By Neil Winton
The Bentley Bentayga is a spectacular combination of luxury, performance, and utility. It will zoom away from the lights like a Ferrari, cosset you like a Rolls Royce, and carry you safely across deserts and mountains like a Land Cruiser.
The fact that Bentley is now owned by Volkswagen of Germany doesn’t seem to have changed its perception as a traditional British luxury marquee. After all, most of BMW’s SUVs are now made in America, and its sales go from strength to strength.
All that matters to the buyer of one of its magnificent machines is the high quality and exclusivity of the product. And given that to buy a Bentayga you will likely be shelling out way north of $230,000 after tax, you can assume that the would be customers will spot a phoney a mile off.
When you open the door to the Bentayga the smell of the best quality wood and leather hits you. Everything around you is pure class. The “organ stop” devices which control the air conditioning vents are beautifully made. The analogue clock in the centre of the dashboard glints in the sunlight. No surprise because Bentley says it is a Breitling with “a light mother of pearl face” and inlaid with diamonds. The wood and leather are the result of many hours of top flight craftsmanship at the factory in Crewe, which unlike most modern car plants is actually full of highly skilled people and eschews robots.
It’s hard to avoid superlatives with the Bentayga, which Bentley says is the fastest, most luxurious, exclusive and most expensive SUV in the world. That might well be true now, but soon when the Aston Martin, Mercedes-Maybach, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, and even Ferrari join the club, it might have to dilute this hyperbole a bit.
The engine is a 12-cylinder 6-litre, twin-turbo monster developing 600 hp, enough to blast this leviathan from rest to 60 mph in 4 seconds. There is an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Press the starter button, and the 12 cylinders ignite a spectacular high-pitched whine which quickly settles down into an ominous whisper. If you plunge off-road, there were eight settings available at the touch of a dial to match the conditions, or you can let the computer make the decisions. A panoramic glass roof is standard, a word you won’t find often used by Bentley. (see “extras” below). When you visit the local horse show, you should add the folding event seat which slides out from the back. There’s a special version aimed at the Middle Eastern market called the Bentayga Falconry, believe it or not.
On unlimited German highways this beast will manage 187 mph. If you’re wondering why Bentley engineers settled on such a weird number, that adds up to 300 km/h in most of its markets. If a Bentayga buyer cares about fuel efficiency, ambling along at about 50 to 60 mph on country roads half the cylinders will shut down to cut gasoline use. In Bentley’s history, it’s a fair bet nobody in the showroom has yet even asked how many miles to the gallon it might get.
The Bentayga felt a bit floaty on the road but held itself amazingly flat through winding and tight high speed curves. Even on Britain’s third world, pot-holed roads the bumps were swept aside with disdain. The steering was beautifully weighted and a delight to use. There are so many drivers’ aids that it would take an intensive course to find them all, but I did push a button and stumbled on the “head-up display. That projects speed limits and sat-nav instructions above the bonnet without having to take your eyes off the road.
The Bentayga, named after a mountain peak in the Spanish Canary Islands in the Atlantic close to Morocco, comes with 4 or 5 seats. A third row will be added next year. When Bentley says this costs $231,825 before tax, it doesn’t include a huge list of options, which we lesser mortals might expect to be included. The Naim stereo will add $4,690, electronic safety aids ($7,870), folding seat added to the cargo area ($3,200), rear seat entertainment ($7,155) right down to stitching on the steering wheel $210, and a heated one $455.
Is the Bentley perfect? Even at this price level you can find niggles. The turn indicators didn’t make enough noise and I occasionally left them pointing either left or right by mistake. And once, when slowing down for a junction, the Bentayga’s computer detected some non-existent hazard, and tightened my seat belt so hard that it felt like someone had punched me in the chest. It goes without saying that all mod-cons in terms of connectivity and driver safety are on board.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying mate,” he said, “but isn’t it a bit ugly?”
Because the Bentayga is so huge and therefore makes a big initial impression, the conventional wisdom seems to be that, sure, it’s impressive, but is in fact rather ugly. That was my impression when I first saw the prototype, but reckoned it had been improved by the time the production version hit the road. I have to say that my own ad hoc survey resulted in an overwhelming view that indeed it was ugly. One comment came from a plumber at my local gas station who wondered over and asked for a look inside. He was impressed. “I hope you don’t mind me saying mate,” he said, “but isn’t it a bit ugly?” UTube viewers of the drone video say the same thing. But Bentley won’t be worrying. Sales around the world are ticking over nicely at about 5,000 a year.
Trying to make a judgement on a vehicle which is so far out of the reach of normal mortals is difficult. Other SUVs are almost as big, like the Volvo XC90, Audi Q7 (on which this Volkswagen subsidiary is loosely based), Range Rover, BMW X5 come close in size, and the biggest Mercedes. All these competitors are about to or have already announced plans to make bigger versions. They also have fantastic performance and much luxury. But the Bentley has that extra oomph in the minds of its super-rich buyers because of its devotion to craftsmanship and traditional materials, not to mention its iconic status.
If you think Bentley, you see the first high-speed machines 100 years ago with their death defying and cavalier drivers. Much has changed since then, but not Bentley’s aura.
Bentley Bentayga W12
Engine – 6.0 litre twin turbo 12 cylinder gasoline
Power – 600 hp @ 5,000–6,000 rpm
Torque – 664 lb ft/900 Nm @ 1,350-4,500
Drive – all-wheels
Gearbox – 8-speed automatic
Acceleration – 0-60 mph 4.0 seconds
Top Speed – 187 mph-301 km/h
Fuel consumption – claimed combined 16 miles per US gallon mpg
WintonsWorld road test 15.2 miles per US gallon
C02 – 296 g/km
Emissions class – US LEV III
Suspension – double wishbones/multi-link
Length – 202.4 inches
Width – 78.7
Height – 68.6
Wheel-base – 117.9
Weight – 5,781 lb
Trunk capacity – 15 cu ft
Competition – None, yet, but Aston Martin, Mercedes-Maybach, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari soon
For – all the perfection that money can buy
Against – the options list won’t win many friends
Configure your version at https://www.bentleymotors.com/en/models/bentayga/
Price from $231,825 before tax