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First look: Bentley's biofuel bruiser

Extreme machine: New Bentley flagship will emerge at Geneva in a month.

Bentley promises supercar performance from its first biofuel model

28 Jan 2009

THE first fruit of Bentley’s year-old promise to introduce renewable fuels across its entire model range by 2012 has appeared - in the shape of a biofuel-fed Continental the company says will also be its “fastest, most powerful production car ever”.

Confirmed to make its public debut at the Geneva motor show on March 3, the new Bentley flagship was previewed today (January 28) in a single dimly-lit teaser image.

It shows what appears to be the six-year-old GT Coupe which, along with its GT Convertible and Flying Spur sedan siblings turned the hallowed British luxury brand’s fortunes around from 2003 under Volkswagen ownership, only with a pair of bonnet vents and a cleaner, meaner, more minimalist bumper treatment.

Lurking behind them, however, is an even more powerful bio-ethanol variation of the 449kW/750Nm 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine that propels Bentley’s current performance flagship, the 2350kg Continental GT Speed ($428,247), to 100km/h in just 4.5 seconds.

Presumably, as the historic UK maker’s first truly environmentally-conscious model, the “ECOntinental” will also improve upon the GT Speed’s stratospheric fuel consumption and CO2 emissions figures of 16.6L/100km and 396g/km respectively.

Bentley first heralded its biofuel plan in February 2008 before committing at last year’s Geneva show to “FlexFuel” versions of all its models and therefore both its engines, including the Conti’s VW-designed W12 and Bentley’s own venerable 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8.

In the Arnage Final Series sedan ($628,637), the latter produces 373kW and no less than 1000Nm, but returns a claimed average of 19.5L/100km and 465g/km.

According to Bentley, which claims to be “pioneering the use of this fuel in the luxury sector”, its biofuel-compatible FlexFuel engines, which like Saab’s BioPower engines can run on either petrol or biofuel, will dramatically cut CO2 emissions on a “well-to-wheel” basis.

54 center imageLeft: Bentley Continental GT Speed. Saab has sold BioPower models, which are designed to run on E85 fuel (a blend of 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol), in Australia since 2007 but only a handful of E85 retail outlets exist in Australia.

Fellow Swedish maker Volvo told GoAuto in December that it too is ready to introduce a range of E85-compatible models in Australia, but not until the fuel becomes more widely available here.

Saab custodian General Motors has forecast a big future for ethanol fuel globally and its Australian subsidiary GM Holden committed in December to producing an E85 version of its volume-selling Commodore, the nation’s most popular vehicle, by 2010.

Holden's E85 market push is expected to stimulate both local E85 infrastructure, fuel production and policy for ethanol fuels, which Holden says would be cheaper than petrol, largely renewable and a key driver in reducing automotive CO2 emissions.

A plan by biofuel company Coskata to establish Australia’s first cellulostic ethanol facility echoes that of a US joint-venture pilot plant which produces ethanol from household garbage.

Bentley reaffirmed its commitment to biofuels as a means to addressing CO2 emissions at this month’s Detroit motor show, where it released a document titled ‘Bentley and the Future of Biofuels’ to explain its environmental plan.

“This document provides a balanced review of the key questions surrounding biofuels and why biofuels are a key component of the Bentley’s plan to minimise the environmental impact of our vehicles,” said the company.

“The document highlights how biofuels can be solution to tackle the issues of climate change and energy security. Bentley and the Future of Biofuels illustrate that biofuels can provide a secure, sustainable fuel which has little impact on natural habitats and global food prices, and importantly, emits significantly less CO2 than gasoline.

“The report highlights how biofuel projects can bring investment to emerging and rural economies and concludes by calling for cooperation between governments, biofuel producers, NGOs and automotive manufacturers so that the benefits of biofuels can be realised on a global scale.” Bentley’s green plan also calls for the reduction of carbon emissions across its model line-up by 15 per cent or more before 2012 and the introduction of a new powertrain that reduces fuel consumption by 40 per cent.

The British brand’s record sales of about 10,000 vehicles in 2007 slumped by 24 per cent in 2008 and last week Bentley made headlines by announcing it would close its Crewe plant for seven weeks from March due to slower sales.

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