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.

Virtuozity - - Automobiles -

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.

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