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Bentley Bentayga first drive

By raccars Published

Bentley brings us its first-ever SUV and defines an entirely new category of car in the process. The build-up to the Bentayga has been controversial but the result is a very desirable machine indeed.

Bentley Bentayga

· Price: £160,355

· Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic

· 0-62mph: 4.1 seconds

· Top speed: 187mph

· Fuel economy: 21.6mpg

· CO2: 298g/km

· On sale: Now

· Insurance group: 50

Three 2016 Bentley Bentayga facts

1: Bentley’s first ever 4x4, it creates a new class of car – the ‘luxury SUV’

2: It costs more than £160,000 as standard but Bentley doesn’t expect many to leave the factory costing under £200,000

3: The most remarkable option for the Bentayga is the optional Tourbillon clock. Price? A staggering £150,000 – for a clock!

What is it?

The Bentley Bentayga is the most controversial new vehicle ever to be launched by the proud British luxury brand based in Crewe. The idea was first teased back in 2012, with a rather ungainly-looking concept car, called EXP 9F: enthusiasts held their hands up in horror – yet Bentley immediately found its customers wanting to buy one.

Fast-forward four years and the production version of that EXP 9F concept car is here, as the Bentayga luxury SUV. Sorry enthusiasts, customers won through – and Bentley is already expecting it to become its best-selling new car.

Initially launched as a single-trim, single-engine model, the £160,355 Bentayga boasts a mighty 608hp 6.0-litre W12 twin-turbo engine. It’s paired with four-wheel drive for all-weather abilities, plus an interior the firm says is its most lavish and technologically advanced yet.

It competes with the long-established Range Rover, which invented the market for luxury 4x4s and which has been gradually becoming more expensive over the past few years as Land Rover responds to the threat of the Bentley. In the world of the rich, dearer is better…

But because nobody’s really built a luxury SUV before, the Bentley’s short on rivals from other brands. The most expensive Audi Q7 is still five figures rather than six, likewise the Mercedes-Benz GLS. Ultra-posh rivals are coming – Maserati’s planning one for starters – but they’re not here yet. Bentley’s got the market sewn up: so what are buyers in for?

Bentley

Styling and interior

From the outlandishly controversial concept car comes a surprisingly svelte production model. OK, the Bentley is still big and in your face, but it’s more smoothly profiled than we expected and, with its swopping rear end and bold rear haunches, dare we say it’s even sporty-looking?

It’s beautifully finished with the most amazing paint job ever seen on an SUV, plus exquisite detailing and jewellery that leaves you in no doubt it’s something special. Bentley offers a vast array of colours too, some more successful than others: steer past gold, orange and purple to choose the lovely ‘British racing green’ or deep blue.

Inside, the interior is absolutely divine. It’s jaw-dropping. It’s one of the nicest cabins in any production car ever, so fantastically well is it finished and so indulgent are the materials it’s finished in. Again, it’s not car components, it’s car jewels within a leather-lined haven.

Interior Bentley

The seats are delicious and there’s limo-like room front and rear, with all occupants looking down upon others from a regally high SUV height. There’s only two rows of seats though: rich buyers don’t do seven-seaters, it seems – indeed, Bentley expects many will be sold with the two-seat rear option, whose chairs are almost as lovely as those in front.

Naturally, rear-seat occupants get cinematic infotainment systems and they can even watch what the driver’s plotting on the sat nav from the rear tablet-style screens. Don’t think it all comes cheap though, because the £160,355 list price is just for starters. Bentley expects, with options, most will cost more like £230k…

Back Seat Interior

Oh, and for ultimate indulgence, choose the Bentley Tourbillion clock. It costs £150k. Yes, for a clock. An amazing clock. But a clock that costs the price of the car it’s mounted within all the same.

Performance

Bentley’s all-new 6.0-litre W12 engine is a monster. It now has two types of fuel injection and the very latest in twin-turbo technology, which gives a headline figure of 608hp plus torque of 664lb-ft. If that sounds a lot, it is: in Euro-speak, it’s a nice, round 900Nm. And it is yours from when just 1,250rpm is showing on that beautifully round rev counter.

The figures say 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds and a record-breaking 187mph top speed. The figures are extraordinary. The figures don’t lie. Acceleration away from the line is, despite it weighing 2.3 tonnes, incredible. All-wheel drive traction is absolute and this big Bentley simply takes off at an extraordinary rate. You don’t need a sports car when you’ve got a Bentayga (and you’ll see off nearly every Porsche you’ll ever encounter).

It’s not the most sonorous-sounding of engines, with a note more like a sporty hatchback’s V6 turbo. But that’s not an issue because most of the time you can’t hear it: so immense are the Bentley’s depths of performance, it’s hardly ever stressed on public roads.

The gearbox is the perfect partner, a slick and slurring eight-speed automatic that doesn’t have a low-range mode for off-roading because it doesn’t need it: Bentley’s electronics will take you pretty much anywhere you’d ever want to take a £160k SUV. You can have an off-road pack that enhances its mud-pugging abilities to a logic (and wallet) defying level.

We touched upon refinement. We should expand upon it, because the Bentayga is ridiculously quiet. At idle, you can’t hear or feel a thing, and it’ doesn’t get much louder than that on the move. It’s Rolls-Royce quiet, without question. Another impressive achievement for a big, tall SUV.

Handling

Big, heavy SUVs shouldn’t handle like this. You guessed it, this is another area in which the Bentayga excels. Technology helps – Bentley’s fitted a world-first 48-volt anti-roll system that fully utilises a power supply four times that in any other car on the road by being almost totally roll-free, even if you chuck it about like a hot hatch.

You may well do, because the Bentley encourages being chucked about, as it handles so well. It’s way more nimble, agile and incisive than it has any right to be, feeling unexpectedly positive from the first turn and quickly leaving even the doubters enamoured with its tight, crisp steering and wallow-free demeanour.

It rides like a magic carpet. Air suspension is controlled and cushioned, lushly soaking up anything beneath it – despite the monster 21-inch and 22-inch size of the alloy wheels. Despite being soft and supple, it doesn’t rock and roll occupants, and the lean-free demeanour through corners further helps the ride.

It’s even impressive off-road, such is the bandwidth of the suspension. The Bentayga is never uncomfortable and those stepping from a sports car will be delighted by the comfort, without feeling like they’ve particularly lost much in the handling either.

Off Roading

Price and value

This is the most expensive SUV there’s yet been, and even the £160k base tag is just the starting point. As we’ve mentioned, the options bill for nearly every Bentayga will run into many five figures and it’s almost impossible to tick any box on the options list without spending at least a few hundred pounds.

Is it good value, though? Well, so capable is it, many will agree – that’s why Bentley’s original 3,600 first-year allocation has already swelled to 5,000. And the fact it’s almost as racy as a sports car, yet family-friendly for five and with go-anywhere capabilities, may convince more than a few Continental GT buyers that, actually, this is the better-value option…

Fuel economy

21.6mpg isn’t going to win any efficiency races, although CO2 emissions do dip under the 300g/km mark. The giant petrol W12 also has cylinder deactivation, so will imperceptibly run on six cylinders under light loads to use less fuel. Bentley will later introduce a diesel if fuel economy is a concern: for most buyers, it says, it simply isn’t.

Verdict

The Bentley Bentayga is a remarkable machine, a seriously capable sports SUV that really does define an appealing new category of car. It’s big and brash and perhaps not for everyone, but for those who so love the Continental GT, it’s a more practical and more capable alternative that’s fully family-friendly and dripping in talent.

We didn’t expect to like it as much as we did, but we ended up being wowed by it: makers of other luxury SUVs, here’s the one you have to beat.

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