The quickest and fastest gas-burning SUV ever. And the most expensive.
Bentley calls the Bentayga the fastest, most powerful, most luxurious, and most exclusive SUV in the world. That’s a big claim, and Bentley is correct except where “most powerful” is concerned. The British luxury company seems to have forgotten about the Austrian brick with Stuttgart parents conceived in Affalterbach: the Mercedes-AMG G65.
The 621-hp Mercedes-in-a-box outmuscles the 600-hp Bentley, but if you line the two trucks up for a stoplight drag, you’ll soon find that many of the AMG’s horses have already been sent out to pasture. The Bentley rips to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds—1.9 sooner than the Benz.
In fact, the Bentayga is the quickest gasoline-burning SUV we’ve ever tested. On the way to 60 mph, it leaves some big names in the dust: the Corvette ZR1, Lamborghini Murcilago, Ferrari F12, Mercedes-McLaren SLR, Porsche Carrera GT, Dodge Charger Hellcat—we could go on for hours. This is an insanely, ludicrously fast car. (Well, perhaps not quite ludicrous; the Tesla Model X P90D Ludicrous, which we tested the same day, beat the Bentley to 60, doing to the deed in 3.2 seconds and flying silently through the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds, two tenths sooner than the Bentayga.)
In the world of internal-combustion SUVs, only the BMW X5 M/X6 M twins and Mercedes GLE63 AMG S Coupe manage to hit 60 mph in the three-second range (3.7 and 3.9 seconds if you’re wondering), and by the time a quarter mile has elapsed, the Bentley has left everything in its wake, traveling 6.6 mph faster than the Benz. With a claimed 187-mph (301-km/h) top speed, the Bentley has no autobahn competition.
It has no real competition in the showroom, either, thanks to its $229,100 USD base price. Again, that pesky V-12 G-class lurks in the shadows, starting at $218,825 USD, but you’d need to try hard to further inflate that MSRP. Our purple Bentayga tester, on the other hand, had a few simple extras that ballooned the sticker price to an eye-watering $275,290 USD. Alas, Bentley’s claim for “most exclusive,” which really means “most expensive,” is true, too.
Now about that luxury part: Our test vehicle was, rather unfortunately, specced with a morose all-black interior that’s to blame for a surprising lack of That Bentley Drama—the unofficial name for the subconscious, reflexive, under-your-breath “wow” that you utter upon entering a Bentley. The dash, wheel, and door cards weren’t two-toned, and there was no double-contrast stitching. Even the wood was painted glossy black. Gorgeous wood is one of the things Bentley does best. To cover it with black paint is a sin.
There is, of course, the overwhelming aroma of leather when you open the Bentayga’s door. Everything is covered in hide, including the headliner. And although many of the buttons wear a gloss-black and chrome veneer, anyone who’s driven an Audi Q7 will feel right at home.
In fact, anyone who’s driven the latest Q7 will smell something fishy far more than they smell leather. That’s because the Bentayga is an Audi Q7—this is modern Volkswagen-group badge engineering, and although it doesn’t stoop to the same 1980s GM level of gluing a Caddy badge onto a Chevy with almost no other changes, the Bentayga leans a little too closely toward the Cadillac Cimarron side of the equation than it does to being a real Bentley.
We wish this SUV were based on the Mulsanne. Squint your eyes to look past the Continental-inspired front and rear ends, and this is clearly a conventional, corporate SUV—it just screams “Volkswagen Touareg” in its proportions. Because, well, it is—the Touareg also shares the Q7’s platform.
Tarted-up controls or not, from the driver’s seat, the whole experience is Audi Q7. That is a huge compliment to both the Q7 and the Bentayga. The Q7 is, after all, in the running for the Best SUV in the World—had it been present at last year’s SUV of the Year testing, it may well have knocked the winning Volvo XC90 aside. To wit, the Bentayga is wonderfully quiet inside. The view outside is expansive, and the driving position is perfect. Its ergonomics are first-rate, augmented by a spectacular Naim stereo system, a clear head-up display, and clear analog gauges that feel far more special than the Q7’s all-digital setup. The crisp screen between the speedometer and tachometer provides multiple displays, including the nerdtastic infrared night vision cameras.
The large 21-inch wheels—or rather the corresponding low-profile tires on them—send sharp impacts to the passengers’ derrieres. They’re likely noticeable only because of the lack of other forces. After driving the Bentayga for some time, you realize just how isolated a cocoon its cabin is. Road noise is audible only because wind noise isn’t; the engine is perfectly inaudible except when putting supercars in their place, and the electrically assisted steering is completely absent of any vibration. Or feel, for that matter.
Oh, those Audi roots. Fantastic steering feel is, like the gorgeous wood, a hallmark of the Bentley experience. Sadly, not this time.
The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic is, as ever, smooth as silk, but it lacks the quick-fire, perfectly imperceptible shifts that, for example, BMW’s engineers make it accomplish. The big powertrain news is that the big W-12 engine is now faultless. Previous versions of this Double-VR6 suffered from excruciating turbo lag at low engine speeds then vibrated like they wanted to blow apart at high revs. This new version is as smooth as any V-12 in the business and even smoother than some. Turbo lag is present but not noticeable in normal driving, and the exhaust note is pleasant, aggressive in its tone but not in its volume. It strikes the perfect balance of sporty and elegant.
Best yet, the Bentayga returned truly impressive fuel economy. Indicated mid-16s on the mpg scale is unheard of territory for a 5,653-pound (2,564 kg) large SUV with a 6.0-liter engine and a lead foot at the wheel. (The EPA has not yet rated the Bentayga.) The new direct-injection system and cylinder deactivation, which can disable one VR6 bank under light loads, certainly helped. Try as I might, I never felt so much as a stumble from the engine, so either the system wasn’t active, or it’s just that good. I suspect the latter.
Judged against cars in the ber-luxury segment, the interior dimensions of the Bentayga come up a little short. The massive width that defines Bentley’s coupes and sedans is missing, and although the rear buckets in our four-seat version, which are similar in design to the fronts, are comfortable, they present no luxurious sense of First Class. One of our Bentayga’s options is a $7,155 USD set of tablets mounted to the front seat backs, and their presence so close to the rear passengers’ faces enhances that feeling of claustrophobia. The tablets and their mounts are easily removed, but this back seat has nothing on a Mulsanne. Or even a Flying Spur.
The W-12’s endless pull is unquestionably best enjoyed without passengers, however, as they might not appreciate the g-forces. Under full throttle, the Bentayga rears back on its haunches and sprays the cars in front with photons from its superbright LED headlights. (The high-beams might be the best headlights on the market.) Under braking, the front end dives significantly. This dive and squat is slowed and lessened in Sport mode, which lowers the air suspension and stiffens the adjustable dampers, but even then, it’s out of lockstep with the lateral body control provided by Bentley Dynamic Ride, a set of electrically actuated active anti-roll bars.
Given the Bentayga’s considerable mass and high center of gravity, the bars have their work cut out for them. Each bar’s actuator can generate up to 959 lb-ft of anti-roll torque, working against the centrifugal force that causes vehicles to lean toward the outside of a curve. Previous active anti-roll systems have been hydraulically actuated, but the Bentayga’s are fully electric. The big power demands required a shift to 48-volt actuators, which are operated by a pair of supercapacitors charged by the vehicle’s 12-volt system through a step-up transformer.
The system works flawlessly, keeping the Bentayga almost completely flat through corners. Handling balance is delightfully neutral with some throttle adjustability to nix the limit understeer, but overall grip isn’t particularly impressive. Our tester managed just 0.82 g on the skidpad, putting it near the bottom of the list of current quick SUVs, even behind the Audi Q7’s 0.85 g. The bigger issue, though, is why Bentley would be so concerned with flat cornering when there’s so much pitch and dive under acceleration and braking.
This might be the fastest, quickest internal-combustion SUV ever, but just like the ability to seat seven people (which will be an option), the 187-mph (301-km/h) top speed is a marketing tool that most will never take advantage of. The reality is that the Bentayga isn’t going to sell on its cornering behavior; it’ll sell on its price and its looks.
Yep, its looks. I won’t call the Bentayga ugly (oh, I think it’s far worse than that), because beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. You may love it, and you wouldn’t be alone. In fact, so many people have raised their hands that Bentley has sped up production. Originally slated for 3,600 units a year, the company is now planning to produce 5,500 Bentaygas during its first full production year and is looking for ways to bump that number even higher.
That’s a surprising number of SUVs at that price, more so when you consider what you can get for half as much money. Namely, a Range Rover. Which, in supercharged V-8 form, is certainly quick enough (0-60 in 4.4 seconds) and is almost as luxurious inside. Then again, the Range Rover doesn’t stand out from the crowd in Beverly Hills or Dubai. And that’s likely the most important reason for choosing a Bentayga—at least until the world’s chic shopping districts are littered with them.
Gee, what a sight that’ll be.
|2017 Bentley Bentayga (European Spec)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$275,790|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||6.0L/600-hp/664-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve W12|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5,653 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||202.4 x 78.7 x 68.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||11.9 sec @ 117.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||119 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.6 sec @ 0.74 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||Not yet rated|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||Not yet rated|