Bentley Motors of Crewe, England has begun production of the 2017 Bentley Bentayga and vehicles will begin arriving in the United States in May, 2016. Ho Hum, just another SUV for an overstuffed market, right? Not so. The Bentayga is a very, very special piece of work.
Meant to Be Expensive and Is Based on the Audi Q7 platform that will also bring us the next generation Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, the Bentayga is the most expensive and most powerful SUV available. Starting at $229,000 the Bentayga is fully loaded with all the comfort, convenience and safety features you could want. If you want the bespoke Mulliner picnic set from Linley, it will set you back another $28,000. For another $28,500, you can have carbon fiber body pieces like the rear spoiler and rear view mirror covers. Contrasting piping on the seats is $2,110 and the rear seat entertainment system is a bit over $7,000. A typical Bentayga will go out the door at around $275,000 with an adequate load of options. During a drive experience in Palm Springs in early February, the highest priced version I drove was $307,000.
Technological Tour de Force While the price of the Bentayga is what most people will be talking about, the vehicle itself is very, very high spec. Powered by a new 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine, the horsepower is rated at 600HP, but the torque is huge at 663 lb-ft. Mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, a 0-60 mph time of 4.0 seconds is achieved. For those with no speed limits to worry about, top speed is 187 mph. The full time all wheel drive system is mated with Bentley Dynamic Drive Control; a suspension system that has 4 settings as base or eight settings with the All Terrain Specification for any road or terrain condition. The key to this dynamic system is a 48-volt electrical supply for the drive system’s electronics. During a demonstration at the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway to the east of Palm Springs one lap using “comfort” was fast, but there was more body roll than desired and the throttle response was a bit anemic. The next lap shifted to “sport” mode and the personality of the vehicle changed dramatically. Throttle response was instantaneous and the suspension seemed to invite you to dive into the corners more aggressively. After four laps (not enough), grins for all.
Dune running with the Bentayga at Imperial Dunes near Glamis, California and rock climbing at Cahuilla Creek, it was possible to experience what almost no Bentayga owners ever will. The vehicle is supremely capable, but hugely expensive and not likely to be exposed to the kind of treatment off road in sand, mud, or rocks. Repairing the all aluminum body would be a bit expensive. But, it is clear the Bentayga can handle about anything that can be thrown at it on and off road. A truism holds that a vehicle in this class will not be taken off-road until the third or fourth owner.
Interior The interior is available in 15 colors (the exterior color choices are 17 base paints expanding to 90 hues with extra cost), but of course it is a Bentley. If you want to afford it, they’ll trim your interior in crocodile leather or rattlesnake skins. The seats are trimmed in a traditional Bentley style with diamond quilted hide and smooth leather. The seats are extremely comfortable and provide good support when cornering. The seating position is more car-like than in many sport utilities. You have to step up a bit higher and you are sitting a bit closer to the floor than in other SUVs that have a more command-of-the road seating position. Not uncomfortable, just different.
Driving Driving the Bentayga, it is not immediately obvious that there is 600HP under the hood. The engine is smooth and silent. It has a stop/start feature for improved fuel economy and cylinder deactivation when under light loads. All of this is seamless except for the occasional shudder away from a stop. On twisty roads the vehicle seems a bit ponderous and very heavy. Using the “custom” setting in the driving mode selector you can select a lighter steering feel that should make the vehicle seem lighter on its feet. All of its power and torque comes on immediately when passing. Floor it, whoosh, you are by and the folks you passed are watching your taillights fade into the distance.
The Achilles Heel One of the most critical areas in any new vehicle is the HMI or human machine interface. AutoPacific’s research proves it is extremely difficult to get this right and more than often a manufacturer has gotten it wrong. As part of the Volkswagen Group, it would be expected that the parts bin would have given Bentley access to state-of-the art navigation systems and interfaces. Bentley’s director of whole vehicle engineering stated “Luxury should always be simple.” We agree, but the Bentayga interface is very busy and confusing. The 8-inch screen in the center stack is already a bit small and looks outdated for a 2017 model year vehicle. The graphics are extremely busy and hard to decipher. Changing radio stations is a several step process and includes using a graphic slide on the touch screen monitor to scroll for stations. We were driving prototypes, so sometimes there are glitches, in the vehicle we were driving the navigation system had the direction icon wandering all over the screen except where we were. The smaller screen between the speedometer and tachometer and head-up display saved the day. They were on target.
Business Bentayga promises to be Bentley’s top selling vehicle. For the past three years, Bentley has sold just over 10,000 vehicles worldwide. The $1.3 billion investment in Bentayga adds capacity for 5,000 more units annually. The United States should get between 25% and 30% of the production or between 1,250 and 1,500 units per year. Wolfgang Durheimer, CEO of Bentley, says he hopes to be able to expand that capacity in short order. The order books for 2016 are already full and waiting times are six months to a year.
Next Bentayga launches with top-of-the-line features. Next comes a plug-in hybrid version mated to a 6-cylinder engine. That is followed by a V8; likely the 500HP twin turbo V8 found elsewhere in the Bentley lineup. There may be a 7-passenger interior in the works for families wanting more carrying capacity. A fastback Bentayga (ala BMW X6) may be in the works as is a smaller 2-seat sports car. The Bentley Boys are busy.
As I wrote this, the Audi Q7 TDi we had been evaluating for the past week had just left. Some of us shed tears. Others did not. I am on the “did not shed tears” side of the equation and I’ll take you through my dry-eyed rationale.
The Q7 TDi is a nicely styled, outstandingly crafted vehicle, powered by what we consider its best powertrain – the 3.0L V6 turbo diesel with 225-horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, in the Q7, this engine has to pull 5,512 pounds (5,512 !!). Off the line at part throttle the Q7 TDi feels stuck in the sand. Once you are rolling, if you go pedal to the metal, the torque kicks in and the Q7 feels great. I guess this is something you could forgive or get used to, but out-of-the-box the Q7 feels sluggish for having so much torque.
AutoPacific’s 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards results are in. AutoPacific’s awards collect the opinions of OWNERS. There is no subjectivity added by AutoPacific at all.
Truck-Based Traditional SUVs Most Satisfying
As usual, there are expected winners and unexpected losers, but let’s take a look at some overall results that will surprise many of you.
The vehicle type with the highest Vehicle Satisfaction Score is the Traditional Sport Utility Vehicle category. These are truck-based SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade
, Toyota Sequoia
, Ford Explorer
, Toyota 4Runner
, Kia Sorento
, HUMMER H3
and Toyota FJ Cruiser
. In fact, the Toyota Sequoia was the top scoring vehicle – car or truck – in AutoPacific’s 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction results.
Car-Based Crossover SUVs More Satisfying than Cars, Minivans, Pickups
The second highest scoring category was the Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle category. These are car-based SUVs like the Audi Q7
, BMW X3
, Acura RDX
, Buick Enclave
, GMC Acadia
, Hyundai Veracruz
, Suzuki XL-7
, Ford Edge
, Saturn Vue
, Toyota RAV4
and Nissan Rogue
. Crossovers are the response by the automakers to make more user-friendly SUVs and in 2006 Crossover SUVs began outselling Traditional SUVs… a trend that will not be reversed.
Rated substantially behind SUVs are Cars, Minivans and Pickups.
Clearly, even in times of high and increasing fuel prices, SUVs are here to stay. Their Swiss Army Knife utility guarantees they will be a central part of a high many family fleets in the future. The continuing jihad against SUVs has failed again!
Audi Chooses Shanghai to Introduce Concept Previewing Upcoming Small Crossover SUV
Audi‘s second SUV is a smaller entry set to go into production next year in Ingolstadt, and will be named Q5 when it reaches dealerships. As the production date gets closer, Audi floated a preview in the form of the Cross Coupe Quattro concept at this year’s Shanghai auto show. Yes, that’s right. Audi gave a worldwide introduction of a major concept at a Chinese auto show. Audi was not alone in making major product news in China this month and we’ll only see more introductions in Shanghai and Beijing as the Chinese market grows.
The Audi Cross Coupe Quattro Concept face embodies Audi’s latest big-mouth grilles and clearly pulls from the Q7. As such, it is likely pretty close to the production Q5’s face, though the concept’s extremely fast rear roofline will get raised for production. A taller rear roofline will also improve the looks, to our way of thinking. Among the interesting features on the Cross Coupe Quattro is a power-folding fabric roof, a la the 2008 Jeep Liberty. The interior shows a new direction for Audi, and the initial photos promise that they haven’t lost their touch for creating great-looking interiors.
Lexus Brings a New Engine and a New Look to Its Flagship SUV
Lexus’ next LX, renamed LX 570 for its 381HP 5.7L V8 engine, was revealed at the 2007 New York auto show. The increased power, which also bumps towing capacity to 8500 pounds (up 2000 pounds), will be delivered with the help of a new six-speed automatic transmission. The new look brings the LX into the brand’s latest design family and generally updates its look significantly inside and out; having last had a major redesign for the 1998 model year, the SUV was looking dated. The new LX manages to bring its looks into this century without losing its basic style. You’re not likely to confuse the LX 570 for a Mercedes-Benz GL, or Audi Q7, or Land Rover Range Rover, or even Cadillac Escalade.
The new chassis and suspension underneath the new look is updated to today’s level of tricks. Lexus had already offered active height control and an adaptive variable suspension, but improved these elements with the 2008MY. The new system gives a greater range of motion and is cross-linked, allowing wheels to react to the action of opposing wheels as well as to driving surfaces. The system employs a valve at each corner as well as a center or master valve to detect extension or deflection of each wheel. The system, Lexus says, reduces body roll by more than thirty percent and changes ride height quickly. The chassis lowers by about two inches for ingress/egress and returns to normal height under acceleration. On the highway, the system will lower the front about an inch and the rear about a half inch.
The LX 570 improves off-road and off-pavement performance with several sets of electronic aids. The same active height system that adjusts vehicle height for freeway travel and that makes it easier to get in and out also maximizes ground clearance by raising the SUV by about three inches when the low range is selected. Further easing off-road performance, which most LXs likely see precious little of, is a Crawl Control feature. Selectable in low range, Crawl Control increases throttle control to help keep the vehicle at the appropriate low speeds, allowing the driver to focus on steering through the path or over obstacles. Crawl Control uses a set of virtual locking differentials to minimize tire slip and maximize chassis behavior. Without canceling the Crawl Control mode, the driver can use the brakes for slowing vehicle speed and increase or decrease speed by adjusting a speed selector switch. There’s also multi-terrain ABS technology, for reduced stopping distances on slippery surfaces.
Back in November 2005, a VehicleVoice Blog commented on the existence of a periodic jihad on sport utility vehicles in the USA and worldwide. The introduction of General Motors’ GMT900 SUVs – the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, plus the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV have set the earth-is-flat crowd wailing again.
Audi Q7 Latest Target of SUV Jihad… This Time From British – Austrian Axis
But June 2006 intro of the Audi Q7 in the USA following its earlier introduction in Europe also will be watched closely. As Audi is about the last major brand to add an SUV to its lineup, it is a fresh target for the anti-SUV crowd. The March 2006 issue of CAR Magazine is a case in point. Georg Kacher, a 6-foot, 13-inch Austrian based in Germany, writes, “Big, heavy, chunky, aggressive, unwieldy – SUVs deplete our resources, tear up the countryside and flatten whatever they hit.
So why does a company like Audi, renowned for advanced engineering enter this bad karma segment?”
Because the market is allegedly craving a mud-crawler made in Ingolstadt, and because Audi firmly believes it can add a new dimension to the SUV game.”
As with many non-USA automotive journalists and even American buff book scribes, Kacher’s loathing of SUVs is mis-directed.
SUVs respond more to customer pull than manufacturer push. After the demise of station wagons (or estates as the Europeans so lovingly call them) and the image black hole called Minivans, came sport utility vehicles. These jack-of-all-trades vehicles carry people and stuff with aplomb. Well… more aplomb today than at any time in the past when they were admittedly crude trucks with a closed in cargo area. They go anywhere, anytime, with anyone, carrying anything within reason. They come in all flavors from the late and not particularly lamented Ford Excursion to the Suzuki Vitara. Populated between the Excursion and Vitara are SUVs of every ilk. Some are suited for suburban streets only. Some are rock crawlers. Some are designed to tow horse trailers and boats.
The beauty of SUVs is the breadth of choice within the segment. The SUV buyer has the luxury of choosing between more brands and more models than ever before. Like the overall auto industry, the larger SUV segment is atomizing into smaller and smaller niche entries.
Choice is good and Audi is welcomed.
Is Q7 the Benchmark the Industry Expects?
Audi has always been a technology innovator ranging from making full-time all-wheel-drive available across its range decades ago to the first application of an aluminum spaceframe for a production model. In recent years, Audi has been a benchmark in the execution of its interiors. Tasteful, elegant, functional… Audi interior could not be matched by anyone including BMW and Mercedes. Well, can the Q7 achieve benchmark status with its interior and move beyond that with its overall product excellence? Let’s find out.
Ever since the 1996 Audi A4 appeared, Audi’s have garnered a reputation of having the best executed interiors in the business. The company has more than earned this reputation over the last decade with each new model being better designed and better built than the version that preceded it. Over the last three years, the company has taken cost out of interiors of its volume models, but to Audi’s credit this has been done in a fashion that has proven to be all but unnoticeable to the customer and many competitors as well.
Audi NOT a Fast Follower Into SUV Market
One area where Audi hasn’t been at the forefront of the industry is the Sport Utility Vehicle market. While archrivals BMW and Mercedes were chasing down and defining the concept of the German premium nameplate SUV Audi decided to take another, far more timid direction… the SUV-trimmed station wagon. Audi’s Allroad was essentially an A6 wagon with a smattering of the cosmetic trimmings of an SUV. Overfenders, gray cladding and bumpers, air suspension for increased ground clearance and a few bits of aluminum at the front and rear to give the illusion of scrape guards was the limit of the company’s venture into the lucrative and exploding luxury SUV market. By using the same formula pioneered by Subaru when it dressed up its Legacy wagon with some SUV fluff and created the original Outback, Audi effectively stayed out of the X5-ML-RX 300-MDX battle but did so at the expense of total volume.