The all-new Ultra Luxury SUV from Bentley has a lot to prove
Yes, this is a Bentley SUV and you'd better get used to it, because it will undoubtedly become the best-selling model in the British brand’s proud history.
The Bentley Bentayga is the world’s most expensive SUV, with its Australian price starting from about $420,000 for the initial version of the car equipped with an all-new W12 twin-turbo engine.
Before we get into it, we must address the elephant in the room. The Bentley Bentayga may not be what many would call pretty, but it's certainly very striking in the flesh, possessing a lot of presence - particularly from the front. The rear is more conservative, but it all works together as a package.
Furthermore, Bentley making an SUV is merely a sign of the times. When Porsche came out with the first Cayenne SUV back in 2002, many said it was the end for the German performance brand, having given over its sporting soul to making SUVs. Fast forward to today and SUVs account for nearly two thirds of all things from Porsche, but it hasn’t had any negative effect on purist models like the 911 or the Boxster. In fact, it’s the income from SUVs that has allowed Porsche to make cars such as the 911.
The case with the Bentley Bentayga is a little different, as the company claims to not need the money to fund its other models, and that it has instead made an SUV due to enormous customer demand. It makes sense, as large super-luxury sedans are becoming a tad old-school - so why not make super-luxury SUVs?
The most obviously exclusive part is the 12-cylinder twin-turbo W12 engine. Although W12s have been a Bentley tradition for some time, this new engine is almost entirely new compared to the W12 on offer in Bentley’s other models (for now).
Producing a staggering 447kW of power and 900Nm of torque, the Bentayga moves its 2440kg mass from 0-100km/h in just 4.1 seconds. That makes it the fastest SUV in the world (until the Tesla Model X arrives, at least).
You appreciate its ferocious appetite for acceleration when you plant your right foot flat to the floor and things start to go a little fuzzy upstairs. It’s not just the 0-100km/h that’s impressive, but also the acceleration that continues after that. It is uncanny and somewhat unnatural just how quickly 200km/h comes about, and it's bewildering how it will keep going until it hits 301km/h.
Of course, it’s not just about straight line speed. To counteract the higher ride height and weight of the Bentayga, Bentley has employed a rather technical electric active roll control technology with a 48V system that reduces body roll noticeably. Around the never-ending tight cornering roads of Palm Springs, California – where Bentley decided to launch the Bentayga globally – the British SUV sat flat and powered on from one corner to the next.
The out-of-corner acceleration of the Bentayga is phenomenal. The all-wheel drive system shows no signs of understeer when pushed to the limit, and you can carry a lot more speed than you probably think possible. The 400mm front brakes (380mm at the rear), which are the same size as ones you’d find on a Bugatti Veyron, make stopping a battle of your internal organs against physics.
The only concern with the Bentayga’s dynamics comes from the quietness of the cabin, as it’s nearly impossible to hear the tyres. Combine that with the lack of feedback from the steering wheel and it means you’re basically guessing how much grip is left available at the front.
It’s perhaps not as fast as a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S or Range Rover Sport SVR from corner to corner, but it’s not meant to be. Besides, it makes up for that in ride comfort, which is very much Bentley, meaning that it has no equal - even over poorly-surfaced roads.
We are talking about a super-luxury SUV here, after all, which is primarily built to be comfortable. Wait, what’s that you say? An SUV is meant to be off-road capable as well? Well, you’re in for a surprise, because the Bentayga is an off-road monster.
That sounds odd to say, but it’s true. Nonetheless, no one in their right mind (unless you live in Dubai) would take his or her half-a-million dollar SUV off-roading. The nine-layer exterior paint alone would cost you the price of a Toyota Corolla to fix if anything was to really scratch deep.
Even so, Bentley insisted we take the Bentayga off-road. We obliged. Truth be told, we expected some basic and very controlled off-road course that could be easily conquered in a city-SUV, but this wasn't the case. Bentley wasn’t messing around. After changing the drive mode selector to ‘mud & trail’, our Bentayga climbed and descended hills that would make Jeep Wrangler owners hesitate.
Our experience inside the cabin while driving up 34 degree gradients felt as though the Bentley wasn't actually climbing any hills. It simply made the hills submit to its will. There’s so much torque that getting stuck actually takes effort. If it weren't for its (still very respectable) 245mm ground clearance (500mm wading depth) and its Pirelli road tyres, we suspect the Bentayga could do far more off the bitumen.
We also came across some sand dunes - as you do - and the Bentayga ate those up as well. To emphasise just how much torque the Bentley has, the tyre pressure was only dropped to about 22 PSI for the dunes (usually you’d go to around 10), as any lower and its mighty torque would’ve ripped the tyres right off the rim (as Bentley's prototype testing program revealed).
So, the Bentayga can go really fast, it can conquer an off-road course and it can even play in the sand, but what’s it like inside?
That is, perhaps, the Bentayga’s best aspect: the interior is rivalled by none. Everything, and we do mean everything, feels nice to the touch. The air conditioning vents, the little dials for the stereo, the speaker grilles, every surface feels as though it has had hundred of hours of someone’s devoted attention. The car itself takes more than 130 hours to put together. This is what makes a Bentley, and from that perspective, the Bentayga is the finest SUV in the world.
The front seats, with their massage functions on, are a place you can sleep in. The 18-speaker, 19-channel, 1950W Naim audio system is also out-of-this-world good. It's better tuned to the cabin than what we experienced in the Mulsanne Speed.
You can have the car in either a five- or four-seat configuration. For the five-seat version, which initially seems like the obvious choice, the three rear seats offer that little bit more legroom (1058mm front, 1039mm rear) and can be moved on rails. The four-seat version, which essentially takes more of the front seats and puts them in the back, is far more comfortable, though it is compromised with slightly less legroom. If you only have two kids or don’t need to carry more than three at any given time, we feel the four-seat variant is the wiser option, as the comfort level is beyond expectations.
Bentley also offers the option for rear entertainment, which is to use two 10.2-inch tablets that are connected to the car’s on-board 4G WiFi system. That will definitely keep the kids busy.
All that being said, it’s not entirely smooth sailing in the Bentley Bentayga. There are some issues. The gearstick, for example, has the parking button positioned at the front of the stick, which resulted in us continually and unintentionally putting the car into park.
The rear legroom can be an issue for some taller passengers, being just borderline uncomfortable for this reviewer’s 176cm height (with the front seat's height adjusted for the same frame).
The infotainment system is sub-par, compared to the rest of the cabin. Bentley has taken the unit straight from the Volkswagen parts bin and adjusted it to meet its needs. It’s a little finicky to use and doesn’t feel nearly as refined as what’s on offer from Rolls Royce (a BMW iDrive clone) and, despite our repeated attempts, we could never get it to stream music over the Bluetooth audio.
But perhaps the biggest complaint we have for the Bentayga is the options list. It’s utterly enormous. Going by the specifications listed on our test cars (Australian specifications yet to be confirmed), items that should be standard equipment are not, such as the hands-free tailgate for a $1000 (pricing converted from USD, so may be higher post-LCT). A further example is the rear seat entertainment for $9900. The software to enable its off-road modes (all terrain specification) and some underbody protection? $8000. Four seat specification? $15,000. The advanced active safety systems such as adaptive cruise control, head-up display, lane assist, night vision, and traffic assist (touring specification)? $11,000. It goes on, but the point is clear.
At least the $300,000 Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon watch (yes, three hundred thousand) seems like good value for money.
All of the dozen or so Bentley Bentayga test cars present at the international launch had around $70,000 worth of options on them, so expect to pay at least $50,000 to equip your Bentayga to your taste.
Criticising a Bentley for having expensive options is somewhat nonsensical, given the nature of the car. However, it’s more that some of the options really do need to be standard (although they may still be, as Australian specification isn't yet confirmed). As a comparison, Mercedes-Benz offers a great deal of those optional active safety features as standard across the range, even on the entry model A-Class.
Overall, there’s no doubt the Bentley Bentayga is the best SUV in the world. It combines the most comfortable and refined cabin of any SUV in history with extreme dynamic performance, while its off-road capable nature is true to traditional SUV roots.