Defining a whole new segment – Bentley Bentayga

The Bentley Bentayga has the instant admiration of the rich buyer in the Gulf region – it’s an epitome of luxury and it is an SUV. But does it do more than just tick off the right boxes?

Author: Raj Warrior  | Photography: Elvis John Ferrao

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Let’s begin this tale with a flashback. A few years ago, we were on a tour of the Bentley factory in Crewe. This was a time, when the highlight of the tour was being shown the two assembly lines for the Mulsanne and the Continental family and being shown the different manufacturing techniques used for each car, depending on whether it was the relatively high volume Continental type or the more exclusive Mulsanne. We were also shown the Mulliner customisation division and were told rather obliquely that it may be shifted soon to make way for expansion. “So you’re going to make the SUV?” was our immediate response. Over lunch that afternoon, we had an engaging discussion with one of the directors and he very candidly admitted that the SUV project was rather high on the corporate agenda, although he couldn’t confirm whether the sign-off had happened.

Remember, that was a time when the China market was in the throes of a boom. Luxury cars were flying off the showroom floors faster than you could say, “give me a Phantom” and China had become the single largest luxury goods market. The folks at Bentley told us that their Chinese dealers had assured them that IF they made an SUV, China would need 10,000 of them a year.

The rationale for a luxury SUV was clearly there. Range Rover and the German premium marques had moved their offerings up the price band and sales were booming and all that was needed was a clear-cut first mover into the luxury segment.

Now, a few years, many motorshows and a lot of development later, we get the Bentley Bentayga as the first mover into this segment. Things have changed, slightly. China and its love affair with conspicuous consumption have moderated, although it is still a robust market, we are back in the scenario of another global slowdown and other premium brands have debuted SUVs, albeit at lower levels. But nothing really changes for the Bentley Bentayga project.

Wolfgang Dürheimer, chairman and chief executive of Bentley Motors, said: “The Bentayga is truly the Bentley of SUVs. It redefines luxury in the SUV sector and offers a genuine Bentley experience in any environment, thanks to a combination of unparalleled attention to detail, go-anywhere ability and cutting-edge technology. With this extraordinary car we are looking forward to an exciting period of strong growth and sales success for Bentley. The Bentayga is the next step in our brand’s bold future.”

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Logically, what the larger Volkswagen group did in this was to use the strengths of the existing SUV platform used by Audi and then build on that. The timelines were in its favour – the shared platform was going through a generational revamp, losing weight and incorporating lighter construction techniques, while switching to a very high technology combination of traditional CANBUS and IP networks. Within Bentley itself, the acclaimed W12 engine had been joined by a new generation V8 engine and the all-wheel drive technology of the group had reached new levels.

The Bentley Bentayga is thus a product that comes from a confluence of perfect storms in these areas.

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The familiar proportions are deceiving – the car sits on a 2995mm wheelbase and is 5.14 metres long. The longish wheelbase could accommodate a seven seater layout, but is ideally suited to the needs of a largish four-seater. And the 1742mm height of the car at normal ride height also gives you a clue of the good headroom inside. After all the class of buyers include many who need the regalia of a turban or headdress.

The styling has been one of the most contentious areas we’ve seen around an evolving model. As the first options were shown a couple of years ago, the design was lambasted as being too much of an attempt to graft a traditional Bentley fascia onto the SUV body.  After all the brickbats, it wasn’t a surprise then that this final look is so much more in tune with the platform’s lines. The fascia is still very much the Bentley norm of a large trapezoidal mesh grille with the outlying and lower airdam areas also carrying over the mesh treatment. But now the design is closer to the Continental than the Mulsanne. The headlights and DRLs are set in two pairs of circles, one large and the other small. The outer circles also serve as turn indicators. All the lighting is LED in nature

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The profile is rugged and inherently dynamic. To some extent it exudes the feel of a station wagon with a foreshortened rear overhang. The front wheel overfenders seem well matched with the multiple sight lines across the door area. The rear wheel gets a putative haunch treatment with complex folds on the rear door panel ending in a rise back up to the shoulderline and back above the taillights. A detailed chrome trim serves to top off the skirt and around the back, stopping short of the wheel bays. The rear gives the feel of a sedan with the taillights only intruding into the tailgate a little.  The sharp drop-off of the rear window and the almost notchback treatment of the tailgate are the best interpretation we’ve seen of this area. The car gets a panoramic glass sunroof as standard, complete with sliding shade that cuts out all the light while still looking porous.

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However, the Bentley Bentayga really comes into familiar territory in the interiors. That’s where the real class of the company’s craftsmanship can be seen, from the matched and mirrored wood panelling, the use of real leather and soft-touch plastics and the shiny feel of the metal parts. Touch and feel characteristics are very much true to the Bentley identity. The air-conditioning ducts are round, chromed vents, pull knobs throttle airflow and the cockpit is divided into two distinct zones for the driver and passenger. The dashboard is divided into two large nacelles with the centre console almost defining a valley in between them. On the very top of the median line, Bentley offers its signature analogue timepiece, with an option to pay some serious money for a limited edition offering – a bespoke mechanical Mulliner Tourbillon by Breitling.

The driver’s console is a mix of digital display tech and the twin round analogue dials of the speedometer and rev counter with their smaller two dials of engine temperature and fuel levels. The car offers a heads-up display as well as night vision technology, with the night vision display showing up in between the roundels. In addition the car gets the touch technology of the group on its central 8” display, with proximity sensing for the screen, capacitive recognition for switches as well as the ability to understand voice control. The system also features a 60GB solid-state device storage that helps with the pairing and content management of multiple phones as well as stored music. Of course, in keeping with the technology of the day, it is possible to create a wireless hub and share content within the car as well. The rear seats get their own 10.2” tablet screens, both detachable and usable as regular Android devices, while also serving as regular displays for the occupants.

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In keeping with the traditional simplicity of the marque’s layout, the centre console cascades down from the two orbs of the air-conditioning louvres to the media zone with the screen and media switches around it, to a flatter zone with climate control settings, a utility tray that marks the shift from vertical to horizontal and then the progression of matched stadium slots for the gearshift lever and ashtray (which makes the job of making mirrored right-hand drive and left-hand drive variants that much easier). At the end of this is the dial controller with the engine start/stop, terrain and performance mode selectors, flanked by ride height controllers and traction and hill-descent control buttons.

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The engine is a high output new generation of the 6.0-litre W12. It is rated at 600bhp of output with a phenomenal torque of 900Nm, mated to an eight-speed quick-shifting gearbox and delivering performance figures of 4.1 seconds for the 0-100 km/h sprint and a top speed of 301 km/h. Bentley claims that this makes it the world’s fastest SUV.

Driving Impressions

We have had the Bentayga for a shorter time than we would really have liked. But even with the limited outing, some things come through immediately. The first is that the car does feel closer to a spirited Continental GT. The steering wheel feel carries over, as does a general familiarity with the cabin. The steering is electrical, but has been really worked on. The feedback varies along with your selection of drive modes. The other variation that comes across is that of the chassis setting and response rates. In normal, you waft over a speed-breaker; in Sport it is a small clunk. Bentley has worked on the higher CG and dynamics of an SUV and worked in engineered solutions to compensate. While the suspension is a combination of double wishbones up front and multi-links behind, the car gets optional electrically operated motorized anti-roll cars for both, with variable and almost instantaneous response that tightens up the body in turns. The ride height control matches with the continuous damping control of the sir suspension.

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Take the car into tight corners at any sort of speed and you can feel its bulk on the wheel points as you turn in. But in Sport mode the chassis responds, and the steering feel is close to immediate. You can use either of the quick shift modes of the paddle shifters or the tap shift arrangement of the gearshift lever. The engine spools in beautifully. The twin-turbo arrangement responds from just above idling because of a touch of compensating early boost and then onwards the ramp up of torque is immense and intense. You barely feel the shift up after the first three gears have been passed – the feeling is neck-snapping all the way. The car also uses its AWD arrangement nicely in the acceleration phase, switching quickly from a complete rear bias to one that offers around 20 to 30% of torque to the front wheels. You can call up the display to let you know exactly what the vehicle is doing.

On the other hand, if you choose to dawdle around town without stressing the gas pedal, the engine also offers selective cylinder bank deactivation and engine auto stop/start in order to save fuel.

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The Sport mode changes the characteristics of the vehicle’s dynamics very noticeably.  Ride quality becomes less wafty – stiffening up to sedan levels, engine response becomes quicker and the gears tend to stay lower. Going downhill, the gearbox holds the selected cog for as long as possible. The brakes are 400mm ventilated iron discs on the front and 380mm ventilated iron discs on the rear. After some hard use we did manage to push them to a level where they began squealing, but they show a good resistance to fade.

Another very nice feature is the way that the system combines the use of the 360-degree camera coverage with its outboard cameras and the sensors to let you know exactly where the car is in relation with the environment. At slow speeds the display shows you the view of the immediate frontal area (in front of the bumper) so it is useful off-road as well in avoiding rocks and other obstacles.

We have seen the footage of the Bentayga tackling the dunes of the UAE deserts but we chose to avoid anything of the nature this time. We’ll keep an off-road review for a later issue.

Verdict

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Even if the Bentayga is never taken off-road, it will definitely find an adequate customer base among the rich and interested. It visibly sets the owner apart from anyone else on the road. You can see it in the eyes of the VIPs who landed up at the launch event, just as much as you can in the eyes of the drivers who see you zip past them. It has scored in that role of being an object of desire. While it may never really scale the sort of volumes that were talked about in the heyday of the Chinese market, it will still have a huge following from people who can spend upwards of a quarter million dollars on a car.

The cabin package is certainly tailored towards that end. Along with the electronics, entertainment suit and features like HUD, night vision and the panoramic sunroof, the car gets typical luxury features like stashed refrigerator, matched luggage, unique timepiece and some of the best interior appointments we’ve seen. In that environment, the only jarring notes are some discordant features on the car like the tiny inside door handles, the overly loud 120 km/h speed warning and some of the trim around the centre console. The gearshift lever also operates on a very familiar Audi pattern, but the actual physical knob is distinctly Bentley. Finally, that is very indicative of the complete picture of the Bentayga, using the best disparate technology available around the group, without reinventing anything. After all there is no business case to make a custom SUV platform just for the Bentayga. This way around, the investment is all in making the best luxury SUV out of some already excellent technology. And it has the right badge.

At a glance

Engine

6-litre twin-turbocharged W12 TSI

Power 600 bhp / 447 kW @ 5000-6000 rpm

Torque 900 Nm / 664 lb.ft @1350-4500 rpm

Transmission

ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, permanent all-wheel drive, Torsen centre differential, open rear differential, 40:60 front:rear torque split

Brakes & Wheels

Front 400mm ventilated iron discs

Rear 380mm ventilated iron discs

Wheels Standard 20”, optional 21” and 22”

Tyres Pirelli 275/50R20, 285/45 R21, 285/45 ZR21, 285/40ZR22

Suspension

Front Four-link double wishbones, optional 48V electric active anti-roll bar

Rear rapezoidal multi-link, optional 48V electric active anti-roll bar

Springs and dampers Self-levelling air suspension, Continuous Damping Control

About Raj Warrior
Raj Warrior is the managing editor of Automan Magazine and has been a part of the Middle East’s automotive landscape from the past 15 years. He has run top rung car magazines in India and Oman and is often referred to as the Automan of Oman. With a background in mechanics, mechanisms and software programming, he is able to visualise the intricate workings of the modern automobile and brings a mix of technical and lifestyle based assessment to his writing. He is also an avid Photographer, often shooting the cars and motorcycles he tests for the magazine. As comfortable on a motorcycle as he is in cars, Raj is driven by his love affair with all things on wheels and brings his passion to all his automotive ventures. Raj has chosen Oman as his home base because he loves the country, its friendly people and its great driving and riding roads.

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