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To anyone on the outside, it would seem utterly ludicrous to roll up to the notoriously tight Anglesey race circuit, smack-bang on the edge of the Irish Sea, to flat-out-pedal one of the largest and most luxurious SUVs on the planet. Here in Wales the locals would surely say it’s totally bonkers. And, nine times out of 10 they’d be dead right.
Except, this isn’t the standard Bentley Bentayga (which isn't exactly slow either) we’ve come all this way to sample.
Rather, this is the new Bentley Bentayga Speed, which currently holds the title of the world’s fastest production SUV after wresting the coveted crown back from its significantly lighter Lamborghini Urus cousin by hitting an official 306km/h top speed.
Interestingly, it’s a title Bentley had already held shortly after Bentayga’s release in 2016 when it wound the standard W12 up to 301km/h at Nardo. Twelve months later, Lamborghini arrived on the scene, and not to be outdone, snatched that record away when the Urus hit 305km/h.
Talk about family rivalry, which you can bet will get even more heated given the upside-down nature of this twin-turbocharged battle.
Remember, Lamborghini is a bona-fide supercar builder whereas Bentley is better known for its largely handmade craftsmanship and bespoke luxury rather than single-minded pace, though, I’d argue it does a pretty good job of both with Bentayga.
But, the Speed is different; with more power, better aero and a revised suspension calibration that helps keep its 2.5-tonne heft in-check, even on a racetrack should you ever want to give it a proper punt.
Not that we would expect even a single Bentayga owner (Speed buyers included) to venture anywhere near a racetrack in what is surely the latest rendition of the Chelsea tractor.
Mind, it’s certainly capable of such madness because under that enormous bonnet lurks the most powerful 12-cylinder engine Bentley has ever produced for a production series vehicle.
Its 6.0-litres of turbocharged might punches out a staggering 467kW and 900Nm of torque and despite size and weight, is capable of going from standstill to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds (down from 4.1).
That still makes it three-tenths slower to the tonne than the Urus, but I’d suggest that’s a totally meaningless number to Bentley buyers. That’s not to say they wouldn’t enjoy a high-speed blast in their Speed between summer and winter residences.
But, in typical Bentley fashion only those with a keen eye for detail will spot the differences between the Speed version and the standard W12 Bentayga, at least, from the outside. We might have expected a more overt display of its more focused intent aside from a one or two badges and a new (yet still discreet) body kit.
But let’s not forget this is Bentley, where understatement is still clearly favoured by those with the means and a penchant for the proper hand-made craftsmanship that’s alive and well in Crewe.
The Speed gets a unique front skirt (that’s what the Bentley man said though, again, it’s hard to pick). And there’s a new, more pronounced rear spoiler to help with downforce should you find yourself with a clear run on Germany’s Autobahn system.
For those after a more sinister look for your Speed you’ll need to start ticking a few option boxes, like the Black-pack that swaps chrome highlights for black surrounds and dark-tinted light covers.
The all-black Black grille seems like a no-brainer for the world’s fastest ever SUV, but then it wouldn’t be quite complete without a set of monster all-black 22-inch alloys (hand-painted if you insist).
Better still, you can do away with the usual twin-pipe exhaust system in favour of the optional quad-pipe titanium set-up from aftermarket noise specialist Akropovic, though, in this case its actually fitted on the Bentayga assembly line at Crewe – should you want the ultimate personality shift.
It suits the Speed down to a tee because from the very moment the W12 fires up, there’s no longer any doubt about its intended positioning as the heavy-hitter in the range. It’s loud and in your face, even at idle.
Unfortunately, none of the four track cars were fitted with the system, though, we can only imagine the decibel-busting reading at full noise.
But, if all that new-found commotion isn’t for you, the exhaust note in Sport (even without subscribing to the Akropovic system) has been heightened in the Speed, in line with its new-found positioning as the ultimate Bentayga.
Inside is where the Speed makes its sporty intentions properly known with an exquisite mix of Alcantara/hide upholstery for the first time in Bentayga, along with beautifully lacquered carbon-fibre trim to emphasise its high-performance standing within the range.
The attention to detail here is quite extraordinary, with quilted leather contrast stitching firming up the bolsters, while ‘Speed’ in a racy font is embroidered just below the headrests. The look and feel is simply beyond anything you might expect of furnishings even in the finest hotels in the world.
Looks aside, that Alcantara upholstery has another more practical benefit by providing the driver and passengers with sufficient body-hugging reassurance should you want to up the ante across, say, the magnificent Grossglockner Pass en route to your favourite ski chalet, as you do in a Bentley SUV.
The Speed’s hardware suspension is the same in terms of its dynamic anti-roll bars and stability control systems as the regular Bentayga. That means, in Bentley and Comfort drive modes, you can sit back and enjoy the refinement and everyday drivability of the vehicle.
But, in the Sport setting, engineers have increased the damping as well as the stiffness of the sophisticated 48V electric roll-control system. It turns in keener with a bit more grip on the front end so that you can really point it into the corners, either on a track or a nice open road.
Not only does this tweaked behemoth feel like it hugs the road better but it also responds to steering inputs better than in the standard W12 Bentayga.
It’s totally in sync with the tweaks to the engine and transmission as to never overwhelm the driver, even if he or she is pushing hard like we’re doing today at Anglesey. In fact, it’s hard to unsettle the Speed through corners, but you’re also very aware of its 2.5-tonne bulk.
That said, engineers have also made changes to the Speed’s stability control systems which allows the vehicle to move around in Sport, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re being held back in any way.
Get on the throttle early on exit and you can really feel the tyres searching for grip, but never unruly in any way.
You can put this beast into a controlled drift if you’re keen, and again, you’re always in control or at least the systems have got hold of the leash should sheer inertia get the better of you.
The eight-speed ZF transmission remained seamlessly-refined throughout the morning’s on-track excursion. even in its most aggressive setting while using the paddle-shifters. I was honestly hoping for some back-slapping gear changes under full throttle.
For me it’s almost too seamless in this regard, though, it copes with being muscled around a tight track, such as this one in Wales, exceptionally well.
It’s quicker all round, not the least because the torque curve changes in Sport – meaning it comes on song much sooner in the rev range.
There are obvious complexities in providing a keener throttle response while maintaining all the inherent driving characteristics Bentley owners expect – even if we’re talking about the heavyweight champion of the world.
Give it some beans and the softly fettled Speed gathers pace with such force as to momentarily induce motion sickness, even in the driver’s seat (passengers beware). Mind, you couldn’t call it violent like the Urus in its most aggressive Corsa mode, given the Bentley’s ultra-smooth power delivery.
But mark my words, there are serious g-forces at play here and it just keeps building until you suddenly realise you might have left the braking a bit too late to make the apex of turn one. Oops.
Thankfully, it’s not really an issue for the Speed which is equipped with the kind of Herculean stopping power required to pull this luxury rig up before it all goes pear-shaped and you end up in the Irish Sea that sits perilously close to parts of the track.
Standard fitment are huge 400mm carbon-ceramic rotors up front (380mm rear) with six-piston sliding calipers that capably rein this thing in.
However, it’s also where this high-riding, go-fast Bentley can also get a bit unruly, because it doesn’t matter how many electronic nannies have hold of the leash, not even the mighty Bentayga Speed can get around the physics associated with momentum, though, again we’d argue it does a pretty good job of it.
There’s some lateral movement under extremely heaving braking, but the Bentayga remained totally restrained and largely predictable on each of the three-lap sessions.
This was a brief but eye-opening taste of the world’s fastest SUV, though not enough to properly rate the car. That will have to wait until later in the year when we can experience the Speed in local conditions.
That said, Bentayga Speed is bound to resonate with Bentley buyers looking for the ultimate SUV and the appeal of its uniquely upholstered cabin. Perhaps more telling is the fact that more than 80 per cent of Bentayga sales are from first-time buyers to the brand.
It’s an extraordinary figure and one of the key factors why Bentley Motors is on target to sell more than 10,000 vehicles across 2019, putting it well ahead in the high-end luxury segment.
And for those readers that may not like the styling, it seems Bentayga owners love the look of their SUV, and given about 52 per cent of Bentley’s sales are thanks to Bentayga, the Speed will only serve to increase the volume further.
NOTE: As a track drive only, we have left this review unscored. Watch for our full Australian review to see how it fares, and check out our other Bentayga reviews to see how those variants went.
Model Name: Bentley Bentayga Speed
Price before on-road costs: $481,400
Top Speed: 306km/h
0-100: 3.9 seconds
Engine: 6.0-litre W12
Transmission: eight-speed ZF all-wheel drive
Kerb Weight: 2491kg
Boot Volume: 461 litres
Fuel capacity: 85 litres
Australian Delivery: Q4 2019