When you’re leading a race, it’s a good idea not to radically change your strategy. That’s the situation Bentley has found itself in with the Bentayga.
Having been first to the ultra-luxe SUV party in 2015, Bentley has been making plenty of hay while its rivals have struggled to catch up. And although buyers in this rarefied part of the market now have an increasing number of choices, from the Lamborghini Urus and forthcoming Aston Martin DBX to the double lottery win that is the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the Bentayga has still been doing solid business by representing 45 per cent of Bentley’s global sales last year.
Hence, a midlife facelift that makes some substantial visual changes, but does almost nothing to the core mechanical package.
At the front, the new 2021 Bentley Bentayga gets a broader radiator grille and crystal-style LED headlights that bear an obvious similarity to those of the Continental and Flying Spur. The headlights are bigger and positioned slightly higher, but the increase in silver mesh has helped to lower what Bentley’s designers call the car’s “visual mass”.
There are bigger changes at the back with a new wraparound tailgate and a switch to oval lights, with these clearly inspired by those of the rest of the clan.
The wider boot lid hasn’t made any significant difference to the shape and size of the luggage space itself, which is limited by the unchanged internal structure the new metalwork is hung around. That means the four-seater has 392L of volume and the five-seater has 484L with the rear seats in place.
Buyers can also opt for a fold-up third row as well, turning it into a millionaire’s minivan.
Changes in the cabin have been carefully targeted at the notable weaknesses of the old car. That means more charging ports – up to six USB-Cs – and a revised infotainment system that brings a higher-resolution display backed by punchier hardware and a much more intuitive UI. The screen doesn’t spin out of the dashboard like the display in the Conti’ and Spur does, sadly, but the system powering it is one generation more advanced according to Bentley.
The revised dash also gets a new central air outlet, although the twin metal ‘eyeball’ vents of the outgoing car definitely looked better. Revised rear seat frames have also increased leg room in the second row, and by up to 100mm in the four-seater with its seats fully reclined.
Mechanical changes are even more limited – a 20mm increase in the rear track being the only one that Bentley feels the need to boast about. That’s because existing Bentayga buyers pretty much universally love the way their cars drive according to the company.
The only engine that will be available from launch is the 404kW 4.0-litre V8 that was fitted to the car I drove in the UK, but Australia will be getting the range-topping 6.0-litre W12 Speed variant, which has been dropped in Europe, down the line.
There will also be a plug-in hybrid, although there is no confirmation that will be reaching Australia yet.
The V8 seems almost certain to remain the range’s most circular all-rounder given its combination of urge, character and surprisingly impressive economy numbers. I drove a UK-spec car on a 500km route that included both rapid highway use and some of the demanding Welsh mountain roads most often frequented by the UK’s chassis development engineers.
The Bentayga impressed on all of them. The Bentley didn’t feel as agile as the Aston DBX I drove a week earlier on similar tarmac – probably not surprising as it is 169kg heavier – but it still put in a remarkable performance for something this shape and size.
The V8 never feels like a poor relation, despite the continued existence of the W12. The 4.0-litre unit sounds better than the bigger motor, with a top-end snarl that sounds like it comes from something much lower and explicitly sportier. But nor is it short on lowdown muscle, with the full 770Nm available from just 1960rpm.
The standard eight-speed auto ’box isn’t as fast or smart as the twin-clutcher in the Conti’ and Spur, and under manual control it refused to deliver requests for multiple downshifts at once (you have to squeeze the paddle, wait for the change, and then squeeze again). But the engine’s basement-to-penthouse urge means that’s not a big issue.
It’s surprisingly economical, too. I managed 12.3L/100km while never hanging around, which is impressively close to the official WLTP score of 11.4L/100km.
At high speeds, the Bentayga remains a hugely accomplished cruiser – stable and hushed even when travelling at serious velocities. On twistier stuff, the combination of standard air springs, active dampers and the optional 48-volt active anti-roll system fitted to my test car managed to keep the ’Tayga’s considerable mass under tight discipline.
The Bentayga doesn’t use its axle travel quite as well as the DBX, which feels close to a magic carpet when attacking crests and compressions at speed, but it is still capable of impressive drama-free pace for something so big.
Four dynamic modes come as standard, with the All-Terrain pack adding the same number for off-road use. Tick that box and there’s almost too much choice through the rotary mode controller: Sport, Bentley, Comfort, Custom, Snow & Grass, Dirt & Gravel, Mud & Trail, and Sand.
On the road, the default Bentley mode seemed to make the right choice almost all of the time. Comfort turned the car a bit soft on rough stuff, and Sport put too much of an edge on urban progress. I didn’t try any of the off-road modes in anger, as the 22-inch alloys looked too nice to be put in serious peril.
The revised Bentayga isn’t radically different because it doesn’t need to be. It feels like a more conservative choice than the DBX, and a less viscerally exciting one than the Urus, but it’s definitely not a wrong one for anyone lucky enough to be shopping in this rarefied part of the market.
Engine: 3996cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power: 404kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 770Nm at 1960–4500rpm
Top speed: 290km/h
Weight: 2416kg (EU)
MPG: 11.4L/100km [WLTP]
CO2: 260g/km [WLTP]