Paul Horrell’s 2017 Bentley Bentayga Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL Bentley’s SUV is vast, luxurious, quiet and ridiculously expensive. So what’s the logic of the tightwad’s diesel version? Because you get a 1000km tank range.
2017 BENTLEY BANTAYGA DIESEL
Price $335,000+ORC Warranty 3 years/unlimited km Engine (tested) 4.0l turbo V8 diesel Power 320kw at 3750-5000rpm Torque 900Nm at 1000-3250rpm Transmission 8-speed auto Drive four-wheel drive Body 5140mm (l); 1998mm (w exc mirrors); 2224mm (w inc mirrors); 1742mm (h) Turning circle 12.4m Towing 3500kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) Kerb weight 2499kg Seats 5, optionally 4 or 7 Fuel tank 85 litres Spare Space saver Thirst 7.9 l/100km combined cycle Fuel Diesel
ALL THE ARISTO European brands now find it necessary to dip their snouts in the Sino-American trough of luxury SUV sales. Where Porsche led, Maserati and Jaguar and Bentley followed; Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini will be next.
For Bentley it was a no-brainer. The British company is a division of the Volkswagen Group that also includes Porsche and Audi. So the Bentayga is a very… very… poshed-up relation to the Audi Q7 and the newly announced third-generation Porsche Cayenne. Much of its engineering is the same, but the design and interior are different, and there’s been a lot of extra work to make it quiet, quick and reasonably capable in the rough. And it’s bigger – over 5.1m long.
The net result starts at a third of a million dollars. Our test car wore another $150k-plus in options.
Would you take a car of this price into the rough even if you could afford it? For expedition work, surely not. But as a means to get access to other out-of-the-way expensive outdoor sporty events, just maybe. Air suspension with electrically adjusted anti-roll bars is a key tech in providing the spread of abilities from off-roading to hooning around twisty roads. The self-levelling air springs mean it should retain an even keel even with a 3500kg trailer.
The Bentayga was originally launched with a new version of Bentley’s signature 12-cylinder turbo petrol engine packing close to 450kW. This one has a diesel based on the Audi SQ7’s unit. It has an extraordinary specification – not only two turbos, one small and one big to do the mid-and high-speed work respectively. Also, there’s a third compressor, driven not by exhaust gas but by a 48-volt electric motor. This rapidly forces a little pulse of air into the intakes when you press the accelerator at very low revs.
Bottom line: this engine has immense stomp over a huge range of engine and road speeds.
Much of the body shell is made of aluminium. But even so a car with this much luxury, this kind of powertrain and this sheer size was never going to be light. Two and a half tonnes eh?
There’s been a lot of talk about the Bentayga’s styling. Maybe you think it’s a beaut. We think that it badly lacks grace or elan. Still, the detailing is nicely done. For example, see the headlamps, beautifully flush-mounted in the panelwork. They resemble crystal glasses, and carry and embossed Bentley script. Their washer jets are hidden behind those body-colour circles in the centre of the outer lamps, which deploy by popping out.
What’s the interior like?
Plush and rich. Nothing in here looks like proletarian bare plastic apart from a few switch panels. The whole cabin is a superabundant eyeful of soft leather, polished wood, fine wool carpet, knurled or polished chrome, or cast aluminium. And that’s just the standard version. Doubtless Bentley’s individualisation department, named Mulliner, would upholster the thing in unicorn hide if you paid enough. The Mulliner Driving Specification costs a staggering $40,812 and adds stuff like diamond quilted seat and door leather, drilled alloy pedals, 22-inch alloys and more, but not much more for that sort of coin.
The standard of leather stitching (you can get contrast stitching for $429) and veneer is superb, with beautiful detail work. Most switches operate with VW Group damped precision, which is as good as anything. But there are other higher-end touches too, among them Bentley’s famous ‘organ stop’ vents – you pull or push on a weighty mushroom-shaped metal button to open or close them.
If the seats don’t seem comfy or supportive enough, you probably haven’t spent enough time working through the various electric and pneumatic adjusters. It took me days of frustration to get it dialled in for my shape, but then it was bliss. You can add ventilated and massaging front seats for $7350.
You sit high as in any big crossover, but not with quite the tall regal position of a Range Rover. The actual driving position is more like a car, the dash and console looming to meet you.
A 5+2 configuration is available (for an extra $7200). Or else there’s a four-seat with a fancy piece of cabinetry between the two rears. But the test car car is a plain five-seat.
Out back, there’s masses of legroom. Multi-zone climate control, electric window blinds, and veneered folding tables add to the comfort and pampering. Rear-seat entertainment includes twin built-in tablets with a selection of Android apps and Google Earth, linked to wireless headphones. Those tables and the tablets reside on the options list at punishing prices. That’s how it is with Bentleys – last time I drove a Mulsanne it had a small fridge between the rear seats, and that cost the price of a Suzuki Celerio.
The boot is big in area but not huge in volume, because it’s shallow. The floor is high because underneath is a subwoofer and a spare wheel – even a space-saver for this car is bulky. the boot cover is rigid, not a roller blind. That’s nicer when in place, although less convenient if you want to fold the seats.
A pair of cupholders lives by the transmission lever, a tray ahead of it and a sunglass-case holder behind. But the under-armrest storage is shallow. Compared with the amazing capacity of a Discovery’s interior pockets to swallow stuff, it’s a bit limiting.
Bentley has put its own graphical skin on top of the VW Group’s latest and best touchscreen infotainment system. It all works smoothly, and connects to the outside world via its own data link or your phone’s. If you’re happy with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay it’ll run them so you don’t need to learn the Bentley system’s ways.
The screen also takes care of configuring the car’s many driver assists. A nice off-road info page lets you check suspension travel and steering angles, centre diff status and so on.
A proper rotary selector behind the gear lever gets access to the drive modes – the chassis settings, traction control parameters and so on – for sports or comfort driving, or various off-road surfaces. Buttons also raise the suspension for obstacles, or lower it to make it easier to climb in and out.
The test can had a hi-fi by British high-end home manufacturer Naim. A crazy-expensive route to deliciously relaxing yet detailed sound.
What’s the Bentley Bentayga like to drive?
On the one hand it’s staggering that a hulking SUV can make such performance numbers. On the other, its size is one of the factors that isolates you from the experience. Another is the superb sound insulation, and yet another the remote feeling of the steering and other controls. So in the end it feels relentlessly rapid rather than exhilaratingly quick.
You can pin the accelerator to the carpet any time you can see clear road. No need to worry about traction, even out of tight greasy bends. The wheels will find purchase, and if they don’t the ESP subtly quells the power.
But never mind all that flat-out business. Hey, mostly the sterling powertrain will get you down the road just as you need without troubling the far end of the accelerator travel. There isn’t much noise, just a soft background hum. If you hadn’t been told it was a diesel you likely wouldn’t notice.
The performance is like a buffet table. You merely take what you want, because there’s so much there that you won’t be guzzling every last morsel.
The handling is the same. You probably won’t drive it at the limit because the pleasure lies in perceiving the abundance but refraining from exhausting it.
Thanks to the adaptive dampers and adaptive dynamic anti-roll (another expensive option), plus the huge tyres and brakes, it will keep up with a sports car down a twisty road. But better not make it do that: the steering lacks road feel and there’s a lack of communication or driver involvement when it’s being thrashed.
On the highway, the Bentayga sits in a kind of serene stillness. It holds its lane solidly, and the insulation from noise and road agitation is fabulous. Honestly, you’ll need the speed limiter because it feels very much the same at 150km/h as at 100. Cruising at normal traffic speed, or a little more, will net a 1000km tank range. That’s an enormous convenience.
Generally the suspension is moderately supple at all speeds and doesn’t betray the thumpiness you often get in vehicles with lots of unsprung weight – a necessity when the brakes are big and the suspension reinforced for off-road work.
Ah, yes, off-roading. There’s no low-ratio gearset, and no lockable rear or front diffs. There are multiple traction-control settings for different surfaces, and a hill descent system. The off-road pack includes underbody protection and costs $13,641. A raisable air suspension is standard and there’s the option of those dynamic anti-roll bars.
Mounted to each anti-roll bar is an electric volt motor, more powerful than you’d expect because it’s powered by the same 48 volt system as the engine’s extra charger. At very low speed, the motor can uncouple the bar and allow the two ends to rotate freely of one another, so that one wheel can go further up and the other further down. In other words, articulation improves. But on the road, the system can do the opposite, effectively adding roll stiffness and almost stopping the car from leaning in corners.
Taken as a whole though, the Bentayga’s dynamics leave us a bit befuddled. A Porsche Cayenne is more fun. And a Range Rover more relaxing (and better specced for off-roading). The Bentayga doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do, and in trying to do everything – speed, handling, comfort, relaxed luxury – it slightly loses focus and character.
What safety features does the Bentley Bentayga get?
The Bentayga hasn’t been through Euro NCAP – well it’d be an expensive process to advise few consumers. Still, the related Audi Q7 scored very well. Anyway, rule of thumb, the sheer hugeness of the Bentayga means it’s likely to come off well in a crash with a smaller vehicle.
There are loads of driver assist systems available. They include a steering and speed support system that even takes into account navigation data, so it will slow you down as you approach sharp corners. In our experience the system worked very smoothly. It’s absolutely not autonomous drive – you must keep aware of the road. But it can help reduce fatigue, especially the radar cruise control part of the system.
Autonomous braking is standard if cameras see a vehicle or pedestrian at city speeds. But that’s a common thing even at supermini level these days. You have to pay extra for a system that works at higher speed. That comes bundled with lane assist. It’s ridiculous that you are charged extra for these safety features on what’s already a colossally expensive vehicle.
A parking pack includes overhead-view cameras and a cross-traffic alert system for reversing onto a road. Same point – why’s that optional? The head-up display (also optional) is excellent. Also in that bundle is an night-vision system. This shows a black-and-white picture of the road ahead in the instrument cluster. It can find many objects beyond the range of headlamps, and draws coloured boxes around people and animals.
In summary, then, the Bentley has a strong range of safety features, but it’s little short of scandalous that so many are optional.