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Convertibles are "intrinsic" to the brand, says Bentley, as it releases a sketch of its Mulsanne Vision Concept.

Bentley is weighing its options to add a drop-top version of its flagship Mulsanne sedan, testing the waters with a concept that could translate into production by mid-decade.

Like its most direct rival, Rolls-Royce, Bentley has traditionally offered a convertible version of its biggest, most expensive model.  But with the loss of the old Azure two years ago there’s been no ragtop option for the big Mulsanne.

That could change, depending on reaction to the Bentley Mulsanne Vision Concept quietly unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance over the weekend.  The full-sized model was kept under strict guard – those invited in for a look even had to surrender their cellphones to ensure no pictures leaked out, though Bentley has now provided a rough, early sketch.

Bentley's controversial SUV concept, the EXP-F9.

The model that a handful of reporters and a number of potential customers got to look at is about six inches shorter than the current Bentley Mulsanne sedan, most of that cut out around the pillar.  As with the Rolls Drophead, Bentley has decided to go the two-door route, the front doors stretched about 10 inches to ensure easier rear-seat access.

And, again like Rolls, Bentley has opted for a chopped-top look, though not quite as severe as the design adopted by its British rival.  The Vision Concept’s roof is three inches lower than the Mulsanne sedan.  The windshield, meanwhile, is a wee bit more aggressively raked.

Though smaller, the interior is largely carried over from the Bentley Mulsanne sedan.  One intriguing difference is the window sill-mounted grab handle – which runs virtually the entire length of the rear seats – intended to make it easier to get in and out of the back.  In addition, there are separate door latches so passengers could open them up and exit if they’re being chauffeured.

Bentley is looking for back on those and other features of the four-seat cabriolet concept before finalizing its design.

Wolfgang Durheimer, the Bentley CEO who will move to a new job at Audi in September, said in a statement that, “The modern, luxurious, high-tech Mulsanne saloon provides a perfect foundation on which to create the world’s most elegant convertible. The Convertible Concept will extend the appeal of the Mulsanne family, while enhancing the profile of the Bentley brand, particularly in new and emerging markets.”

Though it calls convertibles an “intrinsic part” of the company’s history, Bentley cautioned that the Mulsanne Vision Concept has not yet been approved for production – though it appears work is moving ahead at a rapid clip.  It also appears that Durheimer may leave a final decision for his successor.  He will become R&D chief for Audi in September.

Durheimer has also passed on whether to order development of a new smaller passenger car model to slot under the current Continental range.

But he has given the go to move ahead on the Bentley SUV concept introduced earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show despite some harsh media criticism the prototype received.  Among potential buyers the back has been much more positive, the executive said during an interview in Pebble Beach.  The goal, he added, is to have a production ute available by 2014.

Durheimer promised it will be “the most expensive SUV in the world,” with a price tag expected to fall somewhere between $170,000 and $200,000.

A production version of the Mulsanne Vision Concept would go for nearly twice that, according to a well-placed observer. Expect it to take about two years to bring to market after concept approval, according to Bentley officials.

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