2017 Bentley Bentayga: First Drive

The 2017 Bentley Bentayga makes the phrase “Bentley SUV” a credible reality—and gives Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz another competitor from on high. When Bentley first made the well-coifed foray into the SUV space with the EXP9 F concept in 2012, the idea and design both seemed overly challenging. After focus grouping to make sure their well-heeled buyers wouldn’t jump ship, and some refinements to the package, Bentley decided to go to market with the all-new super-luxe SUV.

You may ask, exactly, what does Bentley offer in the Bentayga (pronounced “ben-TAY-guh,” named after a mountain in the Canary Islands) that can justify a price which begins at $229,100? Start with the typical Bentley combination of a brand-new W-12 engine that makes 600 hp and 663 ft. lb. of torque. Each Bentayga takes 130 hours to handcraft; that’s anywhere from three to six times as long as it takes to build a more ordinary automobile. And beyond the luxury cues, Bentley had to engineer an off-roader for the first time.

bentley Bentayga

From behind the wheel, the Bentayga proves pure Bentley. The torque is unbelievably linear; when you step on it, the eight-speed automatic ZF transmission ticks off gears as smooth as silk. Concerned about how many polar bears are drowning as a result of your fossil fuel consumption? Fear not, concerned eco-citizen, Bentley has you covered—the redesigned engine can run seamlessly as a six-cylinder under certain conditions making it more fuel-efficient. The engine runs in the more efficient mode below 3,000 rpm and the car is in gears three through eight. The Bentayga also has a “sailing” mode: in fifth through eighth gears, when you ease up on the throttle, the torque converter opens and the engine idles until the car detects a speed increase, at which time the transmission re-engages.

In true Bentley style, performance isn’t sacrificed in the face of efficiency; the new Bentayga does 0-60 in just 4.1 seconds. And in case you were worried about its handling, it’s also turned more than 400 laps on the Nürburgring, according to Bentley. A top speed of 187 mph makes the Bentayga is the fastest luxury SUV in the world.

While being quick is quite a feat for something that weighs in just shy of 5,500 lbs, keeping that mass level in corners is something of a Herculean task. For the Bentayga, Bentley created a 48-volt dynamic ride system that helps the tall SUV turn more like its coupes. Bentley says that the system helps reduce carsickness on sweeping roads by reducing lateral roll. Because it’s electrical, it can react three times as fast as hydraulic versions often found in other luxury SUVs. While the system keeps the SUV comfortable, there’s a moderately disconcerting suspension feel from both the passenger and driver positions, and it can (and did) make us just a smidge nauseous in both spots.

Despite slightly woozy tummies, adjusting the drive settings in the Bentayga makes the SUV’s road ride almost perfect.  In Comfort the ride is cushy and soft; Bentley mode is the Goldilocks of driving mode where steering and ride are evenly matched; and in Sport, the suspension stiffens and steering feel translates more directly to the cabin. If you should desire it, you can mix and match steering feel, throttle response and suspension in Custom. In each of the driving modes, the amount of steering assist changes as does throttle response and gearing as you move through the modes up to Sport.

Should you dare to steer the Bentayga away from tarmac, the big Bentley will lightly oblige—although one will need to have checked the proper boxes. While many owners will not wish to get their crystal champagne flutes dusty, the Bentayga can motor off-road when equipped with the All-Terrain Specification. In this form, Bentayga gets an additional four driving modes including Mud & Trail; Sand, Dirt & Gravel; Snow and Ice, and Wet Grass for those frosty mornings on the polo grounds. The modes allow the Bentayga to handle mellow to moderate off-road challenges including high-angle wheel articulation and climbs. The hill descent assist system is controlled by the gas and brake pedals rather than a stalk on the steering wheel, unlike other off-roaders, which does take a little getting used to.

Where Bentley truly shines, however is on the interior. Its expertise in hand-stitched, supple leather interiors, high-shine custom wood dashes and a suite of some of the most comfortable seats in the business (complete with optional massage settings) surpass anything available in other SUVs. The rear seats can be configured in five-person or four-person layouts. The four-person version gets the exact same seats that envelope the front passengers, and they come with ventilation, heating, recline, and massage settings. All the high-touch points in the car (dash, dials, and interfaces) are exactly the materials they appear to be—wood, knurled metals, and glass.

For Bentayga, Bentley upgraded its touch screen technology and now boasts a new 8-inch center display complete with a 60-GB solid-state hard drive to store media, a greatly improved touch-input response and a new optional rear-seat entertainment system. The entertainment system consists of two removable Android-based 32-GB tablets connected to the car via Bluetooth. The tablets can be used to stream music through the car or send a new destination to the navigation system. In addition, you can control rear climate and seating settings using a smartphone-sized tablet that nestles into the back of the center armrest. The curious rear-seater can use the same tablet to see just how fast a driver may be hustling your SUV down that highway.

If the stock options are insufficient, Bentley’s Mulliner group will craft a bespoke edition with custom colors, leathers and extras that can include a $170,000 Breitling Tourbillon. According to Geoff Dowding, the head of Mulliner, the idea for the Tourbillon came out of a “what if” conversation at a recent auto show.

“Someone said it would be so amazing if we could put a tourbillon into a car–the concept was that this is a watch that needs to wind itself and doesn’t rely on electronics and the Mulliner group’s response was, well let’s try it and the result is what you have now seen in the Bentayga,” said Dowding.

Whether you are road-tripping or off-roading, the Bentayga feels like a luxury suite on wheels that wouldn’t be fazed by a sudden snowstorm, a dash down loose sand dunes or the worst Los Angeles traffic. U.S. deliveries don’t start until next year, and if you want one, you’re going to have to wait. Bentley had anticipated selling only 3,500 annually, and so far demand has well outstripped their original estimates. Now that the super-luxury SUV war has launched—with Mercedes, Lamborghini and potentially even Rolls-Royce joining the fracas—mutually assured opulence seems guaranteed.