Luxury on the up
WITH BENTLEY MOVING INTO THE LUXURY SUV MARKET, VIRTUOZITY TRIES OUT THE NEW BENTAYGA TO SEE IF LUXURY REALLY CAN GO OFF-ROAD.
WHEN BENTLEY ANNOUNCED IT was going to build an SUV back in 2013 the automotive industry raised a collective eyebrow. The economics made perfect sense. People are moving away from saloons and into SUVS in all the developed markets, so for the big luxury brands it’s an obvious move to secure its customer base. And besides, Porsche had already done it all the way back in 2002 and proved that (eventually) you could make it work.
After the dust had settled from Bentley’s announcement the rest of the luxury car industry scampered off to their design studios to get moving on their own SUV, whilst loudly insisting they would do no such thing. Economics are economics. If you don’t have an SUV in your line up, you’re going to suffer. If you don’t like it, you’d better get used to it. They are here to stay.
With the Rolls Royce, Lamborghini and Aston Martin SUVS yet to launch, Bentley now has time to rope in the ultra-luxury SUV market, whilst fighting it out with the market darling, the Range Rover Vogue. But to do that the Bentayga needs to be good. Very good. The big Range Rover has had this market all to itself for a long time. Pushing it off its perch will be a tough job.
On the outside, the controversial front end has been tamed and smoothed off, with the gaping maws of the original concept now becoming Bentley-style air dams. The double round light treatment is
still slightly awkward but it’s an acceptable compromise for a brand that builds itself around that key design feature. From the side the Bentayga has aggressive lines, with hunched rear arches. It manages to neatly combine that aggression with flowing lines very well. Around the back, the rear view is very neat, which is often a problem for SUV designers. From behind, the Bentayga is probably the best looking SUV on the market. It’s the Kate Moss of 4x4s.
The interior, as you’d expect from Bentley, is exquisite. The finish is second to none and the seats are possibly the most comfortable you are likely to experience in a vehicle. They are firm enough to hold you in place at speed, but comfortable enough for a long drive across Europe or from one end of Saudi Arabia to the other.
Room in the rear is plentiful with loads of headroom and the boot is huge. The Bentayga shares the same platform as the Q7, so has similar dimensions, making this a proper full-sized SUV. It’ll do a mountain bike holiday just as well as a trip to the polo.
On the road, the main thing that grabs your attention is the incredible engine. It’s supercar fast. With the all-new 6.0 litre W12 petrol engine, the Bentayga will hit
100 kph in just 4.1 seconds and keep going all the way up to 301 km/h, making it the world’s fastest SUV available today.
But it doesn’t end there. The engine features variable displacement, working out the ideal combination of power, torque and efficiency at any one time. It delivers 5-90% torque within 1.1 seconds, allowing it to accelerate from almost any speed in an instant. The suspension is also excellent, firm enough to avoid corner roll and soft enough to avoid a clattering ride when it gets a bit rough.
SUV on-road performance across the automotive industry has reached incred- ible levels and the Bentayga takes it even further. Gone are the days when buying an SUV meant giving up some of the road manners you’d expect from a saloon. Technology has flattened the playing field to such a level that it’s no longer an issue.
And although Bentley aren’t pushing the Bentayga as a ‘go anywhere’ vehicle, it’s got great ground clearance, a clever four-wheeldrive system and can operate at some serious off-road angles. Should you want to take your extremely expensive 4x4 on the dunes or up a rocky mountain path, you can. And why not? This is an SUV after all.
So did Bentley hit the SUV sweet spot with the Bentayga? Pretty much. This car had to be good and it is. You expect all Bentleys to be fast, but the Bentayga is still surprisingly quick. It defies its own size and weight, acting like a sports car on the road. This is key, as few people will actually venture off road in their cars.
The front end won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it grows on you and at the luxury end of the market it always pays to be different. This is the car the Gulf has been waiting for, bringing a new top-end option to the SUV market.
And for now, it’s got time to play, as the rest of the industry plays SUV catch up.