“The fastest, most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world”. This is the bold statement Bentley is currently using to market the new Bentley Bentayga. By our calculation, the Bentayga is also the most expensive and probably the most technologically advanced SUV in the world. GTspirit was invited to California to experience Bentley’s exclusive SUV.

20 years ago, the idea of a 150,000 euro SUV would have been laughable. In fact, when Lamborghini did test the water with the wild LM002, all but the world’s elite did laugh before it was swiftly consigned to the history books. Since then, the world has moved on. The market has slowly grown to accept that there is a place for these cars. Jaguar, Maserati and even Rolls-Royce all have SUV projects in the works; even Lamborghini appears to have entered the ring for round two.

Although many assume it is, the Bentayga isn’t the first SUV to have left the Bentley factory gates although it is the first official production model. The first was a bespoke model, built for the Sultan of Brunei. Named the Bentley Dominator, it’s probable that only six were made. The only clear pictures that exist were taken when the cars were loaded onto a Brunei-bound cargo plane and its existence isn’t common knowledge.

Sequin Blue Bentley Bentayga
Sequin Blue Bentley Bentayga

The Bentayga is an altogether different proposition. It’s birth came about as part of the highly successful Volkswagen Group PL71 project, the platform that underpins the Volkswagen Touareg, Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. It is the later which is noteworthy. Bentley’s CEO, Wolfgang Durheimer worked for Porsche between 1999 and 2011 as the Board Member for research and development. His involvement in both the Cayenne and Bentayga projects is no coincidence, the clear intention is to grow the Bentley brand.

Fast forward to the Geneva Motor Show 2012 which is where we got our first introduction to the Bentayga. The EXP 8 F was the concept Bentley used to gauge public reaction. That reaction was decidedly mixed, forcing a redesign at Bentley and the subsequent production model which debuted last year at the Frankfurt Motor Show 2015.

Back to California and the car Bentley produced doesn’t look half bad. Don’t get me wrong, the styling still falls short of traditional superlatives. Yet it doesn’t seem to divide opinion quite as much as the EXP 8 F. In fact, I know a number of our regular readers have already placed deposits which says a great deal about first impressions!

Engine, Chassis and Performance

Bentley Bentayga Interior
Bentley Bentayga Interior

To start with the very essentials of the Bentayga; the chassis is obviously the same PL71 platform as Volkswagen Group uses across its entire premium SUV range. By platform I mean the bare metalwork that forms the vehicle floor and shell, including the doors, roof and bonnet. It is built at Volkswagen Group’s Bratislava Plant in Slovakia.

The empty shell is then shipped out to Crewe for finishing. Bentley fit the drivetrain, suspension components, interior and engine. In all but its most fundamental components, the Bentayga is a complete in-house model. You barely notice the Volkswagen Group provenance and the Bentayga certainly feels in a different ball game to its German counterparts.

In traditional Bentley fashion, the Bentayga gets a massive 6.0 litre W12 TSI engine, heavily revised for use in the Bentayga. Bentley have used both direct and indirect fuel injection to maximise efficiency and refinement. The advantage is that when you are cruising along, the engine is better able to regulate the amount of fuel that goes into the combustion chamber which improves fuel economy. The W12 also gets two twin scroll turbochargers for instantaneous boost. Expect to see the new engine work its way down the Bentley lineup over time.

The W12 also comes fitted with cylinder deactivation, shutting down the intake and exhaust valves, fuel injection and ignition on six cylinders. Coasting is available when off-throttle in 5th to 8th gear. Ultimately, Bentley have put a substantial amount of effort into increasing efficiency.

Power is a massive 608 hp which is produced between 5,000 and 6,000 rpm. Torque is pegged at 900 Nm between 1,350 rpm and 4,500 rpm with a 40:60 front-rear split. Essentially, the torque curve is completely flat after 1,350 rpm offering excellent pulling power. The Bentayga is rated for 3,500 kg of towing power; it could pull its own gross vehicle weight!

Expect further engine options offered soon including the V8 as well as possible hybrid and diesel versions. It remains to be seen how successfully Bentley will be able to integrate these models. For now though, power remains familiar Bentley territory.

The W12 is routed through a ZF eight-speed gearbox, strengthened for the increased demands of the additional weight, performance and off-road potential. The Bentayga manages a very impressive 0 to 100 km/h sprint of just 4.1 seconds together with a top speed of 301 km/h.

Bentley Bentayga Interior
Bentley Bentayga Interior

The front axle gets four link double wishbone suspension while the rear features a trapezoidal multi-link system. The permanent all-wheel drive system helps get the power to where it is needed. together with a torsen centre differential and an open rear differential. To assist with the rough stuff, Bentley’s Drive Dynamics system has been beefed up. It now features eight driving modes.

One of the most impressive items of kit is the optional 48 volt anti-roll bar. In essence, it is a powerful adjustable anti-roll bar. It works by calculating the surface and the desired driving feel. It then adjusts the stiffness to provide either increased ride comfort or increased rigidity depending upon the calculations it has performed. It works very well, keeping the Bentayga planted when you push on or comfortable when driving on the motorway.

Design

Sequin Blue Bentley Bentayga
Sequin Blue Bentley Bentayga

In terms of style, there is no mistaking the Bentayga for any other marque. The dual front headlights and dominating matrix grille take care of that. Bentley designers have attempted to do away with the dual headlight design more recently. The overwhelming feedback was negative so Bentley have stuck to what they know. The outer headlight serves as a daytime running light and also incorporates the washer for the main headlight.

The front bonnet gets a central crease which creates the sensation of symmetry. Bentley are keen to point out the work that has gone into getting to proportions correct. The overhangs in particular are short enough to ensure that the Bentayga has fantastic road clearance making it useable off-road should it ever be required.

There is a dominant styling line which runs from the front towards the rear three quarters where it begins to fade out. A lower styling line runs horizontally from the side air vent to the same three quarter position. Both lines are joined towards the rear of the door by a haunch line which begins at the boot and dips from above the rear door handle. A further design line, further down towards the side sills, gives the Bentayga some braun.

The styling gives the impression of swollen front and rear arches. A real bullish look which is best viewed from a rear three quarter angle. Coupled with the sledgehammer performance, the Bentayga both looks and feels mighty impressive.


The rear continues the styling line with a curve creating a lip effect. As modern standards dictate, the Bentayga also gets a rear diffuser and a rear spoiler. Carbon fibre parts can be fitted, I got the impression that these are dealer fit only, although several of the cars in California had been specced with this option. The carbon parts include wing mirrors, front air vent trim, side sills and fender vents, among other parts.

All panels are constructed from aluminium, to have used traditional steel coachwork would have added an extra 236 kg. A complete range of new alloy wheels are available for the Bentayga in sizes ranging from 20 inches to 22 inches. For the most part, I drove 21 inch rims with Pirelli Scorpion tyres which seemed to offer an excellent ride quality.

Interior

Bentley Bentayga Interior
Bentley Bentayga Interior

Inside, customers will get a choice of four or five seat layout. Customers who choose the former will get four individual seats with 18-way adjustability. There is quilted leather by the bucket-load in the Bentayga. The seats are designed with quilted leather incorporated into the back rest, the side bolsters and the door trim. Customers will be able to spec four different colour split options with at least 15 different leather options.

The Bentley wing design dashboard houses technology above the wing with exquisite veneers and leather below. It is the small touches that really set the interior apart though. The detailed knurling on the dials, the bespoke speaker covers and the chrome detailing. Veneers options are extensive. Seven options are available on the standard spec list with Bentley looking at providing Stone and Glass veneers at some point in the future.

Bentley fit an 8 inch touch screen infotainment system in the Bentayga. It uses a Google-maps based system with Online Real Time Traffic Information (RTTI). There are three speaker options culminating in the Naim for Bentley unit I found fitted to most Bentayga’s. This is a state of the art 1,800 watt system with 18 speakers. Also available as an option is a set of removable android tablets for passengers.

I drove an Azure Purple Bentayga with Beluga main and secondary hides and a Piano Black veneer. To be perfectly honest, this is a spec I would choose on my own car. Kitted out with plenty of optional extras including the four seat comfort specification and the rear seat entertainment system, this particular example added a further £50,575 to the list price. What I hadn’t appreciated is that some of the equipment available as an option in Europe comes as standard in the US; all terrain specification and city specification for example.

Alongside the run of the mill option list, there are some pretty wild options for the Bentayga. On my first evening I had a look around a Bentayga fitted with the Event option featuring a boot mounted event seat, strong enough to take the weight of two people. To make things even easier, there is a button on the boot which lowers the air suspension system. The same car was also fitted with a Picnic basket set packed with top of the range Linley cutlery and china. Approximately £22,000 on the option list, over 100 customers have already ordered it.

The most expensive optional extra has to be the Mulliner Tourbillon time piece manufactured by Breitling. If you fancy the Tourbillon, prepare for a wait as just 5 per year will be made available. It would seem as though two UAE-based customers have already chosen this option which will help keep Breitling busy for several months! A few more have also been sold as a stand alone desk clock for the owner, together with their new Bentayga purchase.

On the Road

Sequin Blue Bentley Bentayga
Sequin Blue Bentley Bentayga

My first experience of the Bentayga came as I headed for a 40 mile blast out of Coachella Valley. Driving down from the hotel, my first impression of the Bentayga is one of confusion. The pace is quite incredible considering the SUV’s 3,200 kg gross weight. A small stab of the throttle propels you into the horizon far quicker than expected.

Getting out of the city and onto some interesting canyon roads exposes another of the Bentayga’s strengths. A combination of the four wheel drive system, electrical wizardry and suspension components means it grips extremely well. In “sport” mode, it moves from corner to corner with virtually no roll. The balance is also very good with the 40:60 front to rear bias of the four wheel drive system helping to balance the weight.

In terms of soundtrack, the exhaust note of the massive W12 engine only begins to appear when you push on. At low revs the engine runs incredibly smoothly meaning you rarely hear it from inside the cabin.

Azure Purple Bentley Bentayga Off Road

Our first stop is an off-road course. It was set up specifically for the Bentayga, yet Bentley didn’t hold back. The course was filled with steep gradients and narrow bridges which the Bentayga managed with ease. These sorts of obstacles are less about power and more about finesse and throttle control. In “off-road” mode, the Bentayga slows to a crawl. For steep gradients it has hill descent control allowing you to effectively coast down at 1 mph on the brake.

A further 80 miles of canyon roads and highway cement our first impressions. I eventually pull on to the highway for the final 20 miles or so. The Bentayga in “comfort” mode feels sedate with brilliant sound deadening. The only audible noise is the steady wind buffeting generated by the SUV’s size. It’s not intrusive. For the most part, it was drowned out by the incredible Naim for Bentley sound system!

On a cruise, the Bentayga benefits from radar guided cruise control and a lane keeping mode which acts in much the same way as the Mercedes-Benz system. It is cutting edge technology such as this, and the park assist feature which will undoubtedly help Bentley capture the attention of a younger set of buyers, outside of its traditional customer base.

A 40 minute helicopter journey sees us out on the Californian sand dunes. Driving in the dunes is a pretty difficult job. The sand offers very little traction which makes it easy to get stuck. It seems a popular pastime in this part of the world though with hundreds of motor homes parked up on the highway. In the distance, the US Military conducts military tests with Osprey helicopters.

The Bentayga looks out of place compared with the dune buggies favoured by the regulars. On standard road tyres, I bully my way up the sand slopes, using raw speed to ensure ensure I top out.

The Bentayga obviously isn’t built to tackle this type of terrain on a regular basis, the buggies we pass have wheels that extend past the front four corners making it easy to travel through dense sand. They are the optimal choice for these dunes. The Bentayga gets around its shortcomings with brute force, 608 hp pulls us to the top of each dune in a plume of sand.

99.9% of Bentayga owners probably won’t take advantage of the off road capability which is a shame. Most Bentayga’s will see action on city streets.

Bentley Bentayga Orange

On our final day Bentley gave me the keys to an Orange Flame coloured car with a healthy smattering of carbon fibre parts. Our destination was Chuckwalla Race Circuit. Bentley are keen to demonstrate the 45 volt anti-roll bar and how each dynamic driving mode changes the ride and capability of the car.

On the track we complete four laps, the first in Bentley’s “B” mode. This gives the optimal combination of performance, handling and efficiency. Our second lap was completed in “Comfort” which demonstrated a distinct difference in the handling. Comfort introduces body roll as the anti roll bar becomes more pliable while “sport” mode does the exact opposite.

I had a small play about with the rear seats of the Bentayga too. Most of the cars Bentley bought over to California were specced with four seats and the Android-based infotainment system. The seats are comfortable enough with 18-way adjustment. The Android tablet system also works really well, giving passengers the option of taking the tablet out of the car.

What to Spec and Competition

Bentayga Breiling Tourbillon

The Bentayga retails at £160,200 before taking into account the various options available. Our first car featured £50,575 worth of options pushing the price up to £210,775. Our second car increased the cost by a further £20,000. Adding options to the Bentayga adds a lot of extra cost.

In terms of what is really essential, I suggest the Naim for Bentley audio kit for starters which costs £6,300. You might also consider the Touring Specification which adds an additional £5,900 in cost. For that you get Adaptive Cruise Control, a Head Up Display, Lane Assist and Traffic Assist among others.

If you are feeling particularly flush, you could of course opt for the Picnic Set or Breitling Tourbillon mentioned above. Otherwise, the carbon fibre upgrades give the Bentayga a special new look!

Competition is scarce in the Bentayga’s market at the moment. The closest would probably be the extremely successful Range Rover Autobiography, although that car comes in at a lower price point. I suspect that both Maserati and Jaguar’s upcoming SUV’s will sit lower down the price range too. Bentley have created a niche with the Bentayga which will provide competition for the likes of Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini, if their cars ever make it to production.

Conclusion

Sequin Blue Bentley Bentayga
Sequin Blue Bentley Bentayga

Bentley say that the Bentayga has attracted in excess of 5,000 pre-orders. Customer drives are yet to take place. Once they do, Bentley are expecting these numbers to increase, so much so that they have increased production. I have bad news for those that haven’t yet made up their mind. It looks like the waiting list might run past 18 months.

Those 5,000 or so customers who have already placed their faith in Bentley’s ostentatious plans look as though they are about to be rewarded. The execution of the Bentayga is much better than I had expected. The car also looks a lot better in person than the photos suggest. It feels like a Bentley behind the wheel and it has all the technology you could ever want. It is a worthy addition to the Bentley range!


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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Performance
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Handling
9
Comfort
9
Design
8
Interior
9
Sound
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