Bentley is on a quest to electrify, with every new model set to be plug-in hybrid or full electric by 2026 and all models electric-only by 2030. It's a massive shift for the company. Scott Pickering, technical manager for electric vehicles at Bentley, described it to us as the "biggest change at Bentley since we went from imperial to metric." Considering we still haven't gone all-in on that, with wheels in inches for example, you have to wonder just how long this change is really going to take.
Regardless of the timeframes, we are in a major period of transition and as we move toward what looks likely to be a mostly battery-electric future, the plug-in hybrid is a good middle ground, and sales are increasing. With weight an issue, it's a perfect technology for large SUVs such as the Bentayga, so is it the one to have?
In the metal
We've been through many of the changes for the new model in previous drive pieces, but in summary, the new Bentayga looks more polished, more dynamic and less of a big blob than before. We might even go so far as to say it looks rather good. A big part of that is because the design team have focused on making the surfaces look more taut and more sculpted. They've also paid more attention to the brightwork, although those dynamic rear indicators are just awful, a sign of pandering to a trend rather than going your own way. They should go.
Inside it's also very different to before, with more segmentation for areas of the dashboard, which really helps to make it feel less monolithic and at the same time even more luxurious. There are some question marks around a few materials, such as the air vents that appear to be metal but strangely feel more like chromed plastic, but generally it all has the air of handcrafted luxury. Being able to touch the wood or hold the steering wheel, knowing it was put together by the hands of a craftsperson rather than a factory robot means that every piece of trim has a story to tell.
Under the skin, the hybrid powertrain is carried over from the previous generation and Bentley expects it to be the biggest seller in the range, ahead of the V8, S and Speed, so how does its hybrid technology work? Pickering explained that the main element, the battery, contains 168 cells in 12 modules and is supplied by Samsung, so essentially it is similar to other battery systems used within the Volkswagen Group.
To preserve the life of the battery so that it can achieve the expected 160,000km or eight years lifespan, it has been engineered to only allow 80 per cent of its capacity to be used. That reduces the total 17.3kWh capacity down to 13.3kWh, removing the upper five per cent and lower 15 per cent.
What this translates to is a potential electric range of 40km, enough for most people to travel across a city in electric mode with ease. Pickering says that many owners of the previous generation have found they only need to use the engine when heading out of town where the turbocharged V6 petrol engine is supported by the 94kW electric motor to provide reasonably spritely torque and acceleration.
There's a noticeable improvement in ride quality over the previous generation. It's always been comfortable of course, but you used to feel some of the bumps; now there's almost nothing, even on the 22-inch ten-spoke wheels of the optional Mulliner Driving Specification fitted to the model we drove. It just regally glides along. We're not going say magic carpet ride because that's too much of a cliché, but it really does feel like bumps in the road are virtually non-existent, until you switch it into Sport mode.
Then you feel it more, but still not in a way that detracts from the luxurious character.
The driving position is spot on and while the steering could be a bit more communicative, this isn't a performance SUV like a Lamborghini Urus or a Porsche Cayenne. That said, there is very little body lean, even in hard cornering. Should you want to make the most of the 449hp and 700Nm by dialling in Sport mode and heading for the hills, then you will find the experience diluted slightly by the weight of the thing.
That's not surprising because the Hybrid features the smallest engine Bentley uses, a 3.0-litre V6. Yes, it's paired to an electric motor, but both really have their work cut out for them trying to hustle this thing along.
If it's performance you're after then you'll be looking elsewhere in the range, but even so, it has more than enough get up and go for most people who are buying it for the Bentley experience rather than the performance.
Drive it in the pre-programmed standard Bentley mode and it defaults to running on electric power. It's smooth and effortless and the V6 will kick in when you demand a certain amount of performance. Be gentle with the accelerator and it's possible to keep it in electric mode all the way to 135km/h.
You can opt to use Hold mode, which will switch off the electric motor so you can save battery charge for town driving, while going into Sport will also suspend the use of purely electric propulsion.
After a trip of just under 100km we managed to achieve 6.4km/kWh from the battery and a fuel economy figure of 27.1mpg (8.6 litres/100km), which is very respectable. We did deplete the battery completely in that time, which meant the remaining 539 kilometres of range showing would have to be done entirely without electric assistance except for a bit of regenerative braking to boost the battery a little.
What you get for your money
You get a super-luxury SUV that has been built by hand, features the highest level of craftsmanship and is more luxurious than some five-star hotel suites - and they don't even move. You get an SUV capable of travelling though cities in electric mode with zero emissions and the government likes this so will barely charge you any tax compared to other huge SUVs such as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
Granted, when you're spending this kind of money, the annual motor tax is inconsequential, but you don't get to be wealthy by not managing your money well. The model we drove was equipped with the Mulliner Driving Specification package, Naim for Bentley audio system and other goodies bringing its total to closer to €250,000, but we all know there's no such thing as a standard Bentley anyway.
There are those that criticise hybrids saying they don't go far enough, but hold your horses people, as something is better than nothing. The pros and cons of SUVs is another matter altogether, but they exist, people buy them and they will share the road to electrification with everything else.
The Bentayga Hybrid is a great example of providing a solution for a period of transition, it's green(ish), can be driven past schools and through towns without any emissions and is still as luxurious as ever with a great blend of design, comfort and technology. It had its critics when it was first launched, but the new one is a welcome evolution that is Bentley at its finest.