Modern cars are evolving at an astonishing pace, but to many there's a danger they're all headed for the same homogenous, electrified, self-driving future that robs enthusiasts of all enjoyment. Nobody is more concerned by this than Bentley, which is doing its best to develop future cars that embrace technological change, while retaining driver enjoyment.
Bentley's great silver hope for a brighter future is the EXP 100 GT. It's an electric, semiautonomous concept car that shows Bentley's vision for what its GT cars will look like 35 years from now. It's also the company's 100th birthday present to itself.
Aesthetically, the EXP 100 GT is striking, to say the least. Its sleek body is constructed from lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, though it's larger than it appears in photos. At nearly 20 feet long and 8 feet wide, it's considerably bigger than even a Range Rover, but it disguises its dimensions well, thanks to sleek proportions and a wealth of impressive details littered throughout.
The front is pure, futuristic aggression. It features the new "Flying B" Bentley mascot, developed for the company's centenary, along with round headlights that spill over into a massive illuminated grille consisting of 6,000 LED lights.
It may appear a little gaudy to some, but it does serve a purpose. It's able to light up in a welcome sequence when it senses the driver approaching, and can be used to warn pedestrians when the EXP 100 GT is operating in autonomous mode. It's completely impractical, of course -- just imagine the repair bill after a minor shunt -- but it's stunning all the same.
In profile, the EXP 100 GT has a number of recognizable Bentley design traits, including the famous rear haunch, borrowed from the R Type Continental. What's not recognizable from any previous Bentleys are the doors. These alone are 6.5 feet wide and can pivot outwards and upwards. At their highest point they measure nearly 10 feet high.
At the rear, noteworthy touches include LED brake lights, augmented with 3D OLED screens, which can add animated graphics to help the car stand out.
Purists may be disappointed to learn that behind that enormous front grille, there's no sign of the company's famous W12 motor. In its current guise, the EXP 100 GT is completely electric. It uses four motors that produce 1,106 pound-feet of torque and 1,400 horsepower, enough for acceleration to 62 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds and a 186-mph top speed.
While we don't know what the exact battery solution is, Bentley says it will provide five times the energy density of today's lithium-ion batteries, and that it'll weigh just 4,189 pounds while still offering a range of 435 miles. You'll be able to recharge the battery to 80% of its total capacity in just 15 minutes -- hypothetically, of course.
The Bentley EXP 100 GT's interior design has more in common with an alien space ship than a traditional car, but look closely and you'll again find a number of recognizable Bentley traits. There's some familiarity in the shape of the dashboard, for example, and it probably won't come as any surprise to learn that Bentley has lavished the EXP 100 GT with the finest materials.
What's most impressive is the way all these materials flow together. The embroidery pattern in the textile matches the pattern in the leather, and that's also replicated in the wood. The attention to detail and the craftsmanship is exceptional.
It is, of course, festooned with smart technology such as adaptable biometric seats. These monitor your body temperature and posture and can use reactive seat surfaces to change the level of support to help make you more comfortable.
The EXP 100 GT makes use of an innovative glass canopy embedded with prisms that can collect light and transfer it into the cabin using fiber optics. The idea is that it can harvest natural light and then synthesize this light on demand. It can, for example, record the light characteristics of a sunset on any particular journey, and then "replay" the light from this journey in the car, allowing you to experience similar conditions in the car, regardless of the time of day.
Perhaps more usefully, the glass roof can also be completely transparent or opaque, allowing you enjoy some sense of open air motoring, or increased privacy.
All such settings can be controlled using a series of gestures monitored by the Cumbria Crystal centerpiece.
An autonomous driving mode is optional with the EXP 100 GT. In self-driving mode, the steering wheel can retract, the front seats swivel around, and you can take advantage of Bentley's personal assistant. Think Siri or Alexa on steroids, with the car delivering information based on what you happen to be observing through the windows or windscreen any given time.
Arguably the strangest feature of the EXP 100 GT is a cartridge delivery system in the center console, which can deliver goods and "services" to occupants from an under-bonnet storage system, accessible by anyone the driver authorizes to do so. Products could be left under the bonnet inside a custom cartridge by a concierge or delivery driver, and these can later be drawn into the cockpit at the wave of a hand.
There is much more to discuss with this car. Bentley has absolutely gone to town with a wealth of features ranging from the sublime to the scarcely believable. It has a custom scent, leather made from the offshoots of the wine industry and paint made from a poisonous byproduct of the rice industry.
There are even active aero wheels and tires that can change the shape and tread pattern of both the wheels and tires on command using piezoelectric motors to optimize grip in a variety of weather conditions.
Whether any of these technologies will appear any time soon remains to be seen, of course, but what's clear is that Bentley is pushing the envelope and thinking big about the future, and who knows, maybe one day cars like this will become a reality. Stranger things have happened.