Many a tear will be shed by Bentley traditionalists when Bentley finally sends its venerable 6 3/4 liter turbo V8 out to pasture. With modern fuel economy and emissions laws, the writing has been on the wall for sometime for the engine that started in Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars back in the 50’s.

In response to tighter standards, all car manufacturers have been working on way to improve fuel consumption. The trend is two-fold: first to smaller displacement engines with forced induction. Secondly by adding electric motors, which have terrific torque characteristics to help these smaller engines at low RPMs. An example of this can be seen with the Continental GT V8, which debuted with a 4.0l twin-turbo V8 in 2013. The engine maintained the power level of the original Continental GT, but displaced a third less, was 70 lbs lighter and 40% more fuel-efficient.

In 2015, Bentley debuted their first hybrid concept car, the Mulsanne Hybrid. That car wasn’t intended for production, but rather was a test bed for the hybrid components that will appear first in the Bentayga.  For the heavy, off-road capable Bentayga, the addition of electric drivetrain and even electric turbochargers will help it maintain its title as the world’s fastest SUV while utilizing an engine a third smaller than its W12.  It will Bentley’s first hybrid and the work being completed to bring it to market will certainly be utilized in future Bentley models.

Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 Live Reveal

With the knowledge of all the development work Bentley has done so far, it’s no surprise to hear Bentley’s CEO speaking recently about the addition of electric power to Bentley’s lineup. What was slightly surprising was that Dr. Wolfgang Dürheimer was speaking about Bentley’s sporting concept car, the EXP 10 Speed 6. Electric vehicles and performance are exactly spoken in the same sentence, although there are some Tesla’s with wicked acceleration characteristics.

The concept car, which has toured the world to great accolades since it debuted last March, was presented with a naturally aspirated V8. It’s color scheme with its copper-colored accents, echoed the trim used on the Mulsanne hybrid concept car, making Bentley’s intentions clear.  Speaking at a Bentayga launch event, Dürheimer said the company has been hard at work on the business case for the Speed 6.  It’s “the best feedback we’ve ever had for a Bentley that’s gone to a production clinic,” he told CNet.

Answering the questions about how Bentley’s customers would respond to the different dynamics of an electric drivetrain, he compared the current noise level and torque characteristic of the Mulsanne and its 6 3/4 liter turbo V8. “torque characteristic and the noise level you experience in a Mulsanne is very close to an electric car.”

Bentley knows they have to deliver on performance and is targeting the equivalent of 500 horsepower and an electric range of 300 miles.  According to Bentley board member Peter Guest, there is a possibility the sporty coupé could even be rear-wheel drive.  So far, the company hasn’t revealed much else about the performance of their hybrid drivetrains.

Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 Live Reveal

Bentley is working on the next generation Continental GT.  The third generation’s chassis development is being shared with sister company Porsche for the next Panamera.  It is certain that the next Panamera will have a plugin electric version, which could be adapted for Bentley’s use.  It is speculation by this website that the Speed 6 would also use that same base chassis and share some drivetrain components with the Continental GT.  Doing so would speed up development and production.

The time frame for the Speed 6 debut could be as early as 2019 or 2020, a year after the new Continental GT debuts.  An electric Bentley will certainly be a new direction for the company but one that would be welcomed by customers if it can deliver on performance.

If the idea of an electric motor in your Bentley make you uneasy, then know that like the current Porsche Panamera, Speed 6 buyers will still have an internal combustion engine option.  To the critics of a Bentley EV, just look at the Bentayga’s reception for evidence of how the Bentley faithful will embrace something new from the brand.

“We think this could push luxury and then sports car business to a new direction, and could be again groundbreaking for Bentley Motors.” Dr. Dürheimer to CNet   

Speed 6 Gallery:   

Sources: Autoblog, Auto Express, CNet