Why do they make it so difficult? Before you can settle into those large deep chairs, and appreciate the most panoramic view ever afforded by a closed Bentley, you have first to be happy to tell people you drive a Bentayga, and second to put up with a shape that is stunningly lacking in presence for a car of its size. It’s also woefully short of the beauty that for too long has failed to be a hallmark of Bentley design.
It gets in the way. I know it shouldn’t, because my job is to tell you how this car drives and what it might be like to live with, not waste precious words bemoaning its looks and curious name (which you are at least as well qualified to judge as I), but to me it all forms part of the picture.
However, I find the potentially larger – albeit philosophical – stumbling block, concerning what on earth Bentley thinks it’s doing building an SUV, somewhat easier to negotiate. It doesn’t bother me at all, and for two reasons.
Firstly, it is not as if Bentley has spent its entire existence building lightweight two-door sports cars, as had Porsche at the time of the Cayenne’s introduction. Second the Cayenne business model shows that, far from damaging great brands, these SUVs have such high margins and sell in such vast numbers that their enormous profits means more money can be spent on perhaps more ‘proper’ models than would otherwise have been conceivably possible. Why do you think Porsche makes a greater range of GT models – Cayman GT4, 911 GT3, GT3 RS and soon GT3 R – and sells more of them than ever before? Because it can afford to. Thanks to its SUVs, Porsche is the most profitable car company in the world: even before the introduction of the Macan, the Cayenne outsold all other Porsche models combined.
So I have high hopes the Bentayga’s success (demand is so great that Bentley has already upped production from 3600 units per year to 5500) will result at the very least in the firm building the Speed Six two-seater, which promises to be the most entertaining Bentley production car since Rolls-Royce stepped in, saving the company but spoiling the fun back in 1931.
But for now we should look more closely at the vast edifice before us. Elsewhere journalists will obsess about the fact it shares a wheelbase and a few substructures with the Audi Q7 – as will the next Porsche Cayenne. The Continental GT was pointlessly lambasted for its even looser links to the VW Phaeton, so it’s reasonable to assume the same will happen here. Ignore them: what matters is that the moment the massive door heaves shut behind you, this thing feels like a Bentley.
Scrutinise the wood, the leather, the chrome, the fit, the finish and the options list (‘my’ Bentayga came with a gasp-inducing £75,000-worth of new goodies, enough if sacrificed to put a brand-new 911 in the garage next to it), and in these regards it is as worthy of the wings as any Continental GT or Flying Spur ever was.
It sounds like a Bentley, too. As per the modern vogue, the car is being launched in ‘top down’ fashion, so while a 400bhp V8 diesel and similarly powered V6 hybrid are on the way, the only Bentayga for sale right now has the full fat 6-litre, twin-turbo W12 motor under its bonnet. Or, I should say, a 6-litre twin-turbo W12. Although it retains the same external and internal dimensions as the engine that first appeared in a Bentley in 2003, the company claims not a nut, screw or bolt has been carried over. It has 599bhp, which sounds impressive but is in fact an uncommonly lazy output for the forced induction engine of a high-performance car these days. If it had the specific output of a common-or-garden VW Golf R, it would be close to 900bhp…
Then again, while the Bentayga will gain extra power when Speed models come along (as they most assuredly will), for now it doesn’t need it. More counter-intuition is required here, because when I tell you that, at 2400kg, the car is actually relatively light, you might now be spluttering into your cornflakes. But thanks to its predominately aluminium construction (it accounts for almost all the body and underlying structure save areas where, for safety, high-tensile steel is required), this massive SUV is lighter than the convertible Continental GT. It’s lighter too than a Cayenne hybrid, and only 90kg heavier than a Turbo S.
So with all that power (not to mention the accompanying cliff face of torque), it does things other SUVs cannot, such as reach 62mph from rest in 4.0sec, which is as fast as an AMG GT and quicker than a BMW M5, the aforementioned Cayenne Turbo and, perhaps most implausibly of all, every other Bentley on sale.
In short, it is quick enough. Impressively however, it doesn’t feel that way. There’s no uncouth urgency here, no sense of having to rein in the power, even in the most aggressive of its many driver-configurable settings. It does what a Bentley should so, which is glide inexorably forwards on part throttle, keeping gearchanges to a minimum, letting the torque do the work to the accompaniment of far-off thunder.
At once you notice the superb ride quality, I’d call it quite the best of any SUV I’ve driven were I not inherently suspicious of the way all cars ride in California, where the launch took place. Then you realise just how quiet the thing is. Being rather familiar with the local law enforcement community in this part of the world, I’ll skip the details and say simply that at any speed at which you are likely ever to want
to cruise anywhere in the world, not even a Range Rover gets close to these levels of refinement.
We did, of course, do all the off-road stuff too, on dirt tracks, sand dunes and even a desert racetrack, and it coped as well as you could imagine for a 2.4-tonne SUV. It wasn’t fun, in a ‘balance the throttle and let it drift’ kind of way, but what were you expecting? All Bentaygas have suspension that allows everything from literally zero roll to almost uncoupled anti-roll bars, depending on what terrain you are on, and this feature combined with sound suspension design, a stiff structure and
a whole lot of rubber provides a phenomenally wide operating envelope. It was impressive in the sand and mud it simply won’t see in normal life, and never less than enjoyable on the limit with that W12 howling away.
Bentley has a hit on its hands, and that’s not my judgment, but that of the market place: for now at the £160,000 price point it occupies, it has the field to itself. Others will come and make things tougher, but they will find they’re up against an immensely capable and, if you can get past the looks and the name, likeable car. Does it deserve to be called a Bentley? So far as I can see, as much as any from the VW era with the possible exception of the flawed but wonderful Mulsanne. Yes it is a car I liked more than loved, but I’m not exactly the target audience. Plutocrats, sports people and self-made entrepreneurs will likely absolutely adore it.
2016 Bentley Bentayga statistics
Engine 6.0 litres, 12 cylinders, twin turbocharged
Power [email protected] rpm
Torque 663lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power to Weight 250bhp per tonne
Top speed 187mph