What is it? The Bentayga is the first (official) Bentley SUV.
What’s new? Well, everything. The Bentayga shares more parts with the Audi Q7 than it does with anything else in the Bentley range.
Type of review: First drive
Most websites and magazines will tell you that the Bentayga is the first SUV built by Bentley. But that’s not quite true.
Back in the mid-1990s, Bentley built an undisclosed number of SUVs (probably six) for the Sultan of Brunei, along with a number of other bespoke coupés, saloons, convertibles and estates.
The Bentley Dominator was built on a contemporary Range Rover chassis, with a neat enough – albeit derivative – body on top. It was a squared-off design with the usual Bentley grille, chrome embellishments and so on. No-one outside the Brunei Royal Family is known to have ever driven one, so we have no idea how the Dominator performed. But you certainly won’t see one popping up on Auto Trader anytime soon.
Fast forward twenty years, and Bentley has launched its first publicly-available SUV, the Bentayga. However, instead of tearing down a Range Rover for the mechanical bits, the new model shares its platform with the current Audi Q7 and has access to the best bits from the massive Volkswagen Group parts bin.
The Bentayga covers new ground for Bentley, both literally and figuratively. Like other luxury SUV manufacturers, Bentley is keen to draw attention to the Bentayga’s off-roading ability. However, unless there’s a flash flood in a John Lewis car park, it’s hard to see many Bentayga owners getting their vehicles too muddy. Our short drive route incorporated some A- and B-roads in Surrey, which is a far more accurate representation of the Bentayga’s natural environment.
The one statistic which separates the Bentley Bentayga from every other production SUV on the planet is its price tag – starting at over £160,000 and with the ability to ramp that well beyond £200,000 very easily. So what exactly do you get for more than three times the price of the Audi Q7 which the Bentayga is based on?
It’s nearly a year since Bentley first unveiled the Bentayga, and its rather awkward design has yet to really soften with familiarity. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but let’s face it; the Bentayga is not a looker. The brutal front end is dominated by blingy chromed plastic cross hatchings and big bug-eye headlights. The best thing you can say about it is that it’s better than the original concept version, which was pretty much panned by anyone with working retinas. Even by luxury SUV standards, it’s a bit ‘chavtastic’.
Inside though, things are much better. It is a genuinely lovely place to be. The overall ambience is a benchmark example of how to combine traditional olde-worlde craftsmanship with modern technology. Virtually every surface is quilted leather or glossy timber veneer, with virtually no plastic surfaces in sight. Some potential buyers may be put off by the level of Audi switchgear and trim parts dotted around the cabin, and if you have recently sat in a Q7 you will certainly notice a number of familiar buttons, but the fit and finish certainly more than meets Bentley’s standards.
The 6.0-litre W12 petrol engine is hushed in its operation, with little indication of the enormous performance potential under the bonnet. Having driven the Bentayga back-to-back with a Continental GT thanks to Bentley and H.R. Owen, the difference is striking. Even under heavy acceleration, the Bentayga is whisper-quiet and superbly refined. It’s only when you look at the speedometer that you realise how fast you’re travelling.
Inexcusable lack of key safety equipment
With such a stratospheric starting price, you might reasonably expect a new car launched in 2016 to be fitted as standard with every safety feature known to mankind. Yet the Bentayga lacks even the level of safety equipment readily available on a low-level Volkswagen Golf – costing barely more than a tenth of the money being asked here.
To get autonomous emergency braking, you need to specify the Touring Specification for another £5,900. This is frankly shameful on a brand new model, let alone one at this level. Other safety equipment like adaptive cruise control, pedestrian warning and lane assist systems are also available at extra cost but not included as standard.
Bentley also doesn’t do anything as vulgar as submitting its vehicles for industry-standard Euro NCAP crash testing, so there’s no indication of how drivers and passengers will fare in an accident. Probably OK?
Mighty performance, surreal handling
You do get a mighty 6.0-litre W12 petrol engine, which Bentley says is all-new rather than the same unit found in the Continental GT and Flying Spur models. In the Bentayga, it feels rather surreal. This is partly because your eyes and ears cannot agree on what’s happening: there is merely a muted rumble coming from the engine, but the speedo needle is racing around the clock and the scenery is starting to move by at a tremendous rate. 600hp is delivered almost silently to the wheels, and almost before you have blinked you are in licence-losing territory.
Media reports have correctly pointed out that there are faster SUVs available elsewhere, but unless your driving requirements including racing a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S or Range Rover Sport SVR down to your weekend house in the Cotswalds, it is entirely irrelevant. The Bentayga is more than fast enough for any reasonable purpose, and it is a sublimely refined experience to boot.
The other surreal feeling served up by the big Bentley is how it handles. This is a very big, very heavy SUV. But if you specify the optional 48-volt electric active anti-roll bar, it has an astonishing knack of staying very flat while cornering yet still remaining limousine-like in its comfort.
The laws of physics say that a massive SUV shouldn’t corner like that; it should wallow and roll as all that weight is thrown about. But nothing of the sort happens, and the Bentayga stays flat and firm on its line. It certainly doesn’t feel like a three-tonne 4×4.
Although our drive was brief, it was a genuine revelation that such a big, ungainly vehicle could behave so well. Long journeys would be a breeze, since we assume you could afford the hefty fuel bills which come from an official fuel consumption of 22.1 mpg (combined city/highway cycle). The boot is not as large as you would expect, so your designer suitcases will have to stack above the window line in a somewhat untidy fashion.
The Bentayga verdict
So from our brief drive, how does the Bentley Bentayga fare? The things it does well, it does very well indeed. For ushering four people long distances in the height of luxury and in virtual silence, it will be exceptionally competent. It’s lavishly finished with leather and woodgrain in abundance, and is wonderfully comfortable.
But even if you like the ungainly styling, there is still a lack of character to the Bentayga. It’s undoubtedly impressive, but not endearing. And the lack of standard safety tech compared to its Audi Q7 poor cousin is unacceptable for a vehicle of this ambition.
Will this bother Bentley? Well, the Bentayga is officially sold out until sometime next year, so for now the company is likely to be pretty pleased with itself. There is also no doubt that the newest model in the range will provide a welcome boost to Bentley dealers, and the sales staff at H.R. Owen Bentley in Surrey were virtually ecstatic when describing the effect it has already had on their business.
And if you have always thought that a Range Rover was simply not expensive or ostentatious enough, then this will be the perfect car for you.