Thankfully by mid-afternoon the last rain clouds had gone, allowing the Bentley boys to roll EXP10 – the main attraction of the VW Group’s annual press conference held back in July – onto the Tempelhof tarmac.
Officially, the car is no more than a styling exercise, but behind closed doors Bentley is working on the next step in the evolutionary process. Its desire to make EXP10 a reality is obvious in the fact that this one-off concept starts and drives, which is why we find ourselves standing in the rain at a former Berlin airport.
EXP10 was designed by Sangyup Lee under the direction of Bentley’s Director of Design Luc Donckerwolke. Even if it wasn’t painted British Racing Green, it wouldn’t take an expert to identify the coupe’s provenance.
True, there are some Aston and Jaguar elements in the mix, but the main bloodline links EXP10 to the Continental GT. With the Conti set to grow larger and roomier when the Mk II version arrives in 2017, there is room for a smaller, sportier two-seater in the mould of the Porsche 911 or Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
Bentley’s latest concept was completed just in time for the 2014 Paris Motor Show, but bosses pulled the pin at the eleventh hour, claiming the car needed styling tweaks and closer attention to detail. We’re not familiar with the changes made, but it’s a successful piece of design, conveying plenty of emotion and a strong sense of occasion.
Further changes will be required in the move to production, including extending the wheelbase for more cabin room and bringing the lights in line with global requirements. The final product, however, should not differ greatly from what you see here.
Flush-fitting door handles help its sleek lines but must be pushed in, then pulled out, in one continuous motion in order for the swan wing door to arc simultaneously outwards and upwards on its single, massive hinge. Stepping over the leather-clad sill, your left foot lands on a piece of colour-matched carpet and levers your body into the bucket seat, also wrapped in quilted leather.
There is not a single piece of plastic in sight. The dominating material is leather, dyed saddle brown and contrasting dark green, but chrome is also in abundance, with copper accents here and there.
There is plenty of wood, too, with the door panels milled so the pattern mimics the diamond stitching on the seats. It’s a very special environment which leaves a lasting impression; it looks, smells and feels good, yet is totally functional.
The driving position is low with strong lateral support, and all major controls are housed within the giant in-dash touchscreen. The instrument display is a seamless blend of old and new, the left-hand side housing four analogue gauges (revs, fuel, power and battery) with the right side a multifunctional digital monitor. The only button worthy of note is that to start the engine, but at the moment it’s nothing more than a glistening dummy.
Like all show cars, the EXP10 is a bit of a diva, and it takes three steps to coax it into action mode, all of which are governed by a small box under the dashboard. First, flip the ignition toggle switch then stab the small black button to fire up the engine.
Finally, wait a couple of seconds before selecting drive by pushing the appropriately lit symbol. With a subtle jolt, the seven-speed dual-clutch ’box engages first gear.
Even at just above idle speed, the V8 engine fills your eardrums with a wild and angry noise pattern. The engine in question is the 4.2-litre atmo screamer from the current RS5; a car which also donated its suspension, transmission and all-wheel drive system to the cause.
The steering and carbon-ceramic brakes are from the Audi R8. Bentley’s R&D chief, Rolf Frech, refused to disclose the identity of the final intended drivetrain, but his smile was so broad that anything other than a V8 will be a big surprise.
Bentley could theoretically adopt the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 engine from Porsche’s parts-bin and mate it to hybrid drive, but it’s worth knowing that Weissach is currently laying the finishing touches on a new generation of more efficient engines.
Expect the EXP10 to house a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 of at least 373kW, though the fact that this concept houses two filler caps, one for fuel and the other for a charging cable, suggests Bentley is serious about electrification. Regardless, it will be expected to hit 100km/h in under four seconds and top out at over 320km/h.
Not that we are attempting any such heroics today. While we are behind the wheel and moving, we’re not exactly ‘driving’ the EXP10. The maximum allowable steering lock is half a turn, which gives the car the turning circle of a freight train. And, the minimal clearance between the custom wheelarches and handmade 21-inch Pirelli slicks – 305/40 up front, 335/40 at the back – results in an awful grinding noise over the slightest of bumps.
R&D chief Frech is bullish about Bentley’s vision for this new sports coupe, though. “EXP10 is our vision of a powerful yet luxurious two-seater sports car,” he states. “It would have to be the very best in terms of performance, handling and roadholding.”
To that end, Frech is in almost daily contact with his former colleagues at Porsche. It is an open secret that Bentley wants to tap into the new MSB matrix being developed by Porsche for the next-gen Panamera.
MSB will be used for all future Crewe products bar the Bentayga SUV, and its front-mid-engined layout should offer better weight distribution than the competing modular structure being developed by Audi for the next A8.
With the new MSB-based Continental GT set to duck under the two-tonne mark, the EXP10 will need to be in the region of 1750-1800kg to provide enough dynamic differentiation between the two.
Before it can concentrate on developing this new Aston fighter, though, Bentley must first bring the Bentayga SUV to market and sign off the new Continental and Flying Spur. Realistically, that means a production debut before 2019 is unlikely.
Off the record, however, VW bosses are happy to share their thoughts on the potential model range that would result from the creation of the EXP10, including a roadster, lightweight special and possibly a Porsche 929 twin, in coupe and convertible form. It would also give Bentley a more appropriate vehicle on which to base its burgeoning GT racing program, than the Continental.
There is no shortage of competition in this segment, with the Mercedes-AMG GT, next-gen Maserati Gran Turismo and Aston Martin Vantage playing the GT role and Porsche’s 911 Turbo and McLaren’s 570S offering choice for those of a more sporting persuasion.
Despite this, the combination of a new level of dynamic ability and Bentley’s traditional craftsmanship makes the EXP10 project an absolute no-brainer.