The first generation of Bentley’s Bentayga didn’t do much for me at first. I think my issue was that, as a partner cog in the VAG machine, they should have learnt from Porsche’s mistakes with the straight-up-ugly original Cayenne.
Then I had coffee. More specifically, I was sat on a Kensington street sipping my morning cortado, and there sat a Bentayga. Black with the large Mulliner five spoke alloy wheels (thankfully in silver). The more I looked at it, the more I realised how wrong I was. Well-proportioned – quite obviously a Bentley – and with enough presence to be seen, but not too much to be gaudy. With the development of the entire Bentley range to celebrate this year’s centenary, we have an all new product line up.
The Bentayga is now in V8 form, with the ‘Speed’ offering the simply astonishing updated W12 plant. Lines remain familiar, but with a slight softening, akin very much to the similar revisions seen across the range. Simply put, it’s a subtle yet still impactful revision of a shape that has become familiar in the Bentley line up since its “concept” launch back in 2015 (with production beginning the following year.)
It’s clear that there is a blueprint to luxury car manufacturing – and one that, in this day and age, categorically has to include an SUV. Christ, when the boys at Sant’Agata plant the raging bull on a 4×4, one knows which way the market has gone.
The market for the super SUV now includes more than just the Turbo S guise of Porsche’s Cayenne and a supercharged petrol Range Rover. That Porsche sells more Cayenne than any other car it makes put together. This certainly tells its own tale. In the first year of production back in 2016, Bentayga immediately became Bentley’s most popular model. With 70% of owners being new to the brand, it is another stark reminder of where the finances lie in luxury automotive.
With the luxury SUV market, there’s a stereotypical view that owners will mostly reside in city locations, will never see mud, and will flirt with off-road pretensions rather than backing them up. Whilst the former may well be true, I wanted to approach the Bentayga with an open mind, especially when it comes to its abilities as a car. I’ve said before – perhaps on these pages, perhaps elsewhere, perhaps I may have even dreamt it – but I’ve said before, we are blessed with our car market. With rapid technological advances, every car that is made should theoretically be the best car in the world. At the upper echelons of the market, every single car, in every segment should be the best, right?
Bentley, now two decades under VW-Audi ownership, now benefit from large scale manufacturer fit and finish. Long gone are the idiosyncrasies sometimes associated with hand-built luxury. Underpinnings of the Bentayga also sit underneath the Audi Q7 and Q8, the Porsche Cayenne, and Lamborghini Urus. This is a well-trodden path for the group, and one that provides a solid base on which to build the Bentayga. And build on it they have.
Internally, there are fewer nicer or more cosseting environments to find oneself in. Bentley craftsmanship is certainly a trait maintained regardless of ownership. Leathers are wonderfully supple, and the quality of fit and finish is second to none. Despite over 6,000 miles on the odometer, and having seen this exact car tackle some off roading at the Toybox event, the car felt as new as the day it wafted out of Crewe. That’s what economies of scale bring you. Bentley luxury coupled with Volkswagen reliability. It also allows for Bentley to take the best of what the group has to offer. So one has a brilliant 10.9 inch touchscreen set-up that Audi drivers will find familiar. There is the chassis as mentioned, and that twin turbo’d V8 plant is the same that we find in the Audi RS6, itself, a beacon for practical speed.
What does all this translate to as a user proposition? As I’ve said, surely, it’s the best car in the world? Surely the answer is not far off the truth. For a car to take that title, it should be able to accomplish anything, in any conditions. That is exactly what I found with the Bentayga. Always a strange sensation when throwing circa 180,000 of metal up dale and down ditch. I am aware of its actual off-road abilities, which, when sat water to waist rails, one realises is quite something. The off roading was followed by a spirited drive back to base in weather that would have had water buffalo seeking cover. With the memories fresh, and in possession of the car for more than a well-sanitised day, I looked to see what other tricks lay up its well-tailored sleeves.
The subtle styling improvements with var focus primarily on the front and rear views of the car. The front grill replicates those seen across the updated range and sat alongside are new intelligent LED matrix headlights. These take from a signature design style for Bentley, inspired from crystal cut glassware. Drink it all in, indeed.
Below both sits a more aggressively-styled front bumper that certainly corrects the original model’s aesthetic failings. At the rear, the fully tailgate includes the rear light clusters that allows for much smoother rear lines. That the number plate recess has moved to the rear bumper also allows for the rear to become a much softer and more cohesive element of the car’s design.
New wheels that are exclusive to the model, the rears sit 20mm wider and further into the arches improving both handling and stance. All this adds to the feeling that this is less of a marketing tick box, with the Bentayga most certainly earning its right as a standalone model. Standing loud and proud in the refreshed lineup, this has to be one of the strongest designs Bentley have ever produced.
Internally, the refresh continues, particularly with the addition of 100mm of rear passenger legroom, depending on specification. The greatest gain in the four-seat configuration. There is also a three-row, seven-seat configuration to add to the standard five seats, further increasing the usability of the model. This expanse of internal space is augmented by what seems to be ubiquitous in luxury cars: a panoramic roof.
The quality of not only the leather and fascia, but also the switchgear and general touchpoints, are wonderful. I’ve said already how much a tried-and-tested media interface improves the usability of the cabin. A sensible balance between traditional switchgear and the touchscreen interface further improves the experience. Rear passengers are treated to a tablet control that docks within the centre column between the front seats. It is both usable and seamlessly integrated in the design. Nothing seems out of place, nothing is contrived. And as I’ve said, that may be the best thing. There is no thought process, no consideration of the journey ahead. Because it’ll do it. And you’ll be comfortable. And it will be quick. You won’t have any worries about the weather – because why would you? Your behind is baked at a lovely temperature, massaged like wagyu, and the stereo provides more musical depth to songs you’ve listened to for years. The point being: every journey you make will be effortless.
When the premium SUV arrived with the Mercedes M Class back in 1998, it was underpinned with truck elements. That 20 years later we have products such as the Bentayga, which are so dynamically refined, again reinforces how important this segment of the market is. Both opportunities I’ve had to sample the car have not elicited the best of British weather, but you take it as it comes. The confidence that it instils in the driver is nothing short of mega. Utilising a world’s first electric active roll control, the surefootedness is remarkable.
The 20mm of wider track at the rear also aids the Bentley Dynamic ride settings and add to the aura of invincibility that the car builds around you. You know, once in a while you see that person, lane three of the motorway, at speeds ill-advised for the weather, and you ask yourself ‘why?’. If you see someone doing the same in a Bentayga, wave them on their way. They’re no more aware of the weather than they are of you. With the All-Terrain package comes eight suspension set-ups for the car. If there is a need to take it into the wild, descent control and a full raft of surface settings mean that one is always confident, regardless of what is under-rubber. But let’s face it: it’ll be a rare Bentayga that spends its days getting muddy. I’m just here to tell you that, should it need to, it can with aplomb.
Power comes from the now familiar dual twin scroll turbo V8, mated to the industry standard, eight speed automatic gearbox. In this guise, it’s good for 550PS and 770Nm of torque. These combine to propel this thing down the road at some lick. The 0-62mph run delivers in 4.5 seconds. It’ll eat up tarmac all the way to 180mph if you’re so inclined (or live in Germany). Rather counterintuitively, the party piece, and another foil in its quest for ‘Best Car in the World’ (as voted by me) is the cylinder shutdown that allows for a huge increase in economy. Fine, it’s not troubling a BlueMotion Polo in those stakes, but 21.2mpg on the combined cycle is pretty impressive. Go ask a G-wagon owner. You’ll find one at any local petrol station.
Within the confines of a relatively suffocating London, it converts again, becoming a relaxed luxury carriage that cuts a discreet silhouette against a backdrop of city offices. The high driver’s position, the panoramic roof, the insulated glass all remind the occupants of the luxury and keep them as fresh as needed for their arrival. It isn’t big, per se, but by no means unwieldy either. Having driven smaller cars with worse positioning, it’s an easy car to manoeuvre through tight streets or to avoid one of London’s many kamikaze Prius pilots. Parking using more cameras than Orwell envisaged in 1984, every angle is covered, and one would be hard pressed to put a scratch or ding into the well-polished sides.
Endless personalisation options available are through Bentley: a world of colour, cloth, leather and veneer. Bentley have made sure that the canvas you paint on is of the best quality possible. Is there anything I didn’t like? Not that I can think of.
That I never had to think at all whilst using the car perhaps best shows this.
With the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover price tags increasing at an alarming rate, one can’t even claim price to be that much of a deterrent. That one gets such a refined dynamic set up coupled with such a polished finish, inside and out, and one that still allows for pretty epic performance, again clangs that bell for the ‘Best Car in the World’. Does it win the prize? Well, it probably boils down to the individual. Cars, after all, are subjective. But when you see the Bentayga fly past, as you sit stressed and white knuckled on the M4, you may well come to agree.