While the W12 offers ballistic performance, it's the diesel Bentley Bentayga that ticks the practicality box. Paul Maric goes for a drive.
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For a company that scoffed at the term 'SUV' prior to Bentayga, Bentley really started testing its friendship with customers when announcing that it would also build its first ever diesel — the 2017 Bentley Bentayga Diesel.
Thankfully the Bentayga isn't just another SUV. The 12 cylinder W12 flagship carries the title of the world's fastest SUV — capable of a certified 301km/h — while the new V8 diesel launches with the title of being the world's fastest diesel SUV, with an unrestricted top speed said to be around 270km/h.
For those uninitiated, the engine under the bonnet of the Bentayga Diesel may look, smell and sound familiar — and that's because it is. It's predominantly the same engine Audi uses in its flagship performance SUV, the Audi SQ7. But, it's beneath the surface that these two cars really differ.
Bentley broke off from the Audi development program early on and while using the same hardware, focussed on a more refined and luxury feel. The Bentayga diesel features a bespoke engine and transmission calibration, along with extensive integration of four-wheel drive modes, which aren't available on SQ7.
With a starting price of $335,000 plus on-road costs, the Bentayga Diesel is around $90,000 less than the W12 petrol powerhouse the range debuted with earlier this year. With a range of over 1000km, it's the Bentayga Diesel that's likely to be the one chosen by buyers after practicality, refinement and performance.
Under the bonnet is a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged diesel V8 engine that produces 320kW of power and a stupendous 900Nm of torque. All of the torque is sent through a ZF Sachs eight-speed automatic gearbox. 0-100km/h is despatched in just 4.8 seconds, making this one of the fastest SUVs on the planet — let alone diesel ones.
Bentley chose the stunning scenery and mountains around Marbella in Spain to launch the new model. In true Bentley fashion, everything was accounted for, including a coffee stop atop a mountain sporting a 4000ft altitude peak, putting the optional Linley Hamper by Mulliner to good use.
We set off from our accommodation and through a set of quaint suburban streets before meeting the motorway. The suburban streets highlighted the svelte ride and performance of the standard air suspension, which soaks up every single road imperfection.
In Comfort mode, the ride is supremely comfortable, despite the fact it rides on giant 21-inch alloy wheels. It works well in and around the suburban route, but is let down by a slightly abrupt stop/start system and a brake pedal that could do with more feel — we also noticed a tendency for the rear end to bounce for one or two oscillations before settling over speed humps.
Our first chance to get on the throttle came when merging on to the freeway. As a motoring writer who has worked in this job for around 10 years, my bullshit radar is quite finely tuned, especially with marketing spiel. Manufacturers often make very bold and outlandish claims about vehicle performance and the one that caused my ears to prick up was Bentley's claim that the driver won't be able to tell that this is a diesel powered SUV.
So, you'll understand my surprise when I stood on the throttle for the first time. Instead of the usual lag between throttle application and a shunt of torque, there was virtually no delay at all. And, once it sprung into action, we were collectively shoved back into our seats as the full complement of 900Nm surged through the rev band.
Why is it different to most other diesels? It all has to do with the sophisticated method it uses to force induction through the engine. Most diesel vehicles will use a turbocharger or turbochargers that are driven by exhaust pressure. The Bentayga diesel uses two variable geometry, twin-scroll turbochargers, which are driven by exhaust gasses, plus an electric compressor, which acts as a supercharger by forcing the first turbocharger to work with limited exhaust gas low in the rev band.
The 'supercharger' is driven by Bentley's 48 Volt electrical system, which allows it to spool within 30ms and provide the air required for the turbocharger to spool. This minute wait time bridges the gap between exhaust pressure driving the turbochargers and torque being felt by the driver.
Peak torque is achieved from around 1000rpm, meaning throttle applications in virtually any of the eight gears results in further momentum, with fewer gear kickdowns required to achieve acceleration. Refinement is also noticeable at the bowser, with a combined fuel consumption of an incredible 7.9L/100km on the combined cycle and a driving range of over 1000km.
Emissions have also been successfully reduced courtesy of an advanced Selective Catalytic Reduction system, which injects a liquid reduction agent through a catalyst to decrease nitrous oxide emission. The emissions figure has dipped to an impressive 210g/km of CO2.
Technical details aside, you can feel everything working behind the wheel. Response from throttle inputs is virtually instant. There's next to no lag. This means things like overtaking and getting on the throttle out of corners is effortless.
Paddle-shifters mounted to the steering wheel are cold to the touch courtesy of crafted and knurled metal, and allow the eight-speed automatic gearbox to shift gears at any given point. We found the best mode to drive the Bentayga Diesel in is the Sport mode, which intelligently shifts gears late and provides the best throttle response.
Body roll through corners is a thing of the past thanks to Bentley Dynamic Ride. It's more than just a fancy name, as the system uses the 48V electrical system to deliver class-leading dynamics by virtue of variable damping and an anti-roll system.
Bentaygas fitted with Bentley Dynamic Ride use two anti-roll bars (one for each axle) that are split in two to fit an electric motor (powered by the 48V system) between them with a planetary gear set. During cornering, each electric motor can impart 1300Nm of torque to the anti-roll bar, which applies a reactive force to the lower suspension arm. This reactive force counteracts any loads attributed to body roll.
The Bentley Dynamic Ride system works in unison with adaptive damping to then vary comfort within the cabin, so that regardless of the drive mode, the car remains flat with variable levels of firmness. It also comes into its own off-road, where the electric motors allow either wheel to be effectively decoupled, increasing suspension travel and articulation.
This clever system responds to changes in road conditions within 0.06 seconds, making it incredibly effective for faster driving through corners. The higher 48 Volt system allows the carmaker to effectively reduce current to just a quarter of a regular 12 Volt system, making it safer and easier to manage.
Our route through to the scenic mountain town of Ronda featured so many corners that the steering wheel rarely had the chance to sit at the dead ahead position. This incredible road highlighted just how impressive this drivetrain and chassis is. The steering could do with a hint more communication, but this aside, it blew us away with its abilities.
The variable ratio steering points the front end confidently through corners and allows direction changes with minimal fuss. While the ride is firmer in Sport mode, it still remains compliant when driven hard — absolutely critical for a car in this segment. When compared to something like a Range Rover, it sits flatter and can be driven harder — the car almost shrinks around you in that sense.
Bentley's anti-roll system is best observed when following another vehicle and it immediately became apparent there is literally no body roll. Even during harder cornering the car just sits flat awaiting the next driver input.
The chassis marries perfectly with the engine, which slingshots out of corners in the Sport mode. Just stand on the throttle and it moves with no delay. It's also eager to rev, keeping a healthy slug of torque through to the point it grabs the next gear. Suffice it to say, we were suitably impressed with the Bentayga Diesel's on-road performance.
We then veered off the road to experience the Bentayga in its alternate habitat — off-road. Prior to our arrival, Spain had rains of biblical proportions, meaning most of the track was quite muddy and caused the ruts within the tyres to fill quickly.
By selecting one of the eight off-road drive modes, the car will tailor ride height, transmission modes and stability control to suit conditions. The instrument panel then matches the mode with critical off-road information such as pitch, angle and where torque is being sent.
The Bentayga feels right at home in these conditions, despite the fact it doesn't come with a low-range gearbox. The transmission and engine combination do a good enough job of managing torque distribution and working with the electronics to keep things moving.
With a wading depth of 500mm and maximum ground clearance of 245mm, there are few situations that owners would come across that could challenge the Bentayga.
As you would expect, the interior is incredibly plush. High quality materials are used throughout and build quality is second to none. The huge range of colours and options mean you're unlikely to come across another Bentayga identical to yours.
Unlike Bentleys of years gone by, the Bentayga is loaded with technology. The new eight-inch infotainment screen features an inbuilt 60GB hard disk for storing music, while the capacitive touch screen is fast and easy to use for critical functions.
A smaller LCD screen between the speedometer and tachometer takes things to the next level with high-resolution navigation map display, off-road diagnostics and the vehicle's trip computer. A head-up display (the Bentayga was the first Bentley to feature one) even reads road signs to advise you of the speed limit.
The rear seat infotainment screen is seriously impressive thanks to the fact it's entirely detachable and is powered by an Android operating system. As a result, you can install your own applications browse the web, browse the media on offer and even use the satellite navigation. It is well and truly the best in the business.
Seven seats are now also available in Bentayga, but don't expect a great deal of leg room. While the second row is comfortable, it can get a little cosy, while the third row is strictly for kids.
In terms of features, this car comes with everything you could think of. Anything else can be optioned — that includes things like soft-close doors, heated and cooled seats with massage, a full suite of safety gear and airbags, bigger alloy wheels, a range of colours and crazy options like the Linley Hamper by Mulliner. You can also, of course, option a range of veneers and custom leather through Bentley's customisation arm Mulliner.
The Bentley Bentayga Diesel is more than just a more expensive version of the Audi SQ7. It demonstrates what can be achieved when a large company like the Volkswagen Group pools resources and develops advanced technology like this turbocharged diesel V8.
Bentley then takes it to the next level with style, comfort and luxury, delivering an unparalleled luxury motoring experience. There's enough flexibility on colours, veneers and hides to come up with the perfect, unique product for the buyer.
We are looking forward to testing the Bentayga Diesel on home soil to see if it stacks up on Australian roads.