King of the SUV Castle
They say that power corrupts and given that I’ve been tooling around my locale in a £200,000, 600bhp Bentley Bentayga for a week, the neighbours must think I’ve gone properly off the rails, perhaps as the Somerset franchise for the sort of business Pablo Escobar’s famous for…
Review by Marc Stickley
Large and imposing, behind the wheel of the Bentley SUV is a really nice place to be. Having spent some time at the Crewe factory, I know that Bentley employ a host of craftsmen and women to assemble the Bentayga, with the processes used in this new model being carried across to other models. The wood veneer in the dash panels and around the car, for instance, goes through an incredible set of processes to present the end finish. The impeccable leather trim – taken from 14 – 15 hides per Bentayga – is treated, cut and applied to the car’s parts all in house. And the leather is gorgeous. Pretty much all surfaces you touch will be surfaced in leather (steering wheel, dashboard, door trims), wood veneer (dash, door and centre console inserts) or high-end metal (gear paddles, drive mode selection and other controls). The exception is the infotainment system, but as most interaction with that is via the touchscreen, you won’t be complaining. Compared to my last Bentley experience – the Continental GT V8 convertible – the infotainment is a major improvement – the screen is clear and precise, the sat-nav gives brilliant detail and the 360º and overhead view camera can be used for parking or more robust off-roading.
Ah, off-roading. This Bentayga, as befits a 4wd SUV of this size, is a proper off-roader if you want it to be. But it isn’t as standard – first it must be spec’d with the £4,500 All Terrain package, with which you get four extra drive modes (gravel, sand, rock and snow and ice), that top view camera to see obstacles and underfloor protection to prevent the oily bits coming to grief. Whilst not the most arduous test, I took the Bentayga off-road, up my local farmer’s potholed gravel track. Barely a greenlane in width and climbing a 20º slope, before dropping back down to the main lane via some potholes reminiscent of WW2 London bomb craters, the Bentayga took it all in its stride. It was hardly the Himalayan foothills, but the prodigious torque (all 900Nm – that’s 664 lb ft – of it, from 1350-4500rpm) just pulled the two and a half tonne Bentley up and over with barely a whisper from the W12. Don’t take my word for it – Bentley tested the Bentayga in Dubai, at the “Big Red” dunes and in Spain and South Africa for rock and mud. They also tested in extreme cold for snow and ice. All tests exceeded expectations and let’s face it – most customers will only want to go off road as they cross a wet field to spectate at the polo or gymkhana…
But let’s be realistic: like most SUVs, the Bentayga possesses the ability to go off-road and in fact could do so with ease, but it likely never will. Which leaves its on-road performance up for scrutiny. I’ll just cover the most important features to give you an overview – 600bhp. 900Nm. Tyres wider than some TVs I’ve owned (285/45s on the 21″ wheels – 20″ are standard, 22″ also available) and adaptive suspension, with electronic anti-roll bars and four-wheel drive. That means the immense power and torque is pretty much guaranteed to reach the road and move you forward. And move you shall. Select D, pin the throttle and strange things happen. This is like Doc Brown’s DeLorean, but you hit 88mph way faster than Michael J. Fox would recognise. 0-62 takes 4.1 seconds. If you’ve got the room and the minerals, then the Bentayga will top out at 187mph. Not bad for an SUV. The nose rises slightly in that take off transition, the tyres chirp their discontent, but actually, the process is pretty painless. It doesn’t feel natural that a car of this size should be able to move so fast. It’s like Jonah Lomu on wheels. Once you’re underway, the car grips, steers and drives with impeccable composure. It disguises its size, mostly with that power and drivetrain and – as clichéd as it is – definitely shrinks around you. The whole while, if you wanted it to, it would feel as if you were in your favourite armchair – albeit a rather luxuriously appointed leather armchair with massage function and the ability to heat and cool the occupant…
In the back, the rear occupants can specify individual seats to match the front pews, a more traditional three seat ‘bench’, or even a seven seat configuration, with a third row of full sized seats. This gives lifestyle choices to match the owner’s needs – maybe you do the school run, maybe you need more space for business, maybe this SUV will double as a limo. The review car was in five seat configuration, but my kids loved it. They were desperate to try the wireless headphones an entertainment, with individual screens and digital TV and radio tuner, but I kept them occupied with loads of other gadgets as they were driven around in luxury. The school run by the way was very cool, but slightly ostentatious..!
The prodigious £202,560 price of “my” Bentayga was inflated from the base price of a shade over £160,000 by the fitment of several options. Well, £42,000 worth of options actually. Now, I know this is a Bentley and I know it’s an SUV, so can somebody explain to me why the All Terrain package is extra? Is anyone really going to leave that box unticked? Maybe they will, if it is only going risk mounting a kerb in some hardcore city escapades. If that’s the case, then why is the City Spec nearly £4,000, delivering Park Assist (surely standard on everything above a Dacia Sandero these days?) and a host of warning and assistance devices that I would expect on such a vehicle by right, not as extras. Maybe if you hope to go dune wading with frequency, you should be given the All Terrain spec. Likewise for the urban adventurer. But for both to be optional?
I think that means nobody will actually ever drive a basic spec Bentayga. Similarly, the £5,900 Touring Spec – with its Adaptive Cruise Control (better than most systems I’ve experienced), Safeguard Plus (annoying, but could save your bacon), Head Up Display (cool and useful), Lane Assist (it is very wide) and Night Vision (cool, but ultimately only useful for navigating the driveway to your mansion with the lights off) – has features that should really be standard on a car of this segment. A few true options were fitted – the £1,550 Sunshine Spec (extra sun visors and electric blinds), the snappily titled £2,670 Front Seat Comfort Spec (ventilated seats with massage – soooooo good – electric adjustment in a myriad of directions and snazzy headrests) and the £2,400 Event spec (providing a specially trimmed rear seat, folding from flat out of the boot). My advice would be tick nearly everything – you can either afford it outright, so won’t mind, or will be getting a good lease rate, so won’t notice. But let’s not pretend you’ll ever see a new Bentayga for £160,000, even when the forthcoming diesel hits the streets with extra range.
So, the Bentayga does – in my eyes at least – live up to Bentley’s target to be the Ultimate SUV. By why stop with that title? It’s got the pace of a supercar, the space of a limo, the finish of the finest luxury cars. The next pretenders to this throne will be the Super SUV offerings from other prestige performance manufacturers, but for now it’s the King of the Castle.