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Will Hollywood Pay $200,000 for an SUV?

Bentley's entry into the super-luxury sports ute category could challenge Mercedes as the industry's dominant power SUV.
Bentley's SUV, as a concept car.

Has the Mercedes-Benz G-Class finally met its match? Has the Range Rover Autobiography been trumped in terms of luxury? Is there room on the streets of Hollywood for a
V-12 powered super-luxury SUV with a starting price of $200,000?

Bentley seems to think so. The Crew, England-based nameplate plans to enter the luxury sports utility category with its own SUV, first displayed as a concept car at the 2012 Geneva auto show and Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Bentley expects to bring the still-unnamed SUV to market in 2016.

Given the high margins and strong sales of luxury SUVs produced by Porsche, BMW, Range Rover and especially Mercedes, Bentley's no-show in the category has mystified auto analysts -- the Cayenne, introduced in 2003, is Porsche's best-selling vehicle and almost doubled the car maker's market share, according to Forbes. The fact that Lamborghini and Maserati have greenlighted their own SUVs would seem to inoculate Bentley from charges that it is sullying the brand.  

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“The Bentley SUV should have been here two or three years ago -- it’s late” says Motor Trend senior features editor Jonny Lieberman. “The market is there for a $200,000 SUV.”

Bentley has updated its entire roster, from the flagship Mulsanne to the sporty and elegant Continental GT and, most recently, the first new Flying Spur since 2005, which features more hand-stitched English clubby opulence than the sales floor of Ralph Lauren. If the production Bentley SUV looks and drives anything like Flying Spur 00 -- with its 616 horsepower V-12 engine -- it will be tough to top.

“The SUV needs to be recognized as a Bentley even without the badge -- the Bentley DNA needs to be part of the car,” says Bentley's chief of exterior design, SangYup Lee. “The SUV needs to remain true to Bentley's history and heritage and expand the brand.”

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There is design continuity from the Flying Spur to the new SUV, which looks, in concept form, like a much taller Flying Spur with a larger greenhouse and bigger wheels. A plug-in hybrid version is in the works, lending at least a pretense of green to a vehicle otherwise powered by a ravenous V-12. "We are very excited at the prospect of the Bentley SUV arriving in America," said Christophe Georges, Bentley's president and COO.

Asked if the Bentley SUV would dethrone Mercedes G-class SUVs, which start at $130,905, Lieberman figuratively shrugged. "The wealthy are doing just fine -- remember, there’s always room at the top."

What do you think?

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