King of the hill

Time and money to burn

WORDS GLENN BUTLER

Bentley’s goal was to create the fastest, most powerful and most luxurious SUV in the world. And they nailed it

HERE’S something perversely wonderful about being a hooligan in a $425K SUV on sand dunes. Unleashing 447kW and 900Nm from the Bentley’s 6.0-litre, 12-cylinder engine to climb the dunes, then carving across the face just below the lip like a pro surfer on a wave, leaving huge rooster tails of sand in your wake. Who would do this in a Bentayga? Yet I’m only following the example of the car in front being driven by Bentley’s engineering boss, Rolf Frech.

On the next towering wave of sand, he attacks at an angle. When the 2.4-tonne luxury SUV loses its fight for altitude in the treacherously loose terrain, he keeps the throttle pegged, letting the Bentayga drift balletically along the wave before tilting the tiller down the face and surfing back to the bottom. I do the same, and the windscreen and panoramic sunroof get covered in sand.

Surely no owner will ever mistreat their Bentayga like we are. They would never risk getting sand in the leather stitching, or scratching a wood veneer dash hand-crafted by 58 dedicated artisans back at Crewe.

And God forbid the Bollinger in the factory-developed picnic pack in the rear should get agitated and explode during such shenanigans.

Nevertheless, the fact that this Bentley SUV can play rough and rugged in the dunes is crucial to its appeal; authenticity is important, says Frech. The Bentayga must be able to do what it says on the box. It must be capable off-road.

It must also be the last word in SUV luxury and refinement, and it absolutely must be a true Bentley.

This is Bentley’s first SUV, so it’s a game-changer for the German-owned brand that’s still more British than mushy peas. It’s a new entrant in the luxury SUV market and is expected to add 50 percent to total Bentley sales in its first year alone. It’s built on VW Group’s MLB2 platform, the same set of building blocks that underpin the new Audi Q7, next-generation VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, and the 2018 Lamborghini Urus.

Despite these shared origins, Bentley claims 80 percent of the Bentayga is uniquely Bentley, from the re-engineered W12 engine and strengthened ZF eight-speed transmission to the suspension, body panels and of course the interior.

The interior is the most traditional part of this nontraditional Bentley. It finds a deft balance between paying homage to decades of Bentley tradition and incorporating contemporary features and equipment.

Yes, there are organ pulls to activate the air vents, and acres of hand-stitched leather and hand-prepared wood, with a craftsmanship and attention to detail few brands can match. But it also has cutting edge technologies, including lane-keeping assist and active cruise control. It can self-park, even reverse a trailer, has night vision and a plethora of cameras to help you navigate the urban jungle, or a real one. Then there are luxury items like the panoramic roof, a sexy, rimless, rear-view mirror (though Volvo XC90 got to market with that first), tray tables and multimedia tablets mounted in the front-seatbacks, and an 18-speaker, 1800W Naim sound system.

Each Bentayga takes 130 hours to build. Bentley swears this is a hand-crafted car, though in the next breath boasts about its aerospace-derived ‘superforming’ process, first used on the Continental GT, which harnesses superheated air to shape the front quarter panels. Not exactly a bloke with a rubber mallet, but the results are undeniably top-shelf.

Part of Bentley’s investment went into redeveloping the twin-turbo W12 petrol engine, which now produces 447kW and 900Nm. It has direct as well as port injection to improve throttle response and reduce

Time and money to burn

The most exclusive option for the Bentayga – and one that has to go down as the most expensive factory option offered on any vehicle – is the Mulliner Tourbillon by Breitling (above). This dash-top timepiece is machined in solid gold and features a mother of pearl face and eight diamond indexes, not to mention a complex and captivating tourbillon mechanism. Breitling says it can make only four of these exclusive automotive timepieces each year, but a price tag of ¤150,000 ($A240,000) means it’s unlikely that many of the 5000 anticipated Bentayga buyers each year will tick this particular box.

Surely no owner will ever mistreat their Bentayga like we are

Computer-controlled offff -road abibi lity

All Bentaygas are four-wheel drive, but it costs another $8000 to get the All Terrain pack, which adds four terrain modes and the software smarts to maximise traction on snow, dirt, sand and gravel. Bentley expects around 50 percent of buyers to tick this option box.

The Bentayga system is similar to use as Range Rover's Terrain Response; the driver selects a terrain mode via a dial and the computer does the rest, adjusting throttle and brake mapping, ESC and suspension settings to give the big wagon the best traction possible in the conditions.

In extreme conditions, the Bentley would likely fall just short of matching the Rangie's exemplary skills, but it would be a close-run thing. Its biggest weaknesses against that other British SUV are approach and departure angles, a result of Bentayga's long front and rear overhangs.

emissions, particularly during engine warm-up. It also has idle-stop, coasting mode and cylinder which disables six cylinders during light applications.

Bentley claims a 10.4 percent economy improvement, which is considerable but probably not a deal-breaker for somebody shelling out almost half a million bucks.

The Bentayga is not pretty, but it is bold and stately.

Darren Day, a member of the design team, tells Wheels the design goal was “timeless, contemporary and British”. That’s not an easy balance to strike. British can quickly become olde-world and stuffy, and timeless could easily have become conservative and boring, especially given negative public reaction to the ugly EXP-9F concept that previewed Bentayga in 2012.

But there’s no denying the big, bluff Bentley turns heads, and none more so than the dirt bikers and buggy drivers stunned at the sight of a 2.4-tonne luxury SUV tearing around ‘their’ dunes.

Despite having a four-wheel-drive system that uses electronics to maintain traction rather than traditional locking diffs, the Bentayga shows impressive skills in the sand. It’s equally good on dirt surfaces, no matter how steep, and capable of maintaining forward movement even with wheels dangling many inches off the ground. But, again, it’s debatable whether an owner would take their Bentayga anywhere more rugged than a waterlogged car park at the polo.

It will also tow up to 3500kg – another first for a Bentley – and comes with a trailer-assist package like the one debuted on the Audi Q7 that can reverse-park a trailer for you. Audi has been unable to get that system homologated for Australia, due to tow-ball differences and back-up chain requirements, which the system can’t work with. So it’s unlikely the Bentayga will have that trick in its arsenal in Oz either.

On the road the Bentayga is the epitome of SUV luxury, from its silky-smooth and hugely powerful drivetrain to a cloud nine ride despite sitting on big 21-inch wheels and tyres. Yet it doesn’t feel cumbersome or slow responding to steering inputs and will happily carve a sporting line through a series of corners.

Perhaps the Bentayga’s greatest on-road trick is the way it sits commendably flat through corners.

An active anti-roll system (dubbed EWAS) twists the roll bars in opposition to cornering forces, reducing m-deactivation, applications bodyroll considerably, yet keeping each wheel free to absorb bumps with aplomb. Bentley claims this system, developed in collaboration with suspension company Schaeffler, is a world first in an SUV. The forthcoming Audi SQ7 and next-gen Porsche Cayenne will also take advantage of this system.

The very strong and willing W12 has an evocative note when revved hard. At typical round-town speeds, however, it’s practically silent, and its deep reserves of torque (900Nm from 1250rpm) means you don’t have to prod it much to get meaningful acceleration.

As for cabin refinement, it’s sublime and serene.

Nothing short of a top-shelf luxury saloon can match its ability to isolate occupants from the world outside.

The Bentayga comes in five-seat and four-seat configurations. The latter replaces the folding bench back seat with two adjustable buckets that don’t fold flat for long cargo loads.

Rear legroom is not in short supply but is not as generous as some might expect from a four-door carrying the Bentley badge. The boot is generous, but strangely must be operated by hand. An electric opening and closing tailgate is an optional extra.

That won’t matter to buyers who’ll think nothing of shelling out another $1000 or so to get the electric tailgate. It’s likely they’ll go a lot further, if Bentley’s voluminous range of customisations and options is any indicator. In all there are more than a million combinations of exterior and interior colours and materials to ensure your Bentayga is unique – if you’re prepared to pay. That $425K is just a starting point. con bump Bentayga is investment by Bentley that’s also expected to spawn an SUV coupe – with four doors – and a production version of the Bentley EXP10 Speed 6 concept (pictured above) revealed at the 2015 Geneva show. In the event that customers are concerned about fuel economy, then news that Bentley is working on a V8 diesel for the Bentayga for launch in the next two years, followed by a plug-in hybrid V8 petrol, might help salve their eco-conscience. the first product of a $1.7 billion