A $600,000+ SUV? Is it worth it? We get behind the wheel of the new 12-cylinder Bentley Bentayga to find out.
It’s not the first time Bentley has built an all-wheel drive vehicle. In fact, Bentley has a long history of building powerful cars that send torque to all four wheels.
This time around it’s different. This time, Bentley has developed an all-wheel drive vehicle capable of going off-road — majorly off-road. An all-wheel drive vehicle capable of tearing through corners and an all-wheel drive vehicle that has claimed the title of the world’s fastest SUV.
The Bentley Bentayga ushers in a new era for the British manufacturer that sees it produce its first SUV capable of not only tackling some of the toughest conditions, but also capable of blistering performance figures.
From the outside, the Bentayga’s design has been its main bone of contention. While it has all the proportions of a large, luxurious SUV, the design of the front end is challenging. With the right colour combination it looks better, but it’s a design that may take some getting used to. Styling is subjective, but for what it’s worth — we actually don’t mind the look of it.
This aside, the twin headlight cluster features a main adaptive LED beam, which is flanked by two circular LED daytime running lights that also serve as indicators. Within them is a headlight washer that deploys on command to clean the headlight lenses.
The standard 21-inch alloy wheels fill out the guards nicely, but the optional 22-inch wheels fitted to our vehicle help pronounce it as a sporting SUV. Thankfully, the huge brakes also fill out the wheels, measuring a mammoth 400mm at the front and 380mm at the rear. They need to be big, given the Bentayga’s kerb weight of 2383kg.
Powering the Bentayga is a monstrous 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder petrol engine that produces 447kW of power and a mountainous 900Nm of torque. It sends all of its might through an eight-speed automatic gearbox, consuming an average of 13.1L/100km on the combined cycle.
Around the rear, LED taillights help define the stance, as do the wide exhaust outlets.
We haven’t looked at the price yet. It’s not cheap — far from it. The starting price of $420,600 (plus on-road costs) is only outdone by a limited First Edition, which is priced from $624,400 (plus on-road costs). Our vehicle, with a number of options fitted came to $610,650 drive-away.
Some of the notable options fitted to our vehicle include contrast stitching inside the cabin, rear privacy glass, a Linley Hamper by Mulliner, signature audio and the off-road equipment required to head seriously off-road.
At this price, there are a number of standard includes, such as night vision, digital radio, a full suite of safety aids (such as blind spot monitoring, lane assist, rear cross traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking), heated seats, 360-degree camera, ventilated seats with massage function and panoramic roof, among others.
As you step inside the cabin, it doesn’t feel like a traditional Bentley. The interior brings Bentley forward in comparison to the rest of its range with an 8.0-inch infotainment screen that features colour and a touchscreen, in addition to a colour LCD screen between the speedometer and tachometer clusters.
The new infotainment screen is a massive step forward for Bentley. It’s very easy to use, is fast and features a number of screens that further push the vehicle’s appeal, such as an off-road screen, tyre pressure monitors and a quick satellite navigation system with online search capability.
Temperature controls are contained within a glass-faced knob that offers a digital display. These controls look elegant and classy, living up to the Bentayga’s appeal.
The seats offer high levels of comfort and hug you in tightly. We spent over 500km behind the wheel of the Bentayga and were amazed with the lack of body fatigue while at the helm of it for extended periods of time.
Front leg and head room is excellent, with masses of room on offer for the front passenger. It’s the same story in the rear — this really is a big SUV. There’s enough legroom to stretch out and kick back.
Rear seat passengers get their own air vents, along with a remote controller that allows the control of the quad-zone climate control and heated seat functions.
As you poke around the interior, you begin to notice that it doesn’t quite feel as premium as it does on first glance.
The buttons surrounding the climate controls feel like plastic and have a harsh click with each push. Likewise the steering wheel controls also click in the same manner and feel like a plastic-cut button as opposed to a metal button or one that is soft with each click.
Sure, it feels luxurious, but not $600,000+ luxurious. When compared to a Range Rover, it feels on par and in some regards not as luxurious, especially when comparing switchgear and buttons.
It’s disappointing, given that the rest of Bentley’s range lives up to its reputation as the pinnacle of luxury motoring. The interior of the Bentayga simply isn’t quite there. Of the five or so people I ferried around during our time with the Bentayga, they all shared the same views.
Thankfully, this car isn’t all about its interior. With a jab of the starter button, the Bentayga’s huge powertrain fires to life and is ready on command.
The traditional gear level uses a Q7-esque gear shifter that defaults back to a central position with Park, Neutral and Drive either side of its central position. It works well and doesn’t take very long to get used to.
The drive selector allows the Bentayga to operate in several drive modes, including Comfort, Sport, Custom and Bentley. Each mode works in unison with the steering, gearbox and suspension to deliver a tailored drive.
Helping the Bentayga stay flat through corners is a combination of air suspension and electronically controlled anti-roll bars that utilise a 48 Volt electric system, co-developed with Audi.
The application of a 48V system is a world-first use in a car, which offers faster response times and increased computing power.
In Comfort mode, the ride is unlike any other SUV. In fact, it rides very much like a high-end Bentley sedan, as opposed to an SUV sitting on 22-inch alloy wheels. It doesn’t even flinch when thrown at a corrugated country road, or a pothole-riddled suburban street.
Steering comfort in this mode is also light, but can still be a bit heavy at lower speeds. It offers a little too much resistance during parking — it would be nice if it were a little lighter.
Arguably one of the handiest features is semi-automatic parking, which worked a charm. Just like a much smaller car, it’s simply a case of hitting the button and letting the car find a park and do the rest.
An element of the steering that isn’t Bentley-like is minor rack rattle over corrugations at low speeds. It shouldn’t exist on a car sitting in this price bracket.
While Bentley claims that the ‘Bentley’ driving mode offers “a careful blend of Sport and Comfort settings as recommended by our chassis engineers”, you’ll be hard pressed to notice a great deal of difference between Comfort and Bentley.
It’s the Sport mode that transforms the Bentayga from a comfortable first class lounge into a capable and perception-altering corner eater. The ride instantly firms and the ride hunkers down in preparation for pace.
Steering feel improves immensely, likewise throttle and gearbox response. The solid metal paddle shifters are cold to the touch and offer the perfect companion for cog swapping on the go.
Despite its huge weight, the turbocharged 12-cylinder engine offers incredible throttle response. The latest version of this twin-turbocharged engine is totally transformed from its predecessor.
It uses both direct and port injection, which it alternates between depending on performance requirements. In addition, the use of variable displacement now allows the W12 to offer between five to 90 per cent of its torque capacity within 1.1-seconds, which is remarkable for an engine with this capacity.
The result is sharp performance that is matched with dead flat cornering thanks to the electronically controlled anti-roll bars. You can literally tip the Bentayga into a corner, stand on the throttle and hold on as it barrels through at incredible pace.
The rear-biased all-wheel drive system makes the Bentayga surprisingly playful as torque is supplied to both axles. It’s progressive and communicative, which means there’s never any surprise as the car reaches its peak 900Nm torque figure.
Once you become aware and confident of the Bentayga’s size and road presence, it’s easy to place and fun to drive.
If you plan on heading off-road, Bentley has you covered. The optional all-terrain specification adds a number of features to allow the Bentayga to head properly off-road. The drive selector adds functions for Mud and Trail, Sand, Dirt, Gravel and Snow, along with Wet Grass and Ice.
These work in addition with a sump camera, underfloor protection and four height-adjustable suspension modes — low, normal, high 1 and high 2. These work in unison with an infotainment screen that displays pitch angle, steering angle and wheel articulation.
Our off-roading was limited to a muddy track, but Alborz went properly off-road at the vehicle’s launch. We were impressed with how the stability control managed the muddy surface and kept the car tracking straight, even under heavy throttle.
Bentley has managed to develop quite a capable SUV that’s at the pinnacle of engineering for the company. It goes off-road, it handles nicely on-road and it delivers performance in spades.
But, its main downside is that it doesn’t feel special enough to boast an asking price of over $600,000 in this trim.
While it may be the perfect addition to a Bentley owner’s collection, buyers could find themselves with a top-specification Range Rover and a stack of cash as an alternative.
Then again, a Land Rover doesn’t wear the iconic Bentley badge.
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