Given the market’s taste for high-riding SUVs across all pricepoints, it’s hardly a surprise that the market’s most premium brands have branched out. Even Bentley, the august century-old English icon with an enviable historic racing pedigree, has not been immune from market forces. And so, here we are.
The Bentayga we’re testing here is the petrol-fired V8, sitting betwixt the diesel and range-topping W12 in performance terms. It’s billed as the most sporting and nimble derivative of the three, relatively speaking, though the heavier 12-cylinder is faster in a straight line through sheer brute muscle.
The Bentayga is one of various high-end crossovers spun off a shared Volkswagen Group (owner of Bentley) architecture called MLB Evo. This means some DNA is shared with the Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7/Q8.
What sets the Bentley apart is craftsmanship, the imposing design (love or loathe) and the storied badge. Reflecting the Bentayga’s importance to the Crewe marque, it’s accounted for roughly half of its global sales over the past two years.
The Bentayga’s V8 is a 4.0-litre unit with two twin-scroll turbochargers producing 404kW of power (that’s 542bhp for fans of imperial) and 770Nm of maximum torque between 1960 and 4500rpm. The exact same figures as the Cayenne Turbo. Thus, despite weighing a hefty 2.4 tonnes, the Bentley wafts with purpose from standstill to 100km/h in a spry 4.5 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 290km/h.
The second you press the lovely starter button, the engine fires into life and settles into a deep, muscular burble. But it’s also capable of pinning you to the seat without lag, and in a way that seems counter-intuitive for such a big car, mostly on account of the vast swathes of torque available from low engine speeds.
To give the engine some context, Lamborghini’s engineers have tuned it up to 478kW/850Nm for their SUV, which shows you how malleable and strong this unit is. By comparison, the Bentayga 6.0-litre W12 has 447kW/900Nm. That car is also $100K more expensive...
More often than not, we’d suggest flicking the car over to its Comfort setting, with slightly tempered throttle responses keeping it reined in unless your right foot is pinned to the floor. If you get towards the 7000rpm redline, you’re speeding.
The engine features a stop-start system that kicks in while you’re rolling. Like the best of these systems, you barely feel the engine restarting once traffic starts moving again, though the very latest 48V systems are even better.
This engine also has a system that deactivates half of the engine’s cylinders when it’s not being taxed, in a time frame of just 20 milliseconds (imperceptible to you and I), meaning highway cruising becomes that little bit more efficient.
Bentley claims combined-cycle economy of 11.4 litres per 100km using 98RON fuel. Its 85L tank gives you a theoretical range of about 760km. However, sit on a busy road in traffic, or push the car hard, and you’ll be in the 15s.
We imagine the average buyer doesn’t much care about the price of fuel, though we’d note that the Bentayga V8 diesel option (320kW and a monstrous 900Nm) has a more respectable combined-cycle figure of 8L/100km.
In all honesty, this reviewer would probably go for the diesel, on account of that massive torque number. And there's no way the V8 is as characterful or rare as the W12, either. But, horses for courses.
Matched with this engine is an eight-speed automatic transmission sourced from German haus ZF that, in typical form, is as smooth as butter. The various switchable drive modes can sharpen up the shifts and tell it to hold lower gears longer, while there’s a manual override mode controlled by some lovely wheel-mounted paddles.
Engine outputs are sent to both ends of the car. The permanent 4WD system is biased, sending about 60 per cent of engine torque to the rear axle.
Dynamically, don’t presume this thing handles like a barge. The standard suspension comprises a four-link double-wishbone set-up at the front and a trapezoidal multi-link arrangement at the rear, with self-level air suspension and continuous mode-contingent damping control.
The standard suspension has four heights, with the highest setting designed for off-roading, which the Bentayga is surprisingly capable at – as this story will show you. The lowest mode helps entry and egress. You can also lower the car by pressing a button inside the boot, making loading or trailer hitching easier.
Even on our optional ($7349) 22-inch wheels with Pirelli 285/40 tyres and with the dampers at their firmest, the ride over corrugations, cobbles, ungraded gravel and potholes is cosseting, while tyre and wind roar are almost absent at freeway speeds thanks to double-glazed acoustic glass and copious sound-deadening materials.
The speed-dependent (variable ratio) electric-assisted steering is a little vague, but the Bentley is surprisingly adept through corners. Don't forget, this basic architecture is tweaked for a Lambo and a Porsche, so the core fundamentals are there, even if Bentley has toned back the sportiness and added some cushiness. It doesn't even need 4WS to shrink around you.
If you want the best handling, though, you'll spend $10,803 on the Dynamic Ride Suspension. A 48V electric system (four times the power of a conventional system) powers an active anti-roll function that essentially keeps the car's body flat by countering the lateral loads you'll find through corners. Should be standard, really...
I was throwing this behemoth along a tight, circuitous series of corners and it stayed strangely composed. Yes, it's almost 5.2m long and weighs more than two brand-new Mini Coopers, but there you go. Ain't technology wonderful?
On a side note, the full LED adaptive headlights and high-beam assist are fantastic.
Another option are the 440mm front, 370mm rear carbon-silicon-carbide brakes with 10-piston calipers. Those front discs are bigger than a Bugatti Chiron's... They won't fade and they have vicious bite, but honestly the 400mm/380mm ventilated iron disc/six-piston Brembo caliper standard stoppers are more than sufficient.
An emergency stop is quite alarming, if you slam the giant B-labelled ('B' for 'Bentley') brake pedal.
Okay, so we've dispatched the driving analysis. It's quiet, comfortable, composed, and rapid at both going and stopping for something so oversized. What next? The cabin.
The 'cricket ball red' and black seats are vast, just right for the most stereotypical cigar-toting tycoon you can imagine, trimmed in butter-soft leather, and fitted with heating/ventilation, as well as five massaging modes. Unfortunately, the fear of causing driver distraction means they're as forceful as a kitten's paws.
Actually, there's tastefully stitched leather coating almost every surface, from the doors to the dash, the steering column and wheel, inner pillars and the roof. Bentley claims about 14 bull hides are used... Anything below arse level is trimmed in super-deep-pile carpet. Everything is handcrafted in the UK, and there are various different trim configurations to choose from.
The panoramic sunroof is enormous, and adds ambience.
Smaller touches include the knurled and soft-press switchgear, diamond-pattern rubber mat in the fascia storage areas, gorgeous 'valves' that you press in order to shut the air vents, stitched Bentley logo embossing on the backrests, and metallic inserts to add some welcome colour and textural contrast.
The soft-closing electric door mechanism is always a delight, sealing you inside with a satisfying certitude.
Everything is built perfectly, which you'd expect. Every Bentley that rolls off the Cheshire production line (every day that means 31 Bentaygas, 26 Continentals and Flying Spurs, and five Mulsannes) is subject to a 500–650 point manual checklist. It takes 130 hours to make a Bentayga.
While the interior often feels sublime, there are a few disappointing areas. The 8.0-inch infotainment screen is small by modern standards, the digital instrument display is inferior even to Volkswagen's Active Info Display, and there are Audi switches and stalks scattered about (headlight controls, cruise-control stalk, steering wheel buttons).
That takes the edge off the whole 'bespoke' thing. As does the disappointingly plasticky key fob, which everyone in the office agreed looked a little gauche.
We won't bore you by regurgitating the brochure, but it's well worth noting features that aren't standard.
Our car was fitted with the City Specification pack, adding park assist, a top-view camera, traffic sign recognition, rear cross-traffic alert, and pedestrian-detecting AEB. The price? $12,402. Then there's the Touring Specification, adding adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, lane assist, traffic assist and night vision for the active safety systems. That's another $17,222.
In other words, $30K for safety tech that's standard on a number of mainstream cars priced below $50K. It's hard to spin that positively.
In fact, our test car with its retail price of $334,700 had more than $120,000 worth of optional extras based on list pricing.
Examples included seat embroidery ($1456), red brake calipers ($3400), mood lighting ($1021), deep-pile over-mats ($1081), LED welcome lamps by Mulliner ($2222), paint from Bentley's Extended Range ($12,515), carbon-fibre cabin inserts (about $10,000 all up), hand cross-stitching ($8220), and a bespoke phone cable ($278, for goodness' sake). Even a hands-free tailgate costs $1899.
Yes, luxury buyers take pride in splurging on options, and dealers will do deals. But this is surely taking the proverbial, just a little bit...
The back seats are as sumptuous as you'd imagine. You sit high and proud, with plenty of support. There are also powerful reading lights, a few 12V inputs, that big glass roof, and a pull-out tablet-type device that allows you to monitor all the car's performance data, and change the climate control or infotainment.
There were no tablets showing movies etc in our car, though. There should be.
The thick carpet-lined boot has a modest 484L capacity with the back seats in use. The temporary space-saver spare wheel costs $1516, while the seven-seater option costs $7590 if you want the best school-run-special in the world.
Given the majority of Bentley buyers own between five and eight cars, you'd have to think the four-seat arrangement might be a popular choice instead.
So there's a look at the Bentley Bentayga V8. Sorry to harp on about options prices and value, given the fact the target buyer probably takes perverse pride in such numbers. There's no doubt this is a monstrously capable, fast, quiet, composed and decadent crossover SUV that's selling up a storm for understandable reasons.
The related Porsche Cayenne is a more sensible choice, the Lamborghini Urus more... Insane... And the Range Rover SVAutobiography at least as competent and clearly better-looking (to my eyes).
But badge prestige counts, and nothing short of the imminent Rolls-Royce Cullinan can top the Bentley in that regard.