The new Bentley Bentayga is a sport-utility vehicle of superlatives. For one, it is the world’s most powerful. It’s also the fastest, the most tech-laden and, naturally, the most opulent. Of course it is. It’s a Bentley. If it were small and modest and affordable, it’d be something else. Something not nearly as nice.
The Bentayga sits atop the Volkswagen Group’s burly PL71 platform, which underpins the Porsche Cayenne, the Audi Q7 and the Volkswagen Touareg. Each one is gifted in some way, except the Bentley, which is gifted in every way. Simply stated, on a Venn diagram of fast, capable and opulent, the new Bentley SUV has elbowed itself a spot right in the middle, between the Range Rover SVAutobiography, the Mercedes-AMG G65 and Lady Penelope’s FAB1.
Bentley gave the Bentayga a brand-new twin-turbocharged 6-litre W12. The engine, exclusive to the SUV for now but bound for the next-gen Continental and Flying Spur models, produces 600 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque — the latter figure achieved barely off idle, at just 1,350rpm. It features dual cam phasing for responsiveness, cylinder deactivation to cut fuel consumption under light load, and an oil system designed to accommodate a 35-degree tilt in any direction. (Bentayga owners will be expected to memorise such facts.) Bentley claims the SUV — which, for the record, weighs 5,379lbs plus at least 200lbs for the driver and his wallet — will rush from zero to 60mph in 4 seconds flat and press on to 187mph, making it both quicker and faster than an Aston Martin Vanquish Volante. It also has a bigger back seat and the ability to tow a 7700lb trailer.
Off-road — wet grass, mud, rocks, snow, sand, thigh-deep water, fallen tree trunks, post-apocalyptic urban rubble, you name it — the Bentayga is heroic, if somewhat less happy to get really dirty than a Range Rover or a G-Class. The Bentley’s multi-mode adjustable suspension and permanent all-wheel-drive system are managed by a brace of microprocessors pulling a constant feed of data from sensors reporting vehicle speed, engine load, steering angle, pitch, yaw, roll, suspension articulation, wheel spin, global location, planetary alignment, serum cholesterol level, frequent flyer miles and Facebook likes. As such, the only thing that’s really difficult about navigating inhospitable terrain in a Bentayga is giving yourself permission to navigate inhospitable terrain in a Bentayga. It is a Bentley, after all.
From the inside, the Bentayga succeeds in making most everything else look like a ’74 Morris Marina. Every touchable surface feels too nice to touch, and the whole thing smells like the inside of a really good shoe, if you’re into that sort of thing. I found myself continually buffing fingerprints off the shiny bits in our test vehicle (neurotic behaviour which, if nothing else, served to remind me from which side of the chauffeur's partition my ancestors hail). Bentley's leather and wood artisans will line your Bentayga's cabin with hide in any of 15 standard colours and install pieces of veneer from one of seven wood species — all sustainably harvested, natch. These décor decisions are, of course, in addition to the daunting task of picking an exterior hue from a palette comprised of 17 standard colours, 90 extended-range colours and approximately 27.8 trillion bespoke colours. Coquelicot and smaragdine two-tone? Say no more.
The Bentayga's optional dashboard clock bears a paragraph of rumination. Handcrafted at a rate of four per year, the Breitling for Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon comes in white or rose gold and sits in a small divot atop the centre console, behind which is a mechanism that periodically spins the timepiece to keep its mechanical innards wound. This clock adds the equivalent of 10 Smart ForTwos to the Bentayga's bottom line. That's £110,000 ($160,000 in the US), or £112,000 if you factor in the cost of a large, lippy German Shepherd to sit in the front seat.
So, yes, the Bentayga is impressive. And yet, as good as it is at pretty much everything any wheeled vehicle has ever been good at (often simultaneously), there is room for improvement. For one, it does not fly — a disappointing oversight at this price point. It also has no weaponry to speak of, and its degree of ballistic protection is highly suspect. There is no oil-slick function, smoke-screen generator or ejector seat. And 187mph is a laughable 580mph shy of the sound barrier. Inside, the Breitling clock is four diamonds short of a dozen and the 1,800-watt, 18-speaker Naim audio system, while pleasant, is no substitute for Itzhak Perlman — who, like a CB radio, a gregarious chimpanzee and a £21,000 picnic hamper, is just not available in the Bentayga.
[Correction: Turns out there is a £21,000 picnic hamper. —Ed]
Needless to say, an apex predator of this magnitude does not come cheaply. In the US, the Bentayga starts at $232,000, and our test vehicle tickled $312,000, packed to its panoramic glass roof with $80,000 in options, including a $29,000 carbon fibre appearance package, a $13,000 extended-range paint job and that Naim stereo, which commands $4700. Yet with even the most simplistic understanding of the spending habits of Bentley's target buyer, it is impossible to second-guess the Bentayga's business case — or those of the coming Lamborghini Urus, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan or the fairly inevitable Bugatti Royale With Cheese. The Bentley SUV — some 5,000 of which will emerge from the Crewe factory during a typical year — already has a 12-month waiting list. Similar to the Porsche Cayenne, the Bentayga’s raison d’être is to ensure the financial resilience of its maker. Its all-but-assured success, says Bentley’s chairman and CEO, Wolfgang Dürheimer, will give the company the means to develop niche models — cars like the tasty EXP10 Speed 6 sports car concept and the glam Grand Convertible.
Before it changes Bentley, however, the Bentayga will change the SUV game. It is certainly true that most expensive does not always mean best. This time, however, it does.
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