Bentley Admits It Has A Big Problem With How EVs Sound

Electric Vehicles / Comments

It doesn't yet have a solution, but it's working on it.

In case you missed it, Bentley will be going all-electric by 2030. It's a massive undertaking, but as one of the first luxury marques to have made the commitment, the brand is confident it can adapt to the challenges faced by electrification. However, there are still a few problems to overcome for the brand on its road towards an electric future. Bentley prides itself as a builder of gentleman's drivers, GTs that still thrill and reward the pilot behind the wheel. But as the world's largest producer of 12-cylinder engines, one of the hallmarks of the brand is noise. The sound of a W12 engine like the one found in the Bentley Continental GT Speed is a signature of the brand. The marque may not rely on shouty engines like Mercedes-AMG, but the sound of eight or 12 cylinders firing up as you're propelled towards the horizon in complete comfort is an integral part of the driving experience and a particularly emotional part of it. But with EVs, Bentley will lose that soundtrack. And Dr. Matthias Rabe, member of the board for engineering at Bentley, is well aware of this.

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Rabe is tasked with engineering the next generation of Bentleys, including all-electric ones like the electric SUV coming in 2025. When CarBuzz asked him about the problems facing electrification, we highlighted two areas of concern. First, the character of a combustion engine - the way it builds its power to a crescendo, the feeling of winding it out to that point - and secondly, the aural aspect of it. Rabe responded, "You are completely right on both of these points," before going on to tell us of his passion for cars, his history of Porsche ownership, and how sound has been an integral part of his own passion. "It's something we do not have a workaround for yet," he says, referring to the lack of an engine note. But he insists it is something they are trying to find a way around, understanding that noise is an important part of the driving experience.

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On the topic of power delivery, Rabe says that an electric powertrain actually suits Bentley's profile as a luxury GT maker. Rabe says that in a car like the Mulsanne Speed, "its 6.75-liter V8 with 1,100 Nm (811 lb-ft of torque) is effortless in the same way as an electric powertrain." He says that effortlessness will translate well in all-electric Bentley's, fitting in with the brand identity. He earmarks sedans and SUVs as the first logical step as these are more refined driving experiences requiring less of the dynamic thrill provided by coupes like the Continental GT.

Bentley is in no rush to make a full change to electrification, though, and ICE models will coexist alongside new EVs for some time still. Some members of the Bentley board wanted a hard switch, originally rumored to happen in 2026, but Rabe tells us he doesn't see this as the best path and that the shift will be gradual, starting with PHEVs like the Bentayga and Flying Spur.

2017-2020 Bentley Mulsanne Speed Engine Bentley
2017-2020 Bentley Mulsanne Speed Front View Driving Bentley
2017-2020 Bentley Mulsanne Speed Rear View Driving Bentley

As for the demand for EVs from brand loyalists, Bentley has been surprised by the uptake. The Bentayga Hybrid arrives in the US in Q1 of 2022, and prior to its reveal, owners were surveyed to gauge interest in hybrid adoption. At first, about a quarter of buyers said they were ready to embrace a PHEV within the next few years, we're told by Wayne Bruce of Bentley. But the rate has climbed rapidly, and in the brand's most recent polling, customers who are not averse to owning a hybrid Bentley in the near future are up to 45%. Bruce claims that it's not even a case of owners wanting to take advantage of healthy tax incentives. Bentley buyers are rapidly coming around to the benefits of an electrified powertrain as the best of both worlds, using the electric range for day-to-day commuting and then having a full combustion range and the convenience of such for weekend breaks and getaways to holiday homes.

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