Bentley is exploring radically new space by unveiling the production version of its Bentayga luxury SUV, and the British automaker likewise is counting on the vehicle to take its well-heeled customers to uncharted, rugged territory few Bentleys have ever seen before.

A Bentley SUV has been in the works for several years, and the first iteration, the EXP 9 F SUV concept, drew a cool reception at the 2012 Geneva auto show. The awkwardly proportioned utility vehicle appeared stiff, upright and top-heavy, attempting to carry over many of the design cues that had distinguished Bentley sedans over the years.

The ’17 Bentayga, soon to debut at the Frankfurt auto show and set for delivery to customers early next year, carries over a few of the concept’s themes, namely the prominent haunches, the general shape of the hood and the steeply raked backlight.

But there the similarities end. The headlights and grille are smaller, and the whole front end leans backward, flowing neatly into the hood. The greenhouse is reduced, and the roof appears to be lower, sloping down to the liftgate.

In short, the Bentayga has more in common with the sporty, sexy and successful Continental GT coupe – arguably the car that saved Bentley when it launched in 2003 under new owner Volkswagen – than the sedans in the stable.

There were many lessons learned in designing and unveiling the concept, Sangyup Lee, Bentley’s head of exterior and advanced design, tells WardsAuto during a media preview at the recent Concours d’Elegance in California.

Most importantly, the automaker identified solid demand for a premium luxury SUV unlike anything yet on the market. Lee says the concept was intentionally styled to test the waters with consumers.

“We like to measure how far we can push,” Lee says. “When we design, we always try to make a big step, and then we back off if we need to. When you make a small step, it’s difficult to make a design statement.”

Bentley uses a stream of superlatives to describe the new Bentayga, calling it “the fastest, most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world.”

Designed and engineered in Crewe, U.K., the utility vehicle is built in the adjacent plant on a line separate from the coupes, convertibles and sedans.