Bentley adds an SUV to its product line-up, beating all its super-luxury rivals to the market and leaving them a lot of catching up to do. With huge power, presence, luxury and a massive breath of ability, the Bentayga might upset a few traditionalists, but the Crewe production line will be flat out to keep up with the inevitable demand. Rightly so, as it's a remarkable car.
In the metal
If the reaction to the EXP 9 concept was any indicator of how well the production-ready Bentayga SUV would be received then Bentley could have been in trouble. Designer Sang Yup Lee explains that the EXP 9 F was deliberately controversial and provocative; it was one of the more radical-looking of the company's proposals for its new SUV. The production car, while still controversial to many, is a softer, more appealing design, though Lee does admit that adding characteristic Bentley styling cues - more usually defining a saloon or coupé - to a tall two-box SUV wasn't without difficulty. To many the result itself is still visually challenging, the Bentayga a very divisive design. What's undeniable is its presence and the quality of its execution; the tight shut lines, detailing and surface treatments are as exceptional in all of Bentley's other products. It looks far better in the metal, too, and in certain colours look very striking indeed. It suits darker hues and metallic paint, Verdant Green working particularly well. Avoid the gauche optional carbon-fibre sports styling kit though, which adds a wing above the rear window among other aero-styling bits and pieces - it looks very aftermarket despite the substantial cost.
If you have any reservations about how the Bentayga looks on the outside you'll not care once you're in it. The very finest materials, hand-crafted by highly skilled artisans, make for an environment that's unrivalled for luxury. The traditional winged Bentley dashboard, chrome bullseye vents with their beautifully tactile organ-pull operation and clear instrumentation mix with a new technology offering - an all-new info and entertainment system. The central touchscreen is supplemented by buttons around it, while there's the option of rear-seat entertainment and connectivity packages. As standard, the Bentayga has a traditional five-seat layout, but can be specified in an even more indulgent and comfortable four-seat arrangement. Those individual rear seats are divided by a neat centre console and the rear cabin is commodious, as is the boot - though if you opt for that four-seat choice you lose the ability to fold the rear seats for maximum load space. Nonetheless, there are fewer nicer places to sit, the Bentayga's interior mixing tradition and modernity with an exacting precision and material quality that's genuinely exceptional.
Bentley's Chairman and Chief Executive, Wolfgang Dürheimer, goes to great lengths to describe the no-compromise approach Bentley took to the Bentayga. The goals he set were high, for refinement, agility and performance, the combination of all that no mean feat given the weight of all that wood, leather and chrome. The body is largely aluminium to try and offset that, and there's a new 6.0-litre twin-scroll twin-turbo W12 petrol engine too. Its prodigious 608hp and 900Nm power and torque figures promise to make light work of hauling all that hand-finished decadence around. It works too, the W12 able to reach 100km/h from rest in just 4.1 seconds and onto a 301km/h maximum - it feels every bit as fast as those numbers suggest it will, too. That's quicker than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, incidentally, and the Bentayga's mighty pace is backed up with agility that's as unbelievable as its performance.
The combination of air suspension and a new 48-volt electric active roll control system allow the Bentayga quite exceptional body control. Fast acting electric motors mitigate body roll, keeping the Bentayga flat while cornering, while the air suspension allows the Bentayga to manage its mass with incredible sophistication. The ride is exceptionally composed, the body control remarkable too; the Bentayga's dynamic ability - even on less than perfect surfaces and challenging crests and dips - would be impressive for a sports car, let alone a 2.5-tonne SUV. The variable ratio steering has good weighting at all speeds and the turn-in response is quick and accurate. Dürheimer admits that Porsche was the benchmark they aimed to exceed. That's ambitious, though it's close indeed, as there's even a modicum of feel through the hand-stitched leather rim of the steering wheel.
As ever there's the ability to fiddle with the drive settings to your preference, with Comfort, Bentley, Sport and Individual modes selectable via the Bentley Drive Dynamics Control rotary knob in the transmission tunnel. Dürheimer proudly states that they're so pleased with the way the Bentayga steers as standard that only the Individual setting changes the steering weight - Sport, Comfort and Bentley are identical. The main changes when toggling through the choices centre around engine and gearbox maps, Comfort doing as it suggests, Bentley sitting between it and Sport - leaning more to Sport - with the Sport option being the most overt in response from the chassis, gearbox and engine. Even so, the differences between the options are relatively subtle; it's likely that most owners will leave it in Comfort and be done with it.
Being an SUV means that the expectation is that it'll take you off-road, too, though the Bentayga needs the All Terrain Specification option to do so. It adds four off-road specific settings to the Bentley Drive Dynamics system. Each of the off-road settings is calibrated to certain situations, with electronic control of the drive helping it get anywhere a Range Rover can (says Bentley). That's up to a point, as the Land Rover's greater ground clearance and wading ability take it a bit further into the wilds. Around an off-road course the Bentayga clambered, climbed and descended like no one would ever expect it to, while in the desert the Bentayga mixed it with dune buggies with consummate ease. However incongruous it might be blasting nearly 2.5 tonnes of luxury around on loose sand, Bentley's Middle Eastern buyers will appreciate that it's so able. A few laps around a track also underlined the Bentayga's abundant breadth of ability, though if customers fancy taking a Bentayga on a race circuit (and it's highly improbable they would), they might want to wait a year or so until it can be specified with composite ceramic brakes. For everyone else, the standard brakes are more than up to the job of washing off the Bentayga's so easily gained pace.
That it's able to perform so well regardless of its environment is deeply impressive; that it's able to do so while retaining all the Bentley signatures of effortless performance, huge refinement and comfort is even more so. The new 6.0-litre W12 engine is all but imperceptible in its operation at ordinary speeds and it is never lacking in urge. The acceleration it delivers, even deep into three figures, is startling. The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts its ratios with no obvious let up in delivery and the smoothness is exemplary, so the need to use the wheel-mounted paddles is rare indeed.
What you get for your money
Price isn't really a consideration for buyers at this level, the expectation of personalisation being such that the options list is only really limited by your imagination. You can easily add another third to the already substantial price, though opting for the picnic set and fold down event seat for the boot, in conjunction with the Breitling Tourbillion clock, can double the price - that bespoke mechanical timepiece alone costs €150,000 (before VRT calculations!). Ridiculous as that might sound to mere financial mortals, if you've spent hundreds of millions on boats and planes, property and suchlike it's nothing.
The first super-luxury SUV to market, the Bentayga's got a few years to clean up while Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin play catch up. It's a sensationally well executed car. It might offend some, but it's impossible not to be blown away by its enormous breadth of ability, agility and performance mixed with its massive luxury and hand-built, personalised appeal. You only need to look at Bentley's bursting order books to realise the sizeable demand for it, the Bentayga's certain success likely to bankroll other niche cars like the production version of the gorgeous EXP 10 Speed 6 sports car. That's reason alone to like it, love it even. There'll be a V8 turbodiesel next year if you want all that ability with a nod to sensible consumption, while a plug-in hybrid is promised too for those markets that demand it. Dürheimer admits that Bentley is also exploring a fastback-styled variant in the vein of BMW's X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé. The Bentayga is a fairly unique proposition for now and it has set the bar very, very high for its competitors to try and reach.