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.