Lincolnshire

Five minutes with the Bentley Bentayga

It’s Bentley’s first-ever SUV, proving that even the most high-end, luxury marques like this storied British brand are not immune to purchaser power.

With every manufacturer these days having to build at least one type of SUV to make serious money, Bentley decided to take the plunge and launched the Bentayga – named either after a portmanteau of the carmaker’s name and the ‘Taiga’ snow forest, or a mountain on Gran Canaria, depending on who you listen to – in late 2015.

It opens up a whole new world of ‘hyper-luxury’ SUVs, existing a realm beyond even the most opulent of Range Rovers or Porsche Cayennes, and it will be joined in its class by rivals from Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and Lamborghini before long.

Why are you driving it?

Wouldn’t you like to know what Doddington Hall would feel like if it was fitted with wheels? Because the Bentley is a hugely sumptuous, hugely expensive and hugely exclusive construction, making it rather like a motorised stately home.

The interior is astonishingly well-finished, with less of the obvious Volkswagen Group switchgear about it (save for column stalks that are lifted from an Audi A3; unusual, as the Continental gets lovely round items with knurled metal end finishers – why couldn’t the Bentayga have those instead?), and it can be personalised every which way imaginable.

Our test car had, among much more, the four-seat comfort option for £8,260 – bringing heated, ventilated and massaging chairs in all four positions, with a beautifully-made centre armrest – a rear-seat entertainment package with Google maps and wireless headphones (£5,365), and Portland and Beluga hide with Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus trim, making for a wonderful ambience. But £43,465 of options turned the already costly £160,200 Bentley into a vehicle costing almost £204,000.

What do you like about it?

Practically everything. The Bentayga is jaw-droppingly good. It is fitted with a colossal 6.0-litre, W12 petrol engine with two turbochargers, driving all four wheels through a seamless eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Despite weighing 2.4 tonnes – actually not much heavier than a Continental GT Coupe with the same 12-cylinder motor – its ferocious outputs of 608hp and 900Nm equate to an SUV that can hit 62mph from rest in a phenomenal 4.1 seconds, before running on to a top speed that has to be electronically limited to 187mph; in everyday driving, these claims are entirely believable as the Bentayga’s straight-line performance is Porsche-crushingly thunderous from tickover to redline.

Not only that, but with air suspension and a clever anti-roll system that uses a separate 48-volt power system to control the Bentley’s mass, the blend of ride and handling is absolutely incredible.

The Bentayga can float along in Comfort mode, soaking up the worst of road surfaces with larger vertical body movements, or it can hunker down and give a decent impression of a much smaller performance car in the corners. It is a remarkable machine in terms of defying the laws of physics and it’s a truly beautiful thing to drive, an SUV that turns every journey into a special experience.

Any issues?

Well, as we said earlier, it’s really not cheap.

But then luxury of this ilk does not belong in the bargain section of the automotive world, so the price tag – for people who are even considering it – is largely irrelevant; all we would say is that, personally, if we were buying into Bentley ownership, we’d probably prefer a well-specified Continental V8 S for about £150,000, rather than this £203,665 Bentayga.

The other issue we have is the looks. Bentley’s announcement that it was making an SUV in the first place was a contentious decision and public outcry wasn’t dampened down once the hideous EXP9 Concept was shown at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.

The finished production version of the Bentayga is a far better-looking machine than that and, in a classic motoring critic’s cliché, it’s also a more impressive, handsome thing in the metal than it is in pictures. But trying to cram Bentley’s traditional styling features – like the wire-effect grille (it’s actually plastic, for pedestrian safety), round headlights, bulging rear flanks and neat rear light clusters (which illuminate in a ‘B’/reverse ‘B’ pattern at night) – onto such a physically big machine hasn’t resulted in anything you could call pretty.

It does look better when viewed from the rear, yet we’d definitely say a Range Rover has the more elegant exterior aesthetic… and you can buy those for half the price of the Bentley.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

It would be a very, very bad idea to buy the Bentayga W12 as a business car, with its huge CO2 emissions figure of 296g/km ensuring the maximum 37 per cent Benefit-in-Kind – and that’s 37 per cent on something with a P11D value north of £200,000.

Monthly payments would therefore be terrifying.

Also, 21.6mpg is the claimed economy figure but, with only a few blasts of acceleration, we averaged around 13mpg across 150 miles spent ambling around on local rural roads. There is, however, a cheaper, diesel Bentayga with the clever ‘triple-turbo’ 4.0-litre V8 engine out of an Audi SQ7, if you want to save some money on running costs.

Where does it rank in class right now?

It’s top of its rarefied class, by dint of being the only thing in it. Land Rover will be annoyed by the Bentayga, as the Range Rover has been around for nearly 50 years and has always been the premium 4×4 in the world… but, even in a specification absolutely dripping with toys and fitted with a 550hp supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine, the Rangie just doesn’t quite feel as exceptional as the Bentayga.

Despite its challenging looks and the perhaps-controversial decision by Bentley to make an SUV in the first place, the end result is a beguiling, magnificent creation that sets a high benchmark for any similarly ultra-premium brands to clear.

The Bentayga, rather aptly, is therefore the mountain all other SUVs have to climb to take the ‘ultimate off-roader’ accolade.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Bentley Bentayga W12
  • Price: Bentayga range starts from £135,800; W12 from £160,200, car as tested £203,665
  • Drivetrain: 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 petrol, eight-speed manual transmission, four-
  • wheel drive
  • Economy: 21.6mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 296g/km – £1,120 VED first 12 months, then £515 annually thereafter, if registered before April 1, 2017/£2,000 first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter, if registered post-April 1, 2017; 37% benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 187mph (limited)
  • 0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
  • Power: 608hp at 5,000- to 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 900Nm at 1,350- to 4,500rpm