When ultra-luxury carmaker Bentley decided to enter the SUV space, they didn’t do it quietly, cheaply or underwhelmingly. The Bentayga, launched last year, had the highest bars to clear—mind, body and soul. Oh yes, and sales success for the Volkswagen-owned British manufacturer. The Continental GT was the company’s last runaway hit, and that first launched in 2003.
The Bentayga benefits from high-quality underpinnings that come straight from the VW-sibling Audi Q7. From that technological platform, the Bentley engineers and designers did backflips, existentially speaking, to achieve sophisticated creases and details on the exterior and a superlatively potent and car-like drive-feel at the vehicle’s core.
I decided to take my metallic apple green Bentayga for a real drive to tap its inner beast, the heart of which is a hard-pumping, specially tuned version of Bentley’s powerful W12 engine—which in the Bentayga makes 600 horsepower, capable of delivering 0-60 in 3.5 seconds.
In normal daily driving, those 600 horses were docile. But when I headed up in the Malibu canyons and engaged my right foot, the Bentayga’s road-holding capabilities were unleashed—all those horses pulling in a graceful show of power on pavement that Bentley says can reach 187 miles per hour—a number I sadly didn’t have the chance to attain on open roads. The all-wheel-drive system augmented the Bentayga’s ability to hunker down and hug hard in corners, making the big vehicle feel smaller than it really is. It was as much fun to push as the Model X I tested earlier this year—yet possesses a fit and finish that no competitor can rival, including my beloved Range Rover.
As powerful a performer as the Bentayga was, Bentley maintains that the it’s not for pavement only. So I found a steep, boulder-strewn off-road trail and took the Bentayga, with its 21-inch wheels, straight into some tricky dirt. The Bentley scaled and maneuvered over big rocks without ever getting stuck, bottoming out or spinning wheels—another testament to the capabilities of its AWD, which has four different off-road settings for ultimate precision. Between those features and 664 pound-feet of grunting, pulling torque, I’m betting the Bentayga is far more game to play in the dirt than most Bentley owners are.
On the softer side, there’s enough quilting to satisfy Chanel, enough leather to upholster a manor house living room, and enough contemporary creature comforts to let Bentayga stand tallest among its competitors. If that's not enough luxury, Bentley's bespoke Mulliner division offers a $170,000 Breitling tourbillon as an option (but be patient—given the timepiece’s complexity, only four a year can be manufactured).
In the Bentayga, the Bentley marque climbs to new heights—both off-road and in the ultra-luxury lifestyle space. In fact, the Bentley Bentayga stands out as a pinnacle vehicle for 2016—a success story that’s as much about brains as it is about beauty and brawn.
Price: from $231,825
Engine: 600-hp twin-turbo 6-liter W12
Torque: 664 lb.-ft.
Zero to 60: 3.5 seconds
Top speed: 187 mph