Bentley’s First SUV Lives Up to Advanced Billing

Long before its introduction this summer, the 2017 Bentley Bentayga was hailed as the fastest, most technically advanced and, of course, most well-refined and luxurious SUV ever.

The Bentayga is not only the Bentley of crossover/SUVs, it also out-Bentleys all other Bentleys. Let’s begin with the price: it starts at $229,100 before options, which can add as much as $100,000 or more to the transaction. 

The Bentayga rides on VW Group’s new MLB (longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive) platform, which it will share with several corporate cousins—including the Audi Q7 and next-generation Porsche Cayenne crossovers. But Bentley boasts that the bulk of the Bentayga is brand exclusive, including the powertrain, steering and suspension. 

“It’s a unique model that’s creating its own segment and redefining the perceptions of the ultra-luxury market,” says Michael Winkler, who heads Bentley’s U.S. operations.   

The Bentayga is powered by a 6.0-liter W12 engine. The twin-turbo, aluminum-block powerplant produces 600 hp and 663 lb-ft of torque (available at 1,350 rpm) that propels the vehicle from zero to 60 mph in four seconds on its way to a top speed of 187 mph. 

As with VW’s previous “W” engines, the new mill combines a pair of V6s and shares the basic layout and displacement with its predecessor. Otherwise, Bentley says, it was essentially redesigned from the ground up. At 560 pounds, the all-new engine is 66 pounds lighter and 24 percent shorter than the outgoing W12. High-pressure (2,900 psi) direct fuel injection is teamed with low-pressure (87 psi) multi-port injection, which Bentley says reduces particulate emissions while enhancing refinement, torque delivery and cold-start performance. The twin-scroll turbos, which are welded directly to the exhaust manifolds, feature integrated speed sensors that enable real-time performance adjustments to maximize efficiency. 

A new cylinder deactivation system runs the engine at half capacity when the vehicle is cruising in third gear or higher and generating less than 220 lb-ft of torque. The stop-start system shuts the engine off when the vehicle isn’t moving as well as during low-speed coasting. When coasting at highway speeds, the torque converter is opened and the engine is idled. Bentley says the various features make the new engine 10 percent more fuel efficient than the outgoing W12.

The engine is mated with a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually via steering wheel-mounted paddles. Both the transmission and all-wheel-drive system have been strengthened to handle the engine’s hefty torque loads. 

Dynamic Handling
Even more impressive than the engine is the Bentayga’s dynamic suspension and extraordinary damping capabilities, which allows the nearly 5,400-lb SUV to glide through corners like a sports car while maintaining Bentley’s signature country club-level feel and smoothness. The setup consists of a four-link double wishbone unit up front and a trapezoidal multi-link kit in the rear. But the real star is an optional 48-volt active roll-control system, which further balances body control and ride comfort. Described as an industry-first, the electric roll system uses a dedicated ECU to detect inputs at all four wheels and instantly adjust actuators built into front and rear anti-roll bars. 

“It’s the most sophisticated suspension in the industry,” Winkler boasts. “In corners, it does things physics suggest aren’t possible.”

Legendary motorsports champ Derek Bell—a five-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race—agrees. Serving as a consultant, Bell test drives new Bentleys as they’re being developed to help refine their driving characteristics. But Bell was so enamored with the Bentayga that he struggled to find any faults—especially when it came to the suspension, which he calls “sensational.” Two of his suggestions that have been implemented were tweaking the gear ratio for smoother highway acceleration and backing off the sensitivity of the lane-keeping system to allow for aggressive maneuvering. 

Drivers can choose between four standard settings—Sport, Bentley, Comfort and Custom—to match driving conditions and personal preferences, adjusting ride height, throttle mapping and shift points. An optional off-road package adds four more settings to optimize performance over various terrains, ranging from slick snow and ice to loose gravel, muddy trails and sand dunes. Although most Bentayga owners won’t stray far from the pavement, Winkler says they still want the rugged, off-road bona fides—the SUV’s name after all is derived from a transcontinental snow forest and a rugged peak in the Canary Islands. Winkler claims the Bentayga’s off-road capabilities are second only to Range Rover, thanks to more than a million miles of testing that included stints in the Arctic Circle and on the sand dunes of Dubai as well as track time on Germany’s demanding Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit.

Inside-Out Customization
The Bentayga’s cabin is a veritable palace, flush with high-end appointments and rich materials (intricately stitched leathers and as many as 15 wood veneers) as well as unparalleled craftsmanship and attention to detail. The 118-inch wheelbase provides ample room to stretch out and enjoy the ride in either the four- or five-seat configurations. The seats have a wide-range of settings—including heating, cooling and massaging functions. The driver’s seat is positioned slightly higher than the front seat passenger’s to enhance visibility.

The vehicle offers 4G WiFi. The main eight-inch dash display is linked to a 60-GB hard drive and Apple CarPlay smartphone interface, while removable Android-based tablets are available for rear seat passengers. Three audio packages are offered, ranging from the standard 10-speaker, 700-watt unit to a 22-speaker, 1,950-watt Naim sound system with “super tweeters.” 

Equipped with as many as 12 ultrasonic sensors, five cameras and short- and long-range radar, the Bentayga also offers all the latest driver-assist safety systems. The list includes active lane-changing assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, front-collision alert, high-beam assist, hill-descent control, night vision, parking assist, pedestrian warning and traffic sign recognition. 

Customization is highly encouraged. There are at least 50 different main options and about the same number of other personalized features, which is the most for any Bentley model. Style consultants work with buyers to design their vehicles before they’re built and can match exterior and interior colors to provided swatches. One of the most notable add-ons is a $28,000 picnic package with a three-piece hamper set that can double as outdoor seats. The package includes a refrigerator, fine china, crystal glasses and cutlery. A quilted-leather “event seat” that folds out from the tailgate can be added for another $3,000. And for those who really want to make a statement, an optional Breitling Mulliner Tourbillion clock can be spec’d for about $170,000. 

Although somewhat limited by its crossover/SUV packaging, the Bentayga’s exterior design is chockfull of traditional Bentley styling cues—including a matrix grille, round headlamps and flared fenders.

One of the niftiest features is a new headlight washing system. Instead of being built into the main headlight housing, which Bentley designers deemed unappealing, the Bentayga sports separate washer mechanisms hidden behind body-colored caps within the running lights. The washers pop out like in-ground sprinklers to precisely spray and clean the lights when activated.

While some have questioned the wisdom of an ultra-luxury SUV, Winkler says it’s a necessity for Bentley to achieve its ambitious growth plans that call for doubling the brand’s annual global sales to more than 20,000 units in coming years. The strategy already is paying dividends: Bentayga’s first-year, 5,000-unit production allocation was booked well in advance and new variants already are in the works.