The cynic in me was prepared not to like Bentley’s first SUV, the Bentayga. “They just threw it together to satisfy a rabid Chinese market for big luxury vehicles,” I mused. “It’ll be huge and ungainly and no fun to drive. It’ll cost a fortune and perform well below the capabilities of far more affordable SUV options. Also, the name sounds like Beluga caviar. Maybe that was intentional.”
Then a Hallmark blue 2017 Bentley Bentayga showed up in my driveway. And after only an hour or so behind the wheel, I realized I was right about only two things: The Bentayga does cost a fortune (almost a quarter-million dollars), and the name does sound like caviar.
The thing is, the Bentayga looks and feels and drives like caviar, too.
To climb aboard the Bentayga is to enter the rarified realm of a posh London gentleman’s club. My test car was awash (seats, dash, all over the doors) in sumptuous black-and-tan contrasting leather that Bentley calls—you guessed it!—“Beluga.” The cabin was aromatic, delicious to drink in, huge—particularly the limousine-like rear seats. Wide swaths of finely polished burr walnut veneer stretched across the instrument panel and the doors, accented by glistening chrome trim. The air-vent controls are pulls reminiscent of the draw-bars you’ll find on a pipe organ. The carpets on the floor are thick and rich. Above lies a ginormous panoramic glass roof that accounts for roughly 60 percent of the roof structure. Bentley cut no corners in crafting this resplendent space. I mean, I almost expected to find a fireplace tucked in there somewhere.
Naturally, every amenity you could desire is standard. Included are an 8-inch touchscreen with gesture control, a 60-gig solid-state hard drive with 11GB reserved for your music collection, text-to-speech recognition in any one of 30 languages, a six-channel, ten-speaker premium audio system (an 1800-watt, 18-speaker Naim system is optional), and a full suite of safety technologies—from Head-Up display to park assist, traffic-sign recognition, and a top-view camera. My tester carried only a few options, including body-colored lower bodywork ($1,335), black-painted and diamond-turned 21-inch alloy wheels ($850), and electronically operated blinds on the rear windows. Total tab: $236,080.
I’d almost have been content leave the Bentayga in the driveway, relaxing in the thickly padded driver’s seat while enjoying the superb climate control and audio systems. If Bentley had let me, I’d have smoked a cigar in there, too. But the opulence of this machine accounts for only a fraction of its appeal. Because under the hood lies an all-new, twin-turbocharged-and-intercooled W-12 monster rippling with 600 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque. And what it can do with nearly three tons of Bentayga is simply mind-blowing.
Mash down on the gas pedal, and this Bentley is … gone. Nothing can prepare you for the experience of a vehicle this big accelerating so quickly. The torque peaks comes on almost immediately, and the turbocharged rush takes over from there. Bentley claims 0 to 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds. I’d bet the Bentayga is faster than that. The British marque also claims a drag-limited top speed of 187 miles per hour. No other SUV currently on the planet can boast numbers like these. Einstein would’ve looked at the Bentayga, checked the performance stats, and said, “Notta chance, mein Freund.” But driving is believing.
What’s more, the Bentayga hustles well, too. The all-wheel-drive suspension grips the road impressively, and despite its bulk the rig nips deftly from corner to corner—even displaying some mild oversteer if you employ the pedals correctly. Credit an active roll-control system for the handling aplomb. Available are numerous modes—including off-road, snow, sand, and grass—to tailor the vehicle’s handling and powertrain characteristics to changing conditions, but in bone-dry urban Los Angeles I got zero opportunity to experience any of them. Also worth mentioning: the standard 8-speed automatic includes shift paddles for manual-mode gear changes. A nice touch.
Naturally, everybody wants to ride with you when you’re driving the world’s fastest and most expensive SUV. The Bentayga produced “oohs” and “aahs,” lots of “wows!” and even the occasional “OMG!” Parking attendants couldn’t stop gushing over the five-star cabin. Drivers in the next lane would yell, “Wait, what? Bentley makes an SUV?” And passengers kept urging me to “step on the gas again!”
Don’t expect me to justify the sticker price. Almost 250 large for a sport-ute is a proposition only a one-percenter could justify (so is an EPA city/highway rating of just 12/19 mpg). But that’s not my job; my job is evaluating vehicles and delivering my verdict. To purchase or not to purchase—that’s the buyer’s call. Yes, it’s crazy-expensive. But the Bentley Bentayga delivers in ways—and to a degree—that I never expected. We’re talking about an SUV as luxurious as a Sunseeker motor yacht and almost as fast as a Ferrari, for cryin’ out loud. It’s almost silly how over-the-top the Bentayga is in almost every way. And it’s also remarkable just how well it does almost everything the most demanding luxury-SUV buyer could ever want (that is so say, I doubt many Bentaygas will ever see the mud or rocks of an off-road trail).
This is a magnificent piece of automotive engineering, a piece of vehicular art. Fine artwork costs big, and some would argue it’s not worth the lofty tariff. But at least this example can go 187 miles per hour.
2017 Bentley Bentayga Specifications
|ENGINE||6.0L DOHC 48-valve twin-turbocharged W-12/600 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 664 lb-ft @ 1,350 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||12/19 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||202.4 x 78.7 x 68.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec (mfr)|
|TOP SPEED||187 mph (mfr)|