Spain is a country of contrasts: exclusive estates tower over luxury resorts at the Mediterranean coast, while just a few miles inland, crumbling villages scrape by in picturesque poverty. So, too, the Bentley Bentayga. Not in its economics, of course, but in its character.
As Bentley’s first SUV—which Bentley claims to be the world’s first hyper-luxury SUV—the Bentayga is undeniably a refined, elegant machine, one with an available $170,000 Mulliner Tourbillon timepiece. It’s luxurious in a way that few cars except Bentleys are: luxurious in time and resources as well as money.
Handcrafting each Bentayga takes 130 hours; that’s about three to six times an average car’s production time. The effort shows in every hand-stitched seam, every millimeter-perfect fitment, and every expertly crafted detail—just as it does in every Bentley.
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Accommodations are phenomenal, whether you choose the front-row cloning four-seat rear option or the five-passenger bench. Just don’t expect to seat 4-5 six-and-a-half footers for long; the rear seat works best with the front passenger seat pushed all the way forward (a feat you can accomplish from the right-rear seat’s controls).
Likewise, the Bentayga’s time in development was well spent, despite being the quickest Bentley has ever brought a product to market, at just 48 months from concept to production (which starts November 27, though the first U.S. deliveries won’t arrive until March). But during those 48 months, the Bentayga turned over 400 laps on the Nordschleife, tuning the SUV to enable maximum cornering loads of 1.1 g as well as more hustle than you’d expect out of a high-riding super-luxe beast.
An all-new W-12 engine lies under the hood, too, keeping the bore spacing of its predecessor, but cutting weight, adding port- and direct-injection fueling, and twin-scroll turbos to rate 600 horsepower and 663 pound-feet of torque. Zero to 60 mph? Four seconds flat.
The Bentayga’s driving characteristics are difficult to discern. An industry-first electro-mechanical active anti-roll bar controls body roll much like the hydraulic systems found in other carmakers’ high-performance off-roaders, but reacts three times quicker, thanks to a supercapacitor-powered 48-volt electrical system. An electric motor along the anti-roll bar drives a gearbox that acts like a dynamic spring, increasing roll stiffness as the vehicle leans. The behavior of the active system steps up as you progress from Comfort to Bentley to Sport modes on the console-mounted dial. Those modes adjust the responsiveness of the ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, throttle response, and dynamic dampers as well.
The combination is capable, to be sure, but disconcerting at first. The lack of body roll is remarkable, even if the Bentayga’s 5,096-pound curb weight (in the Euro-spec models we were driving) is nearly 10 percent less than that of, say a Continental GTC Speed. Bentley says it’s side-to-side roll that causes motion sickness for passengers in spirited driving. But the vertical motion allowed by the suspension leaves the Bentayga heaving and diving on acceleration and braking, counter to drivers’ instincts; it’s incredibly brisk, but ultimately, you’ll want to settle in to a saner, more civilized pace.
But what do you do when the pavement ends and you want to keep going? You keep right on going. Simply reach back down to the same knob that adjusts on-road performance and select from one of four off-road modes to get the most desirable mix of traction control for Snow & Grass, Dirt & Gravel, Mud & Trail, or Sand Dunes. Need a bit more ground clearance? The Bentayga offers four ride heights, including two higher modes for off-roading.
And off-road it will, within reason. The Bentayga offers a surprising amount of wheel articulation, grappling with Spanish clay like a puma headed up a tree, but the approach and (especially) departure angles are somewhat restricted due to the amount of front and rear overhang—a problem exacerbated on Sport package vehicles, which add a clearance-reducing chin spoiler and rear diffuser (as well as a rear wing and some other bits) in carbon fiber. If anything, its ability will exceed the mettle of its owners—saving perhaps those in Dubai, who will be bashing them through the dunes alongside their modified Land Cruisers and Range Rovers, says Bentley CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer.
If the accommodations at the other end of your trek should prove inadequate, fear not, for you can bring your own with you, thanks to the Bentayga’s substantial 7,716-pound tow rating. That’s just a tick under the truck-based Cadillac Escalade’s capacity, for reference, in a $229,000 SUV built on an architecture shared with the 2017 Audi Q7.
Though Bentley would have you call it the Bentley of SUVs, a day in the driver’s seat gives us a more specific understanding of where the Bentayga fits in the Bentley universe: this isn’t the Mulsanne of SUVs; it’s the Continental. But it’s one hell of a Continental—and just wait for the Speed.