TEST DRIVE: BENTLEY BENTAYGA 158
Bentley’s bold claims about setting a new benchmark for luxury SUVs with the Bentayga are met, and perhaps even exceeded
Many of the machines that we use in our daily lives tend to get sleeker as they evolve over the years. Take cellular telephones, for example; you would be hard pressed to carry the very first ones in a bag, let alone a pocket. Televisions, although larger in diameter, are considerably less voluminous today than in the era of the cathode ray tube (some of you may even wonder what I’m referring to). Along with this, there seems to be an inverse correlation with their inherent power; today’s laptop computers can perform much more complex operations, and store a massive amount of data, compared to a decade ago. I still occasionally come across computer memory cards in my drawers that hold – wait for it – a whole 32 megabytes. Today, I have single images that wouldn’t fit on those cards.
However, there is a particular type of machine that doesn’t have this inverse correlation; while they have undeniably gotten more powerful and energy efficient, they have also grown considerably in size. I am, of course, referring to cars. Every generational iteration of a car model seems to get a little bit wider, longer, more voluminous. I acknowledge that much of this is due to modern safety regulations, which have made cars considerably less of a danger, not only to their occupants, but to other cars and to pedestrians as well. Roads aren’t getting any wider though; there is a legacy road network around the world that simply can’t get torn up and replaced. Anyone who’s new to parking a car in a Hong Kong garage will immediately wonder whether the architects simply got their measurements wrong – either that, or they never thought that we just might need to open the doors to get out of the car.
The ultimate expression of this automotive engorgement is the sports utility vehicle, commonly known as the SUV. Originally, it’s the utilitarian aspect that was the dominating factor, with military jeeps and off-road vehicles being taken out of their natural environment, namely, off the paved roads that we generally use, and into urban areas. Whether there was a genuine need to this multipurpose ability was less debatable then than it is today. Drivers of SUVs either had a genuine use for them, or really wanted to stand out from the crowd.
Fast forward to today, and it seems that SUVs are now available from just about every single car manufacturer. All of them, from the exotic sportscar builders, to the family saloon marques, and even the luxury chauffeured car specialists, have either already built an SUV if not five, or have announced that they will be building one; the only holdout seems to be Ferrari, although you have to wonder how long they can remain so when even Lamborghini finally unleashes their Urus SUV later this year. Until then, I had the opportunity to take the wheel of another long-awaited SUV, the Bentley Bentayga.
Bentley’s luxury saloons have always been known for combining high levels of performance with numerous creature comforts. The marque has a significant racing heritage to back it up as well; you may be surprised to know that Bentley is fifth on the list of Le Mans winning constructors, with six wins under its belt, the most recent coming in 2003. Today, Bentley continues to participate in many GT series around the world competing in more than 90 races last year.
Turning to the Bentayga, it was first introduced, as is today’s norm, as a concept car named EXP 9 F at the Geneva Motor Show in 2012. It must be said that the public reception was lukewarm, in large part because to the car’s exterior design, which
high, 2.22 meters wide if you include the mirrors. These dimensions are, in fact, very similar to the Flying Spur, save for the height. Surprisingly, the curb weights are also quite close between the two cars, with the Bentayga having a slight advantage; the Flying Spur tips the scales at 2,475 kilograms, while the Bentayga weighs in at 2,440 kilograms. The gross weight, which includes the typical load that each car would carry, tells a different story; 2,972 kilograms for the Flying Spur, 3,250 kilograms for the Bentayga. Powering all this weight is a 6.0-liter W12 twin turbocharged engine, developing 600bhp at 5,250rpm, and 900Nm of torque at 1,250rpm, going to a full-time fourwheel drive transmission with an 8-speed automatic gearbox. didn’t gain much of a following. Bentley’s designers went back to the drawing board, and in 2015, following a number of teasers, the Bentayga was formally unveiled. There is no denying the aesthetic lineage, particularly on the front end, with the existing lineup of the Mulsanne, Flying Spur, and Continental. It’s more refined than the EXP 9 F concept, if I can use that word with an SUV, although the looks are still, shall we say, an acquired taste. It must be said though that other car companies received similar reactions when they unveiled their first SUVs, and it takes time for the public to get accustomed to that visual evolution.
There’s also no getting around that, even by today’s standards, the Bentayga is a rather large car. It has an imposing presence on the road, being 5.14 meters long, 1.74 meters
Bentley claims that this powers the Bentayga to 100km/h from a standstill in just 4.1 seconds, on to a top speed of 301km/h. these figures would be impressive enough for any sports car, but for a three-ton sUV, it’s almost hard to imagine. however, after taking the wheel and finding a little bit of clear road, i got a chance to give the accelerator a slightly harder push, which made the Bentayga surge towards the horizon in a way that you simply don’t expect from a car that size. the throttle response is as close as i’ve experienced from a turbocharged car to a normally aspirated one in a long while, and it feels as though all that torque is instantly available at any speed.
You might think though that it’s a one-trick pony, and that if you start to throw some corners at the Bentayga, that all that mass and height will start to have an effect. here, Bentley’s Dynamic Ride comes into play, as it actively works electrically to counter any lateral forces. as i learn to trust the system, the Bentayga starts to exhibit a behavior that’s closer to an overgrown hot hatch than a luxurious sUV, contradicting what you may have expected when surrounded by the luxurious leather seats and wood veneers. You can choose different driving profiles as well, using a rotary switch, from comfort, sport, custom, and “Bentley,” which
is claimed to be the “just right” setting for a balanced ride. in truth, i didn’t perceive a lot of difference between the various modes on city roads. Perhaps you would be more attuned to these settings if you were to drive the Bentayga for an extended period of time. the rotary switch also has four additional settings for off-road trips, through forest, snow, sand, or gravel, which i’d be keen to explore if i get a chance on to drive the Bentayga in more exotic locations.
the Bentley Bentayga is certainly a technical achievement. i have no doubt that any initial test drive will be an eye-opener, for you simply don’t expect that a car of that size or profile would handle and accelerate as well as it does. While it won’t challenge a purpose-built, low slung sports car on a track, it won’t be left that far behind, not to mention its versatility when tackling less than optimal roads or off-road conditions. i’m still not entirely convinced by its exterior design, but after spending some time behind the wheel, i’m almost ready to overlook that aspect, and i would certainly be keen to see how the Bentayga evolves in the next few years.
An imposing presence on the road, the Bentayga’s lineage is immediately apparent
The Bentayga boasts a 0 to 100km/h time of 4.1 seconds, enough to rival any sports car