Thoroughly British Bentley basks Bentayga in hybrid technology
It is almost too easy to dismiss the latest Bentley SUV as an over-priced excess, writes Iain Robertson, when it carries a price tag of over £133,500, but it is every bit as grand as the twice-the-price Rolls-Royce Cullinan and better in so many ways.
The rebirth of Bentley, following the battle royal between BMW and Volkswagen that resulted in the former taking charge of Rolls-Royce and the latter Bentley, has been a modern-day success story considerably beyond the worth of the brands. While the former conjoined marques were renowned for their respective brand values, as separate entities they both grew to new and highly profitable peaks, with Bentley becoming in some ways more vital than Rolls.
It is an exceedingly ‘caddish’ brand. A ‘Terry Thomas’ of elegant British upper-class motorcars that is immensely competent but possesses a wicked smile laced with sauciness. Naturally, it has history, steeped in its much lauded Le Mans race victories that extends into levels of sometimes daring stylishness. While the major company chairman would lounge in the rear seats of a Roller, the Bentley would be the driver’s choice and, fortunately, VW Group has realised this vital element and embodied it wholeheartedly within the existence of the brand. It is why Bentley can cut its own furrow in the prestige category, where supercar performance is as de rigueur as Connolly leather and a wood trim shop at the factory.
Having witnessed the success of both Audi and Porsche brands in the large SUV segment of the new car scene, the argument in favour of dipping Bentley’s toe in the same hallowed waters was not an easy one but the benefits could be foreseen. Presented with platform sharing, in the Bentayga’s case of the MQB technology developed by VW, not only saved a fortune in development costs but meant that the risk to a still small volume carmaker was somewhat closer to amortisation.
For the price of a supercar, you could have a super-SUV and, if you are vehemently anti-SUV, a hybridised Bentayga provides supercar performance, with plug-in electric benefits that include almost 30 miles of EV operation, with a CO2 emissions rating of just 79g/km and the potential of 80.7mpg on the official combined WLTP fuel consumption cycle. It ain’t no ‘Mitsubishi PHEV’ but I shall wager that you are as intrigued as I am to discover how this 2.6-tonne luxury leviathan attains its amazing figures.
However, firstly, I want to describe the sense of occasion that surrounds entering the cabin of Bentayga. Taking around 130 hours to build at the company’s Crewe headquarters, its quilted, diamond stitched Nappa hide and wood-trim interior is the epitome of the ultimate member’s club. There is no sharp intake of breath, because it is not that shocking, but it is unerringly beautiful and, I promise, there is not a single, hand-applied stitch that is out of place. Built by real craftsmen, whom have passed on their talents to a series of generations of specialists, the Crewe factory is a centre of traditional excellence.
Personally, I adore the confidence of the cockpit. It is largely the same interior design as the 200mph Continental Coupe, albeit around a foot higher from the road surface. Once on-board, the driver’s seat wraps around the human form and provides an alluring security blanket, from which to observe a remote outside world, so cloistered in sound-deadened refinement are up to five occupants, within its spacious cabin. The driver’s seat is an electrically adjustable club chair proving effortless support and comfort, augmented by the electric adjustment of the steering column that results in a commanding, yet relaxing environment. However, there is plenty of modernity within this time-honoured structure, with digital instrumentation supporting a mostly logical control and switchgear array. Yet, it is the applications of highly polished stainless steel and light alloys that provide the bling highlights to make this cabin so memorable.
It represents elegance in an unfettered direction, not least, when you crack open the electric rear door and reveal the pull-out ‘grandstand’ seating for two, complete with diamond stitched leather, an ideal perch from which to view the 3.30 at Kempton Park, sipping on a flute of chilled Krug. This is a Wilton carpeted space for a pair of Purdeys and Bentley will secure box them for you in pure Walnut or Zebrano wood (at extra cost). Although bespoke, Bentley is British based but owned by VW Group and possesses a direct manufacturing relationship with both the Porsche Cayenne and the Audi Q7, factors that help to keep prices at more moderate levels than its BMW-owned senior-league rival. It is not ‘affordable’ to me but, even spec’d-up to the nines, the Bentayga can look as close to ‘value-for-money’ as anything in this class might boast.
The familiar 3.0-litre V6 turbo-petrol engine is hooked up to a 94kW electric power unit providing a combined power output of 443bhp and a prodigious 516lbs ft of instant torque, driving through an 8-speed automatic transmission. This allows it to blast from 0-60mph in just 5.2s, with a maximum speed of 158mph. It can be plugged in to recharge its lithium-ion storage battery in around 2.5 hours, thanks to its ingenious high-tech drivetrain. However, the evident surge upon each application of the throttle pedal gifts this Bentley a repeatable skirt-hiking performance standard that places a constant smile on your face. Yes. It is THAT special.
While it is difficult to disguise its bulk, its handling envelope is simply astonishing and its air suspension, with four different ride heights, provides magic carpet comfort, while resisting body roll bravely. While its ultimate agility is not really at sportscar levels, it will still give a cool account of itself on the back doubles, while open road cruising is a wafting delight. Face it, a top-spec Cayenne is over £100k but it cannot boast a driving range of upwards of 450-miles and, while sporty, it has only a merest whiff of the luxury provided by the Bentley.
Conclusion: Probably the most covetable go-anywhere vehicle in the world, even its mildly challenging bodywork will not dissuade the well-heeled few that can afford a Bentley Bentayga hybrid, the super-luxury car with a conscience.