IAIN ROBERTSON 

Bentley Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga

There is no denial that VW Group’s investment in Bentley has been generous and well-managed, highlights Iain Robertson, and the latest upgrade to the German-British firm’s full-size SUV only serves to bolster its high-end market aspirations.

When the world motor industry’s obsession with Sport Utility Vehicles commenced sometime towards the end of the last Millennium, nobody would have bet hard cash on the number of diverse brands indulging in the process. Let’s face it, the Range Rover was the gamechanger, when it was introduced in 1970…fifty years ago. Yet, it had the market on its side, as Land Rover was regarded as the ultimate, all-surface mode of transport and, in its own plastic-fantastic, big-windowed statement, Range Rover was set to modernise and motivate the 4×4 scene.

However, by the time the Mark Two version arrived, it was abundantly clear that a blend of royal and business patronage would hike its intentions considerably upmarket. Of course, list prices also took an upwards hike from the £2,000 launch ticket of the original. Yet, the demand was unrelenting. The Japanese brands also hopped onto the bandwagon, with the Toyota Land-Cruiser, sister brand Lexus and Nissan Patrol keen to snaffle up aspiring buyers, while the Jeep Grand Cherokee and a plethora of GM-based ‘utes’ were determined to wave a US nationalistic flag at the 4×4 sector.

Bentley Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga

While Bentley is a relatively recent incumbent, with Bentayga, its natural rival and former stablemate being the BMW-owned Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the ‘shock’ effect of unexpected brands adopting an SUV ‘status’ has been far-reaching. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati, Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo are among the upwardly mobile manufacturers seeking a cut, which leaves the market wide open for newcomers like Ineos to try to grab a slice of Land Rover’s more agricultural Defender business. However, any carmaker worth its salt is now more concerned with its SUV involvement than its more conventional passenger cars. It is an intriguing situation, not least because of the higher running costs inherent to a pair of driven axles, heavier construction and the inevitability of a larger engine capacity (lower MPG; higher CO2), at a time of questionable economic stability.

Naturally, Bentley’s owner offered a quick route to market, with its shared platform strategy. The VW Touareg begat Audis Q7 and Q8, it also underpins the Porsche Cayenne. A deft styling department would graft Bentley’s signature radiator grille to the slightly bosomy profile and, while it was hardly the prettiest of breed, its street presence was enormous. Bentley could also dip into its owner’s range of power units, in an attempt to maintain its stance as a potent, high-speed cruiser. Strangely, the cocktail worked and Bentley’s onwards and upwards approach continued apace, with no less than 20,000 examples finding prestigious homes since its introduction.

On first acquaintance, while I felt that the first version was little bit too much melange and not really enough Bentley, the latest iteration is altogether more complete. The latest, more upright and projecting Bentley snout actually looks right on the car, being of a more balanced appearance than before. While there was no issue with the original version’s luxury cabin accoutrements, Bentley has raised the bar again with the new version, with even prouder applications of monograms, cross-stitching and diamond-cut trimmings.

Bentley Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga

However, it is what lies beneath the bonnet that turns the heads of the cognoscenti, after all, Bentley possesses a title as ‘the world’s fastest SUV’ that it wants to retain. A 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo petrol engine, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, delivers a whopping 542bhp punch, to which you can factor in 568lbs ft of torque. While towing an Eccles caravan to ‘Skegvegas’, however easy, might be unlikely, that sort of heft will make easy meat of a Courchevel Twin Horsebox en-route to ‘Badders’.

In ‘regular’ form, this potency entitles a top whack of 180mph, after despatching the 0-60mph sprint in an immodest 4.4s. However, it needs its cylinder decoupling technology (four of them can be cut-off during light throttle cruising) to return 21.2mpg (official combined), while emitting 302g/km CO2 allied to the price tag that will mean several thousand Pounds’ worth of road tax dues, not that a typical Bentley owner will be concerned about that little overhead. Although it is unavailable for the moment, the 6.0-litre W12 engine is being retained for the more focused Speed model, which will top 190mph, glug fuel like an Oliver Reed tribute act and ensure that the performance flag flies high at Crewe. Yet, as you might recall, a plug-in hybrid version will also be available to soften the eco-blow.

It is also worth highlighting that the Bentayga offers the most comprehensive range of four on-road and four off-road driving modes and, thanks to a 20mm increase in rear track width, greater stability, better steering responses and enhanced grip levels are dialled into the chassis dynamics program. Matching the silky V8 engine is an equally silken ride quality and semi-active roll control.

Bentley Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga

Naturally, communications technology has been improved and, if a 590W, 12-speaker stereo system is insufficient for occupants’ ears, a Naim bespoke alternative can provide 1,750W through 20-speakers. Both Apple and Android mobiles can be connected and recharged and the customary round of electronic driving and safety packages (ADAS) has been enhanced. However, despite having just two headlamps on the Bentayga’s nose, their range and flexibility are among the most advanced of any, with 82 adaptive LEDs each. The wipers are also a bit special, featuring 22 heated washer jets in each arm that clean the screen most efficiently.

Unsurprisingly, the Breitling timepiece that is dash-central remains, although the former twin air-vents are now a single sculpted unit, which looks a lot smarter. The Audi influence evident in previous Bentleys is taken on a few upmarket steps (not just in the Bentayga model) to result in one of the most beautifully presented, exceptionally well-built and visually appealing interiors of any car on earth. Not that a reason is needed to warrant Bentley’s desirability, if you really want a large chunk of automotive real estate, the latest Bentayga delivers on all counts.

Conclusion:       Although requesting a price is notionally vulgar, the new Bentayga will be available from around £140,000, to which you can add another £25,000 for a W12 example (and almost £100,000 additionally, if you want a Mulliner bespoke model). Heck! It’s only money.

Bentley Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga