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Bentley SUV spied testing

The luxury brand aims to double annual sales with a high-riding rival for Rolls, Maserati and Lamborghini.

Bentley is promising to rewrite the rules for high-end SUVs as it readies an ultra-luxury flagship for the road.

Rolls-Royce is planning a similar super SUV, most likely based on its $645,000 Wraith coupe, and Lamborghini and Maserati both have SUV plans in the works. Bentley is several years ahead with its contender.

A camouflaged prototype is turning test laps at the Nurburgring in readiness for a public unveiling next year and company chief Wolfgang Durheimer exclusively reveals to CarsGuide that it breaks new ground on the SUV front.

"I'm convinced we have a game-changer. We will create a new layer in the SUV segment, right at the very top," he says.

"We are now in the final test phase. That is including a challenging off-road phase." Durheimer is serving his second stint in the top job at Bentley. He originally gave the green light to the SUV program - when it was only an ugly concept called the EXP 9 F - and says it has progressed as he planned.

"In only my third day back I was able to drive the first prototype. The company has moved on, in a good direction," he says.

The Bentley boss has also served time at Porsche and can see parallels with the impact of the original Cayenne, Porsche's first SUV, on his current company.

"It's a step change in two directions. A situation we have never been in before. We have never had an SUV before and there has never been an SUV like this before." He predicts SUV sales of about 3000 a year, which would more than double Bentley's annual results.

This year alone the company has logged a 25 per cent increase in global deliveries.

"The best years for Bentley are yet to come. We are again on the road to setting a new record." He believes Bentley has an untapped market for its SUV among the existing owners of its luxury sedans, coupes, and convertibles.

"Most have at least one SUV in the garage already," he says. Durheimer will not be drawn on engines or specifications, but gives a solid hint on pricing."It will be below the ($662,858) Mulsanne. We already have a flagship but, in terms of the market sector, it will be the SUV flagship."