Bentley shows off its future EV design language… by adapting its 6.0-litre W12 to an outrageous limited-run special
File under ‘British Eccentricity’. Bentley has decided to showcase the key features of its new design language for the electric age… on a 12-cylinder petrol burner, the most powerful road car it has ever built.
The Batur is another collector’s Bentley, a follow-up to the sold-out Bacalar roadster. But it looks very different, and not just because it’s a coupe. Only 18 will be made and Bentley has already secretly shown the design to some of its best customers. Chalk it up as a success: It sold out many weeks before its public unveiling at Monterey Car Week.
At a price of £1.65 million each. That’s plus VAT or the local equivalent, but I think these are the kind of collectors who live by Leona Helmsley’s motto ‘only the little people pay taxes’ (said she was shortly before she was jailed for tax evasion). Whatever their tax arrangements, they have taste, don’t they?
The Batur is a thorough but surprisingly subtle re-body of the Continental Speed. And as great as the Speed is, I think an extra dollop of horsepower and driving dynamics wouldn’t hurt. So the W12 engine is triggered to 740 hp and 737 lb ft of torque – a nice round 1000 Nm if you speak metric.
The Batur can be remembered as a pivotal car. It is the last and most powerful of the W12s and the pinnacle of Bentley’s petrol era. Facing forward, this is the beginning of a design reboot.
That makes it the first part of Bentley’s answer to a question facing all existing luxury and supercar manufacturers. What happens after a history – in this case more than a century – of building cars visibly molded around mammoth engines, what happens to the design when it is necessary to make electric cars?
Bentley got a new design director, Andreas Mindt, last year. After figuring out what he wanted to do there for the next few years, he got off to a quick start by getting the Batur from a blank screen to the unveiled car in a year. That’s only possible because it’s made in small numbers, so it can bypass some of the usual slow industrial processes.
Designing a car isn’t just about pulling the big levers. Even seemingly small adjustments can have a profound effect on the final result. Mindt has come up with a detail that will have a significant effect on your perception of the Batur and will become a signature on future Bentleys. A trim, in this case titanium, starts on a hull-like kink at the leading edge of the hood, runs back past the windshield pillar and mirror, and continues to the rear of the car. The effect is that the front of the car becomes optically longer: Mindt calls it an ‘endless bonnet’.
Previous Bentleys have had to pack up to eight liters of six-cylinder in the front, so it’s a strong historical thread. The proportions of electric cars are very different because the front motors are so physically small and the cabs can be longer. But this new rule works like trompe l’oeil, allowing you to perceive more from the front than there really is.
Mindt says the faces of too many EVs tend to be generic, but the Batur’s front end can work for an EV and make it distinctive. The grille is mounted lower and more upright than in the Continental: ‘confident’, he says. The matrix floats, seemingly unbound to the surrounding panels. The Batur’s grille has an intricate pattern to admit cooling air; in an EV it can be textured, but usually left out.
As with the Bacalar, the headlights are two main units and not Bentley’s previous quartet. Their internal pattern is different from the ‘crystal tumbler’ style Bentley has recently adopted, their texture instead coming from intricate arrays of LEDs. Mindt says, “Luxury customers are moving from traditional to modern and want less decoration and chrome. Light will take over from chrome in the future.” Around the back we find newly slimmed light clusters.
Mindt says the dark bottom panel of the tail makes the car look less heavy and adds some tension. In the future, Bentley cabs will have relatively small, upright glass surfaces to minimize solar gain, so it is important to reduce the apparent mass of the bodywork. The overall body shape has been simplified and the surfaces slightly puffed up: “It’s like our supercharger blows into the body and pushes the panels out.” That titanium bar also hides the hood closing line, so the front end appears monolithic. The Batur is wider than the underlying Continental Speed, with a wider rear track for both looks and traction.
Inside the cabin are jewelry elements – transmission button, ventilation controls – 3D printed gold, with hallmarks. The stitching pattern in the upholstery mirrors the radiator grille, black and red in a diamond structure. The rear seat has been swapped for a platform and takes the luggage from the epic Grand Tours that paints this car to the imagination.
Shedding a tear: Bentley says the Batur engine is the latest development of its W12, the most successful 12-cylinder engine ever by production numbers. Compared to the Speed’s, it’s not just a chip job. There is, of course, new software as it is part of a package that includes a revised intake system, new intercoolers, new compressors in the turbochargers, improved oil cooling and a titanium exhaust system. A whole list of upgrades for just 18 cars. I think if you are a special customer they might adapt it to your speed. The chassis inherits from the Speed a 48V stabilizer system and four-wheel steering, plus an electronically controlled rear differential lock. The Speed is truly a special car to drive; the Batur again promises more.
Ferrari makes its carriage-built cars by a hundred; there will be 599 of the new Daytona SP3. Aston Martin does much the same. So I ask Paul Williams, the boss of Bentley’s Mulliner bodybuilding division, why there will be only 18 Baturs and why the Bacalar was limited to 12. “I could sell 50 without a problem, to be honest,” he grins. But then a quick win now would hurt long-term strategy. It is critical that the cars built by the coach always remain in short supply to uphold their values. “We prioritize relationships with the buyers. We know these customers.” As they rise in value, repeat purchases will flow. He won’t say, but we all know that McLaren and Aston Martin have suffered over the past three years from the oversupply of some of their special edition cars.
Williams added: “In addition, Ferrari has a range of great cars from the 1950s and 1960s to draw inspiration from. We had a lean period in those years.” All the more reason for the Batur’s design to look more forwards than backwards.
ANDREAS MINDT AND HIS BENTLEY ELECTRIC PHILOSOPHY
Just in time to design its first all-electric car, Bentley got a new design chief. He is Andreas Mindt. In 1999 he worked on the mid-engined Bentley Hunaudières concept which in many ways led to the Bugatti Veyron. But then he moved within the VW Group and his later work is the Audi Q8 and e-Tron GT.
He arrived at Bentley a year and a half ago and for the first six months he thought and studied the Bentleys to distil the visual appeal of the brand. “For any design team, the opportunity to redefine our own rules is the most exciting challenge. We have reinvented the Bentley design language, maintaining some continuity while drastically changing key elements.”
The headline on his mood board reads ‘powerful, inspiring and harmonious’. But three words don’t draw a car. Part of his research was to locate the visual elements of the greatest cars Bentley has ever made. Unusual for sports cars, their profile has no wedge. But they look like the weight is resting on the rear wheels, despite the engine being up front. And that layout means the ‘endless hood’ and the large upright grille.
How will an EV have an endless hood and vertical grille? Those are remnants of the combustion era, aren’t they? Mindt says no. While the actual proportions of an electric car will be different from an ICE car, “it is not necessary to show that it is an EV”. (Anyway, on the first-generation Continental GT, the proportions changed significantly, the front axle slipping as Bentley went from RWD to 4WD.)
Many manufacturers make their coach-built cars look outrageous. But if you hadn’t been told, you wouldn’t think the Batur is the most powerful road Bentley ever. “Bentley is subtle. It doesn’t scream. It’s like a resting beast, not an attacking beast.”