New Bentley Bentayga SUV review

The new Bentley Bentayga SUV could well be one of the best SUVs in the business - and in any case it's unlike anything else out there

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The Bentayga is an incredible new SUV for a whole host of different reasons. For starters it’s every bit as good to drive as it is merely to sit in. We need to wait until we drive it on more familiar UK roads before passing a final judgement on its ultimate capabilities, preferably alongside its key rivals from Germany and the United Kingdom. But for the time being, be in no doubt; Bentley has moved the SUV game to a different part of the pitch with the Bentayga. Is it the best in the business? For the time being it’s a very strong maybe.

There are some extremely bold claims about the new £160,200, 187mph Bentley Bentayga SUV. For starters, the brand claims it to be “the fastest, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world.”

At the same time, the Bentley Bentayga's chief exterior designer, Sangyup Lee, has already told Auto Express that the car is “the most important launch in Bentley’s history. It’s a new type of luxury” he says, admitting that “we’re stretching our comfort zone here.”

Whatever you may think of such claims, and whatever you might make of the Bentayga’s, shall we say, challenging exterior design, the car itself represents a new era for Bentley, and a brand new marketing direction.

Based on the underpinnings of the next Porsche Cayenne, it boasts 600bhp from its new twin-turbocharged W12 engine. It also, unsurprisingly, has an electronic four wheel-drive system to give it the kind of straight line performance that one would normally only associate with a full blown sports car. Zero to 60mph takes a claimed 4.0sec and the top speed is a vaguely surreal 187mph. This from a vehicle that weighs 2440kg and is 5140mm long, 1742mm high and 2224mm wide, remember.

As you’d expect, the interior of the Bentayga is a pretty special place in which to find yourself, even if it isn’t just as roomy as its arch rival from Land Rover - not in the rear seats at any rate, which lack the pure space of those in a Range Rover. There is ultra high quality leather, wood and turned aluminium in just about every direction you choose to look, with four quilted seats to nestle down into, those in the rear being of the exact same design as the ones up front in four-seater only versions.

There are no less than eight different drive modes that can be selected on the move, although interestingly there is no low range setting for the eight-speed automatic gearbox, Bentley’s engineers claiming that this isn’t needed when there is 900Nm of torque available at 1350rpm.

The first four drive modes – called Sport, Bentley, Comfort and Custom – are all designed for on road driving; the second four are all off road modes. The air suspension also has four different ride heights and there’s an electronic hill descent system, too. In total there are a staggering 90 different ECUs controlling the Bentayga’s various different electronic components, more than double the number you’ll find in a Continental.

So what’s it like to drive, this new leviathan of a machine from Bentley that was named after a mountain in the Canary Islands? Does it live up to its billing as the fastest, most luxurious SUV the world has ever seen? And is it really worth £160,200 before so much as a single option has been specified?

Before you climb aboard, the Bentayga is so imposing visually that it demands you stop for a moment and drink its detailing, and its sheer size. Pull on the door handle and the locking mechanism feels and even sounds expensive, and the door itself feels reassuringly weighty as it opens.

The cabin within smells delicious, and also looks utterly exquisite, albeit in a traditional, perhaps slightly old-school kind of way. The driving position is near-perfect for a big SUV, though; not too high but high enough, with the driver’s seat adjustable in every which direction via 22 different electric motors.

Once you’re ensconced behind the Bentayga’s surprisingly small, thick, sporty feeling steering wheel you can’t help but think to yourself; yes, this really is a very nice place to be.

The W12 engine catches at the press of a button without the usual burst of revs that some rival engines give off; instead it just starts and purrs away quietly to itself until you select first gear and move away.

Immediately, the ride feels smooth, composed and high in quality. The steering, despite being Bentley’s first ever electric helm, also feels natural and intuitive on the move, with some reasonable feel through the rim and a bags of precision. Its weighting, in particular, is especially well judged.

In any of its four on road drive modes the Bentayga rides well, steers accurately and handles more than just a little bit neatly. But as you go up from Comfort mode through the Bentley mode to Custom and then to Sport, the sense of composure beneath your backside gets stronger.

The electronic ride and roll control systems can quite clearly be felt dishing up their magic beneath your hands and backside, with almost no body roll noticeable despite the colossal inertia that is inevitable in a 2.44-tonne car. It feels a bit surreal, actually, being able to hustle such a huge machine seemingly without the effects of physics taking over. But that’s just another aspect of the Bentayga’s somewhat spooky dynamic repertoire that its engineers are especially proud of.

Another is the pure level of performance on offer from the twin-turbo W12 engine. There is so much raw acceleration available, seemingly at any revs, that the occasions on which you bury the throttle in the carpet for anything more than a fleeting moment are rare indeed on the public road.

The travel on the accelerator pedal is unusually long, too, but in practice this enables you to judge perfectly how much performance you wish to summon at any given moment; at half throttle you already get serious acceleration, accompanied by a distant but pleasingly tuneful note from engine and exhaust; at full throttle you get the full fair ride, and a fairly wild but wonderful ride it is, too. The zero to 60mph claim seems entirely believable, as does the outrageous top speed.

We drove the car briefly off-road, too, and although few Bentayga owners will ever venture far into the mud in Europe, you suspect, it was hard not to be impressed by its capabilities in the rough stuff. Apart from its mildly compromised approach and departure angles, the Bentayga will go almost anywhere that a Porsche Cayenne can off road.

And then there are the rear seats, which are slightly roomier in five-seat form as tested than they are in four-seat form, but which are again beautifully made, and delicious to sit in. No, there isn’t perhaps just as much room in the rear seats and boot as there is in a Range Rover, but then how much room do you actually want – or need – in what is still an exceptionally spacious new SUV?

Visit our sister site Carbuyer for more on the Bentley Bentayga including Bentley's own launch film.

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