Billed as “the fastest, most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world”, it almost seems to defy logic.
At about the average height of a man, more than five metres long and weighing in at around 2.5 tonnes, it’s a beast. And yet, its mighty 6.0-litre W12 engine can propel it to 0-60mph in 4.0 seconds (0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds) and on to a top speed of 187mph (301 km/h).
Just to put that performance into perspective, the recently announced “most powerful, most dynamic production Range Rover to date” – the SVAutobiography Dynamic – has a 0-60mph time of 5.1 seconds (0-100 km/h in 5.4 seconds) and a top speed of 140mph (225 km/h).
But here’s the thing. As if all that isn’t enough, the Bentayga also has all-terrain ability. Apparently, the development programme ranged across five continents, from the dirt and gravel of South Africa and the dunes of Dubai, to the muddy fields of Cheshire, and from -30°C in the frozen North Cape to searing 50°C desert heat.
So Bentley has created a new ultra luxury SUV sector in one fell swoop, and for now, it has the playing field all to itself and is making hay. The car is sold out for its first year of production.
SUVs, or Sports Utility Vehicles, are the fastest growing sector in the world so even luxury manufacturers have had to rethink their strategies. Within the next few years the Bentayga will be joined by SUVs or “crossovers” from Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and even Rolls-Royce.
Already in 2016, Maserati has unveiled the Levante and Land Rover has launched the most luxurious Range Rover ever, the £148,900 SVAutobiography.
Now we come to the elephant in the room – the Bentayga’s divisive looks. With its matrix grille and distinctive floating all-LED headlamps, the front end definitely works. It also has a classy profile, despite the restraints of being an SUV, which means it must have little or no overhang at the rear. From behind it is, shall we say, understated.
Inside, however, it’s oozing with Bentley DNA. Beautifully finished and sumptuous, there are metres of signature diamond quilted hand-stitched leather, plenty of precision-cut burr walnut and cool metal elements.
If the standard clock above the centre console isn’t enough for you, a bespoke mechanical Mulliner Tourbillon by Breitling clock can also be specified. At £150,000, it has to be the most expensive optional extra ever.
The trademark Bentley knurling on the drive mode selector and gear knob is complemented by air vents that are controlled by highly-polished chrome organ pulls. Up above, the Bentayga comes with a panoramic glass roof, making up almost 60% of the total roof surface.
The front seats deserve a special mention. Individually handcrafted at Bentley’s HQ in Crewe, north-west England, they feature 22-way adjustment, a six-programme massage system, heating and ventilation. The rear seats might not have quite as many toys, but the space available puts many a limousine to shame.
As you’d expect, the Bentayga is also packed with tech. There’s an 8” touchscreen infotainment system, a 30-language sat nav, and a choice of between three different sound systems. The Naim for Bentley Premium Audio is the most powerful, boasting 1,950 watts and a network of 18 speakers and super-tweeters.
Driver aids include Adaptive Cruise Control, Park Assist (autonomous parking), Rear Crossing Traffic Warning (radar detects crossing traffic when reversing out of a parking space) and Top View (which uses four cameras to display a bird’s eye view of the vehicle’s surroundings).
However, all that opulence and technology comes at a price. The Bentayga will set you back £160,200, and by the time you’ve added a few items from the options list, it’s likely to end up closer to £200,000. My test car is a case in point. It cost £193,135 with extras.
If money is no object, then the Bentayga makes absolute sense, especially if you encounter weather extremes or there’s just a chance that you may need to call upon the car’s four-wheel drive.
I drove the Bentayga over a variety of roads and it’s seriously impressive. Once you’ve adjusted to its sheer size, the luxury, comfort, commanding driving position and sheer power of the engine is intoxicating.
There are four on-road modes (Sport, Comfort, ‘Bentley’ and Custom), plus four all terrain modes (Snow & Grass, Dirt & Gravel, Mud & Trail, Sand Dunes), but frankly, default ‘Bentley’ is enough. The acceleration would do a supercar justice. In a car of this size, it’s simply astonishing – and, of course, it’s whisper quiet while cruising too.
Thanks to Bentley’s brilliant electronic Dynamic Ride system, the Bentayga delivers a superb blend of handling and ride quality. As you’d expect there’s a little body roll in corners, but it is very well controlled.
It’s almost churlish to mention economy, given that the price of petrol (super unleaded no less) is not a major consideration if you’re in the market for a car in this league, but for the record, it’s capable of 21.6mpg and emits 296g/km of CO2. A more economical diesel (35.8 mpg) arrives later in 2017.
Verdict: The Bentley Bentayga is an SUV with unbeatable badge appeal and road presence. Powerful, practical, comfortable and luxurious, it’s also a surprisingly serious driver’s car.