This is a very sophisticated, very complex sport utility that performs at levels beyond any sport utility before it. Imagine taking the capabilities of the world’s top SUVs, the Range Rover and Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, blending them artfully to get the best on- and off-road performance, and you’d have one fine sport utility.
Yet, that imaginary SUV wouldn’t be anywhere near the Bentayga. Beyond its performance and abundant luxury, the Bentayga has a serious amount of technology that is at a new level for Bentley, far past anything fitted to the Continental, Flying Spur, or Mulsanne.
The drivetrain starts with Bentley’s famous W12 engine configuration, but this motor is all-new, and it’s still twin-turbocharged. In the Bentayga it makes 600 horsepower and 664 pounds-feet of torque, plus it’s fitted with cylinder deactivation for better efficiency. More importantly, it does zero to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds and tops out at 301 km/h (187 mph). Yes, this SUV posts supercar numbers, but don’t forget that Bentleys are all about effortless performance.
The four standard drive modes – Sport, Bentley, Comfort, and Custom – integrate the sophisticated chassis’ settings, from ride height to damping to active anti-roll control, as well as stability and traction, and combine it with engine and transmission calibration to create truly distinct driving dynamics based on the driver’s preferences.
Those four modes are just the starting point, however. Then, there’s the optional Off Road Specification with four additional drive modes that allow the Bentayga to handle snow to sand and everything in between. Indeed, I drove the Bentayga through the dunes at Glamis in California and, other than me burying the Bentley with my novice-level sand driving experience, it performed flawlessly all while riding on standard all-season tires. Amazing.
Sand dunes weren’t enough for this first drive, either, as Bentley arranged some proper off-roading that unequivocally highlighted the Bentayga’s off-road prowess. Thirty-percent grades aren’t a problem for the all-wheel-drive system on original-equipment tires. What’s more, Cameron Paterson, Bentley’s Director of Whole Vehicle Engineering, said the engine’s oil system was designed to operate up to a thirty-degree tilt.
Dynamically, you immediately appreciate that this is a big vehicle, but with 664 lb-ft of torque available at 1,350 RPM, maximum thrust takes a small push of the throttle. Bentley says the Bentayga is two-and-a-half metric tonnes, but I think that might be a little optimistic and I suspect it’ll cross some real-world scales at a bit over that figure.
Steering is remarkably good, with excellent precision that’s suited for carving corners, and levels of feedback that give you the confidence to hustle the Bentayga. Massive brakes give massive stopping power and pedal feel is superb, as well. Despite its size and mass, the Bentayga takes on-road performance seriously.
So much so that part of my scheduled drive included laps around the Chuckwalla circuit in southern California, a fast and challenging track in the proverbial middle of nowhere. Even with a short time behind the wheel and no knowledge of the track, it was easy to become confident throwing the big Bentley around corners and expertly brake at the end of the straights.
In the corners, the Bentayga’s active anti-roll control keeps the attitude relatively flat – or, very flat for an SUV – and suspension damping is expertly calibrated for excellent body and wheel control. In fact, I should point out that Bentley’s damping is among the best in the business, but is often overlooked perhaps for the brand’s nod to luxury over performance.
If you’re familiar with Bentleys, you’ll be at home inside the cabin. There is endless leather, wool and wood veneer. Everything you touch and interact with has an ultra premium feel. The seats are near perfect and visibility is great, as well. The list of driver assist features is almost endless, as you’d expect, plus it’s rated to tow 3,500 kilograms.
Supporting all of the drive modes, driver assist systems, and the general high level of onboard tech, there are one hundred ECUs onboard each Bentayga. There are optional Android-based tablets available for rear seat passengers and of course the Bentayga has wifi on board. The optional top sound system is by Naim, of course.
The most notable option is the Mulliner Tourbillon by Breitling – yes, that’s a hand-made, automatic timepiece that sits atop the Bentayga’s dash – priced at about $234,000, nearly the base price of the Bentayga. It’s removable so that you can place it in a stand on your desk at the office, but when optioned with the Tourbillon, your Bentayga is fitted with a watch-winder, making this SUV the most expensive watch-winder in the world.
Some have suggested that it’s an unattractive design, and perhaps they’re remembering the not-so-balanced concept I saw at Pebble Beach a few years ago, but the devil really is in the details – and this Bentayga has detail in abundance. The headlamps and taillamps are carefully designed like jewelry, and to my eye, the proportions are right, and that’s before you consider the opulence of the interior. Plus, I’m not sure how you can make a traditional two-box SUV design any more attractive than this.
Regardless of what you and I think of the design, it’s already a sales success. Even at a starting price of $266,090 (CAD), it’s had a remarkable reception and the first year’s production of 5,000 units has been sold, proving that there is indeed a market for the ultra-premium sport utility. On the other hand, that means that if you want one, you’ll be waiting a while—or paying a premium on the secondary market.
Personally, I can’t wait to see a Bentayga on the road, filled with passengers, pulling a trailer, atop of which rides a vintage Bentley, en route to their favourite concours. Then, the promise of this Bentley sport utility will have been fulfilled.