreted in the door pillar, the contents of which document the names of the team that created the EXP 100 GT. Perhaps a robot will dismantle the car in 2119 and doff its digital cap in their direction.