2015 was when Bentley first released the Bentayga. Back then it was unique. It was the first, modern, luxury SUV from a dedicated luxury brand. Four years on and the Bentayga now faces stiff competition for market share. There is more incoming too. With this in mind, we gladly accepted a loan of Bentley’s entry-level model, the Bentley Bentayga V8, to see if it still managed to compete.

A pedant would point out that the Bentley Bentayga wasn’t the first luxury SUV, which is true. That accolade perhaps goes to the Range Rover. The Range Rover has that accolade. Until recently, it was the only choice if you wanted a 4×4, with supreme comfort but with the capability to handle modest off-road challenges. The Bentayga moves this concept on, pushing the SUV body shape further upmarket than it has ever been before.

Since 2015, the Bentayga has carried four engines. It was available from launch with a W12 power unit. Later, Bentley launched a Diesel model. Dieselgate has meant that you will be hard-pressed to order a new one of those from the factory and so a hybrid version has emerged to push Bentley’s green credentials. A W12 Speed was also recently released, yet it is the V8 version – the entry-level – that we sample today.

As with the Continental, the Bentayga V8 gets a 4.0-litre V8 powertrain. The engine is not Bentley-specific. The specifications mirror those of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. The V8 produces a healthy 550 hp at 6,700 rpm with torque of 770 Nm between 1,960 and 4,500 rpm. As far as we can tell, the Cayenne is geared slightly differently to give it a sporting feel as opposed to the Bentayga’s focus on refinement.

That is a fair amount of power for an SUV. It falls just 50 hp short of the W12 and 76 hp short of the Speed. Yet it costs a mere £136,000 as opposed to the £182,000 starting point for the W12. In terms of power then, the V8 offers more bang for the buck. Yet despite the relatively minor difference in power output, the Bentayga V8 has a considerable performance deficit, being 0.5 seconds slower to 100 km/h than the W12.

Nonetheless, 4.4 seconds is quick enough for any SUV. If you drove the two models back to back you would likely struggle to see the difference. After all, we are talking 2-ton SUV’s here! The power is transferred to all four wheels through an excellent eight-speed ZF transmission.

It is what happens at the wheels that presents the biggest surprise though – a trait common to most Bentayga’s. Bearing in mind the sheer weight of the Bentayga, it sticks the extreme power extremely well. The grip it produces is unreal. Sometimes you wonder whether the tarmac is at risk of giving way.

The incorporation of a 48-volt system makes the difference. It powers a set of sway bars, fitted with an electronic motor both at the front and back. This allows the Bentayga to apply pressure on the outside wheels during cornering and lift pressure off the inside wheels. The result is to reduce body roll and improve comfort. In addition, as with the W12, the Bentayga gets air suspension all around with adaptive damping.

It works extremely well. In the sportiest of settings, the prosaic “Sport” mode, the Bentayga V8 provides levels of grip that belie its sheer size. It is possible to throw the Bentayga into corners at some truly astounding speeds. In “Comfort” mode, the sway bars relent and the ride becomes compliant, demonstrating a depth of talent you would not normally expect from an SUV.

Bentley Bentayga V8 Exterior Test Drive Review

What will matter to most though is what the Bentayga looks like to those on the outside. Being based upon the Volkswagen MLB platform, Bentley designers were clearly restrained with what they could do. The proportions are broadly similar to the Cayenne, Q8 etc. upon which it shares its platform. The grille and headlights provide a clear Bentley signature. It is certainly less challenging to the eye than a Cullinan!

Yet, driven side by side with a Mulsanne, the casual, uninformed bystander would almost certainly peer at the Bentayga last. In a world of SUV’s, the Bentayga has a tendency to ‘blend in’. Of course, our test model’s Dove Grey colour scheme, blacked-out chrome and black wheels gave it a certain boost in curb presence.

The interior is decadent. Bentley is famed for quilted leather. The Bentayga incorporates this into the shoulder rest and side bolsters. The perforated centre strip is the perfect surface for the air-conditioned seats.

Our test example featured a statement piece, Cricket Ball Red interior. Although not to my taste, it demonstrates the multitude of possibilities when it comes to interior surfaces. Our Bentayga combined this with carbon fibre trim. The front seats came loaded with a massage function, much to the delight of passengers.

Compared to the new Bentley Continental GT, the infotainment system in the Bentayga seems a little outdated. The revolving screen has yet to make its way into the Bentayga and a dash remains a conventional display with satellite navigation displayed between the conventional dials.

Bentley Bentayga V8 Exterior Test Drive Review

With a base price of £136,000, our Bentayga came fitted with plenty of options. The Mulliner Driving Specification added 22-inch wheels, diamond quilting, drilled alloy foot pedals and embroidered Bentley wing emblems. The 2019 Centenary Specification adds gold touches to the bonnet, boot, wheel centres and key. City Specification adds side collision warning, park assist, reverse traffic warning and a top-view camera. Touring Specification, adds the Adaptive Cruise Control (an essential) and the Bentley Safeguard Plus system with head-up display, lane assist, night vision and traffic assist.

Black Specification adds the black trim to the window surrounds and all of the other bright ware. It also adds carbon fibre components such as the front splitter, side sills, rear diffuser and rear spoiler. The final option was the Front Seat Comfort Specification which heats and ventilates the front seats, adding the massage function too.

In all, this £136,200 SUV pushes through the £180,000 mark quite quickly when you add the cost of these optional extras.

The V8 has an 85-litre fuel tank. At an average of £1.293 per litre (at the time of writing), it costs a heady £109 to fill to the brim. Expect to get slightly short of 500 miles with a light foot. That said, the type of person who buys a Bentayga is unlikely to be conscious of such real-world measurements.

We started this review by talking about how the market had changed over the years since the Bentayga first emerged. On paper, the Range Rover SV V8 Autobiography offers a similar package. Bentley also faces competition from Rolls-Royce with the Cullinan. Within the group, Lamborghini has also begun production of the Urus and Audi, the Q8. On the horizon is an SUV from Aston Martin, another from Ferrari and a competitor from Mercedes-Maybach. If you are in the market for a luxury SUV, there will soon be a wealth of choice.

Bentley Bentayga V8 Interior Test Drive Review

Ultimately, the Bentayga provides an early boost for Bentley in the luxury SUV war. It has some pretty special features too, that electronic sway bar springs to mind. The choice, based on the competitors, is likely to come down to personal choice. The Bentayga is likely to appeal to those who crave proper old-school luxury. Those that want outright performance are likely to choose the Lamborghini.

Anybody who does choose the Bentayga V8 won’t feel shortchanged. The V8 model is a great car with a great engine. It comes equipped with everything you would expect from a modern Bentley, and more.

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