The Bentley Bentayga was an inevitability from the moment we saw the first concept at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. SUVs are popular and profitable for premium automakers. Lack one and you’re missing out.
So here in 2016 is the production version of that controversial concept. You could never call an SUV pretty but it’s far more acceptable than the divisive EXP-9F: Bentley’s never made an SUV before and, with this, it’s given us a more sportily-styled one than most.
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Of course, it’s big: 5.1 metres long, around two metres wide and a kerbweight of 2.4 tonnes. It also only seats five (or, ideally, four), in opulent comfort, rather than squeezing in seven. You don’t expect to get seven in a Mulsanne, so why here?
It is a striking thing in the metal (aluminium at that, for a near-quarter-tonne weight saving over steel). The front is bluff and ‘Bentley’ but the so-called side power line and bulging rear haunches really stand out: add in an almost fastback-style rake to the rear for something way less boxy and brutal than we were expecting. It’s world’s apart from a Range Rover.
Saying that, it’s a design that has the nobility you expect of a Bentley. A Range Rover has this too: a Range Rover Sport, arguably, does not.
Features such as the shallow glass and massive 22-inch alloys (the biggest ever on a Bentley) further aid the proportions and, in standout colours such as bright red or the gorgeous blue pictured here, it’s far more appealing than we ever dared hope back in 2012. Designer Sangyup Lee, who joined Bentley in 2013 to deliver the Bentayga, is a genius.
Costing from £161,355, Bentley says most won’t leave the Crewe factory with a price tag less than £200,000. There’s never been such an expensive, posh SUV before, giving Bentley no end of headaches in finding rivals during development, but also allowing it to claim it invents a new category: the luxury SUV.
It’s based on the Volkswagen MLB platform also used by the new Audi Q7, albeit with 80% unique components, including the 6.0-litre W12 TSI petrol engine. First deliveries will be underway soon, initially of the limited-to-608 Launch Edition (a mere £230k…) so we headed to California to try out the fourth vehicle in Bentley’s model line for the first time.
On the road
The 6.0-litre W12 twin-turbo TSI engine is all-new. Despite being exactly the same size as the old one, “not a single nut or bolt is the same,” insists Bentley. It produces a headline 608hp and an even more traditionally Bentley-like monstrous torque figure of 664lb-ft. In new money, that’s 900Nm, and is yours between 1,250-4,500rpm. Remarkable.
The headline figures guarantee bragging rights: 4.1 seconds to 62mph and, at 187mph, the world’s fastest SUV. Again, in metric, that’s 301km/h: was that extra 1km/h engineered in to grab it the record, we wonder… but be in no doubt the headlines are justified – this is a devastatingly rapid machine. Sports car fast, despite being an SUV.
The torque makes it. In combination with near-instant throttle response, the Bentayga’s eye-opening speed is truly effortless, on tap at will. Waft around at low revs to keep pace with almost anything on the road, shove the accelerator further into the rich carpets for higher revs and eye-opening step-up power. It just floods in.
High revs are the only time the engine’s vocal – a cammy, unusually ‘V6-like’ noise for a 12-cylinder, overlayed with distant turbo whistle. Otherwise, it’s stupendously quiet, smooth and isolated. At tickover, you genuinely can’t feel or hear it, have to check the tacho to see if it’s started (stop-start means you’re often in doubt). It’s every inch the creamy, rich engine you’d hope.
Pleasingly, with such a powerful engine, it’s no soft, squidgy SUV either. This is perhaps the biggest surprise of the Bentayga on the road: how the firm’s blended agility with comfort. The ride, of course, is lush, with air-cushioned absorbency and pliancy that’s justifiably magic carpet, even on the meaty big wheels most buyers will choose.
But it handles too. Really handles. From the first turn-in, you feel the uncannily roll-free body (thank new 48-volt anti-roll tech for that) which, in combination with surprisingly meaty steering bite, makes the Bentayga extremely agile for a big 2.4-tonne SUV. Yes, agile: it even boasts clean front-end turn in and inertia-free manners through switchbacks, just to further reinforce its litheness. The nose only pushes on when the lack of roll fools you into entering corners at silly speeds.
This makes it a beautifully relaxing and confident car to drive. The lovely ride, reassuring steering weight and planted handling make it unlike almost any other SUV: most are wallowy and plush, some are taut yet lumpy, but the Bentayga is neither. Add in its speed and muscle for something that absolutely delivers the Bentley rich all-rounder experience we know from the Continental GT (even if, inevitably, some of the Conti’s driver focus is ultimately absent).
Indeed, the only time it does feel like a squidgy, heavy SUV is under braking – there, you do feel the mass as the brakes are worked super-hard. You also feel the weight shift forwards and the nose dive. Bentley’s working on carbon ceramic brakes but they’re not here yet. When they are, they’ll lessen a rare chink in its armour.
We should also add its off-road ability. Technology and air suspension give it loads, more than enough to tackle loose surfaces and steep gradients that would terrify even the most hoo-ray of owners. We even took it into the sand dunes for full-throttle four-wheel drifting fun: and if it’s not quite enough as standard, Bentley also sells an off-road pack with even more capability.
On the inside
Inside, the Bentayga is breathtaking. Truly extraordinary. If it’s not the best new car interior in the world right now, it’s pretty damn close.
You notice the silence first. It’s among the quietest, most refined cars in the world – Rolls-Royce quiet, the sort of quiet that makes you think you’ve gone deaf. Refinement so impeccable, Bentley’s even had to specially engineer the electric windows so they go up and down without jarring. 70mph sounds like 30: that’s how peaceful it is. What wind noise, etc.
As for design, it’s a modern version of the traditional Bentley twin-cowl dash, with much more sculpture and depth than the rather flat and 2D current design in the Conti. It’s shapely and intricately detailed; the Bentley ‘jewellery’ around all the wood and leather (both are abundant) is just as you’d expect of a luxury car and more.
Occupants sit high – a steep step-up is aided by flat sills (and the door bottoms cover the sills so trousers don’t get dirty when you step out) and the view out is commanding. It feels more planted than the regal view out of a Range Rover, but still look-down.
The dash features contemporary-look controls throughout, from the big dials and central colour display screen, to the widescreen infotainment display in the centre console (a little too VW-Group in appearance, perhaps, but packed with modern tech as a result). Switches, displays, buttons: all have a sort of 4K clarity that makes even the smallest detail seem special.
It’s roomy enough, with big-car legroom in the rear and ample space in the front. The five-seat bench in the rear is OK, but to match the cossetingly comfortable seats in the front, you need the two-seat rear pack. There are dual tablet displays in the rear, connected to the infotainment system: you can view the same mapping systems as the driver, should the plethora of entertainment options not be enough.
Only the boot seems a bit small: 430 litres is not brilliant for such a large SUV. Blame the sporty rear design, although the space that is there is easy to load and, again, all trimmed in rich and ultra-quality materials. You can even get an optional slide-out rear bench, to mimic the Range Rover’s split rear tailgate whose bottom half so many sit on.
Another nugget we learnt on the launch: this is the first Bentley that’s been tested for towing, and can handle a 3.5-tonne trailer. There’s even a trailer assist programme: press a button and the Bentayga will reverse itself and the trailer it’s towing into a space. Magic.
What, you really want to know how much a big, heavy £150,000 Bentley with a 12-cylinder petrol engine will cost to run? Er, OK. Are you sitting down?
Actually, it’s not quite as bad as all that. Oh sure, 21.6mpg is hardly green and CO2 emissions of 296g/km are three times a Ford Focus Ecoboost. But it is a 2.4-tonne SUV, remember – and as Bentley says, those emissions are more than a Focus Ecoboost’s worth less than the original 2003 Continental GT W12…
Actually getting sub-300g/km for a petrol SUV as big as this is an achievement in itself, helped by the Bentley Variable Displacement system. This shuts down half the cylinders during light loads so it operates as a fuel-efficient six-cylinder (you can’t tell). Stop-start is standard and allows you to coast, engine off, to a halt.
The full might of Volkswagen Group brings added features to make living with it easier: adaptive cruise control, head-up display, even night vision. The driver assistance systems’ 12 ultrasonic sensors, five cameras plus short- and long-range radar is reassuring tech to have supporting you.
Bentley says prices aren’t the biggest concern of owners, which is perhaps a good thing: the sheer amount of customisation outside and in, and the amount of money you can spend on it, would never be fully recouped on the secondhand market.
Not that depreciation is going to be too much of a concern for the first few years: we suspect demand is going to far outstrip supply here, which will make the Bentayga a hot, desirable and safe place to put (all) your money.
Doubters and naysayers, at ease. You can’t hate the Bentley Bentayga, because it is an extraordinary car and a fantastic achievement by the Crewe company.
It fully deserves a five-star rating, and not just because it’s effectively the first car in its class. The Range Rover is classless and desirable, but this has moved the luxury SUV game on for those who like driving, not just wafting. The interior is a triumph, the engine’s a powerhouse and the refinement is outstanding.
We shuddered at the thought of a Bentley SUV a few years ago, and the 2012 concept looked set to confirm our worst fears. But the Bentayga has confounded all our fears. A cosseting, rapid and satisfying to drive luxury SUV, it’s a true Bentley – the best car the firm makes. Without doubt, one of the best premium SUVs you can buy, full stop.
2016 Bentley Bentayga: the best 5 rivals
The Bentayga creates an entirely new class of car, the luxury SUV. Apart from the Range Rover, it’s thus without rival. Bentley admits it struggled to find genuine competitors – which is why it says even cars such as its own Flying Spur could be considered a rival…
- Range Rover
- Mercedes-Benz S-Class
- Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
- Audi Q7
- Bentley Flying Spur
2016 Bentley Bentayga: specifications
Engine: 6.0-litre W12 TSI twin-turbo
Top speed: 187mph
Fuel economy: 21.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 296g/km