Bentley updates its best-selling Bentayga SUV for the 2020 model year, with markedly changed exterior looks, much better interior digital instrumentation, some updated material finishes and a cabin that is revised with greater space for rear-seat passengers. Net result? You're looking at one of the best hyper-luxe SUVs in the world right now, if not the best.
In the metal
Bentley's visual changes to the Bentayga's outside have significantly improved the large, arresting SUV that we'd slowly become accustomed to anyway. When the Bentayga's EXP 9 F preview concept appeared at the Geneva Motor Show in 2012, it's fair to say it probably turned more stomachs than it did heads. And critical response wasn't kind to the Bentayga when it first appeared in production form in 2016, but we've certainly mellowed towards the big SUV in the intervening four years.
Nevertheless, the Bentayga has never looked anything like as good as it does now. It's still an imposing thing and maybe not the prettiest design in the world, but the adoption of Bentley Continental GT ovoid rear lights and a pronounced de-cluttering of the tailgate has worked wonders in taking the heft out of the SUV's rump, while the tauter, leaner face is more pleasant to behold too. Yep, whisper it, but the Bentayga has had enough of a style makeover to suggest it is actually 'handsome' now, rather than merely 'wilfully idiosyncratic'.
The interior was never a problem in the first place, but a redesign of the rear seats plus a 20mm-wider track on the back axle increases legroom in the back of the car, while up front there are suitably 21st-century digital displays - the main infotainment screen is a 10.9-inch affair with the latest graphics and it's a belter, while in front of the driver is a fully TFT cluster with Bentley's traditional dials rendered in pixelated form. Reshaped front-centre air vents, the weighty rear-seat control pad system lifted from the magnificent Flying Spur and an abundance of trim and upholstery choices throughout lead to an interior ambience that is unsurpassed by anything in the industry, bar the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Oh, and you can have your Bentayga with four, five or seven seats, depending on what you need of the cabin. Our car had a five-seat configuration and it was most lovely within.
Streamlined exterior looks for the 2020 Bentayga also hint at a streamlined range of powertrains. Bentley's short-lived experimentation with 'Diesel' is over, while there's no place in the refreshed range for the Bentayga progenitor, the 'regular' W12. Instead, the update kicks off with a solitary engine choice, the 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol unit as tested here, and will soon be joined by an updated Speed and a plug-in Hybrid petrol-electric V6 model too.
As before, though, the V8 petrol is probably your best choice when specifying a Bentayga. It blends much of the outrageous thump of the Speed's potent W12 with a little more of the parsimony of the Hybrid (we saw a best return of 10.6 litres/100km, or 26.6mpg, from the Bentayga V8 on a cruise, although an overall 21.7 litres/100km, or 13mpg, tells the story of what happens when you enjoy the 4.0-litre's undoubted charms), and while it is no lightweight at 2,416kg, it is the trimmest Bentayga of the lot - and it splits its weight 56:44 front-to-rear when unladen, managing to switch to 48:52 when fully loaded.
What we're trying to say is that, while it is 85hp and 130Nm down on the Speed, the V8 doesn't feel appreciably slower on the road. Its 0-100km/h time is 0.6 seconds tardier and its top speed is reduced by a paltry 16km/h, although 290km/h flat out in something as large and hefty as this is more than quick enough for anyone's wildest needs, but it still kicks like a mule from low revs, the biturbo's shove hitting hard from around 2,000rpm and flowing instantly to all four wheels via a faultless eight-speed automatic ZF gearbox.
However, the real 'win' here is the noise. As much as the 6.0-litre W12 engine, in all its multitudinous configurations and applications, is a technological tour de force, it just doesn't have the same sonic charisma as this V8. Knowing that the Bentayga shares this unit with various Audis and Porsches doesn't lessen its impact, either, because somehow Bentley manages to get the finest, most alluring tune out of the exhaust system of its SUV. This thing sounds phenomenal from idle to redline, no matter which of its many driving modes it is in.
Otherwise, to drive, this is pretty much as the Bentayga always was, although that wider rear track does aid stability and sharpen front-end turn-in as a concomitant benefit. Bentley is one of the few companies to have got a real grip on electrically assisted steering, the Bentayga V8's wheel weighting up nicely from the Comfort setting through Bentley to Sport modes, without ever becoming cloying or unnatural in feel, while its twin-axle, self-levelling air suspension and Continuous Damping Control maintain a good check on the weighty body. You can have 48-volt active anti-roll on the Bentayga, but - having subjected this V8 to a pretty stringent workout on roads we know very well - we're not sure you need it. There's an abundance of grip from the massive tyres on 22-inch wheels and the overall dynamic abilities of the Bentayga are immense; it's not a taut, agile-feeling machine in the manner of a Porsche Cayenne or the new Aston Martin DBX, granted, but by the same token it is a long way from a lardy, wallowing mess and it easily puts the Rolls Cullinan and any Range Rover dynamically in the shade.
Where it then excels and cements its place as one of the greatest vehicles of its type is with its refinement. Its sporty nature does mean the Bentayga never has quite the most glass-smooth sensations of ride quality, but by the same token on a steady motorway cruise you'll feel next to nothing of road imperfections making their way into the plush passenger compartment. Part of the Bentley's kerb weight is accounted for by entire boatloads of sound-deadening, which limits wind noise and tyre chatter to background murmurs and nothing more, while the air suspension is utterly imperious in Comfort mode. As is that V8 and automatic transmission; honestly, there are few drivetrains in the world as good as this one, at switching from madhouse performance bellower one second to cultured cruisier the next.
What you get for your money
Of course, a large proportion of what you're paying for in the Bentayga is the Bentley badge on the nose and the quality of the interior fixtures and fittings, but interestingly a 'basic' V8 model is less to buy than the recently launched Aston Martin DBX, which also has a 550hp biturbo 4.0-litre V8 and a prestige badge. Naturally, with its target clientele enjoying personalisation and near-limitless options, there's the possibility to inflate the Bentayga's price tag to a notable degree - as with our test car, which was fitted with €67,535 of extras.
These were mainly made up of packs, the Mulliner Driving Specification being the priciest (as in, five-figures pricey) and bringing in 22-inch wheels, Colour Specification, interior quilting on the leather seats and door cards, embroidered Bentley emblems, jewelled caps for the fuel filler and oil tank and sports pedals. Touring Specification, another four-figure bundle, looks worth the outlay, as it adds adaptive cruise control, Bentley Safeguard Plus, Head-Up Display, Lane Assist, Night Vision and Traffic Assist on top of the generous standard spec.
This is the first Bentayga we've tested yet to receive full marks, and rightly so. It looks superb on the outside now, while the cabin - always the Bentley's strongest point anyway - has been sharpened and fettled in all the right places. Slot the best engine in the line-up, that mighty and tuneful blown V8, into the nose and what you have here is a sporty, fast and thrillingly noisy SUV when you want it to be, and an elegant, supremely comfortable and restrained 4x4 when you don't. Unless you're planning on venturing many miles into the deepest, most inhospitable wilderness, it's difficult to comprehend how you could ever find the updated Bentley Bentayga V8 wanting in an aspect of modern motoring at all. This is a quite simply marvellous machine.