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Driven: Bentley Bentayga 6.0 W12. Image by James Lipman.

Driven: Bentley Bentayga 6.0 W12
Say what you like about the looks, Bentley has engineered the Bentayga to near-perfection.

 



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Bentley Bentayga 6.0 W12

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: glorious interior, unparalleled SUV refinement, absolutely astonishing handling, raw pace.

Not so good: the looks, the price, the Audi A3 indicator/windscreen wiper stalks.

Key Facts

Model tested: Bentley Bentayga 6.0 W12
Price: range starts from 135,800; 6.0 W12 from 160,200; car as tested 203,665
Engine: 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 296/km (VED Band M, 1,120 first 12 months, 515 annually thereafter, if registered before April 1, 2017; 2,000 first 12 months, then 450 for next five years, then 140 annually thereafter, if registered post-April 1, 2017)
Combined economy: 21.6mpg
Top speed: 187mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Power: 608hp at 5,000- to 6,000rpm
Torque: 900Nm at 1,350- to 4,500rpm

Our view:

On the face of it, there are two big issues with the Bentley Bentayga: one is the principle of the thing; and the other pertains to its challenging looks. On the former score, it's easy to resolve. Bentley building an SUV today isn't like Porsche's Cayenne 'moment' back in 2002. Maybe it's just us, but this doesn't seem as abhorrent as the German company's decision to expand from its core sports car ethos. Bentleys are hardly featherweights as it is (the Bentayga is only around 100kg heavier than a Continental GT Speed Coupe) so it's not like this is totally out of character for the British firm: it likes hefty, monumental pace, rather than slender lightness.

Of course, the Cayenne's showroom performance proved Porsche was right to make the leap, despite the opprobrium of the cognoscenti, and if anything the market is even more skewed towards SUVs today, further clarifying Bentley's decision. So that just leaves the looks. Good lord, we've written this a lot lately, and we really do wish there was a better way of putting this, but... the Bentayga looks much better up close and personal, in the metal, than it does in pictures. It's no oil painting, granted, and a Range Rover has it licked for visual elegance, yet once you've had a bit of time to drink it in, it's actually a convincing piece of design.

There's Bentley's trademark enhanced rear shoulder line sweeping up the doors, there's a chrome-effect grille (it's sadly plastic, for reasons of pedestrian safety), there are rear light signatures that scribe the letter 'B' in red LEDs (well, on the nearside; it's obviously a mirror image on the opposite cluster)... there's enough here to get you past that front end, which is the SUV's least convincing aspect. Put it this way; many casual, non-petrolhead observers who saw the Bentayga all proclaimed it to be lovely; no one said its face was hideous. And, having spent a week with it, we're inclined to agree.

After that, it's just the Bentley landing a series of devastating, sledgehammer blows to your mental fortitude. If you think you have to detest the Bentayga, then try sampling one and see how you feel afterwards. The handling is the major gob smacker. Nothing, nothing of this size and mass should handle with the glorious deftness of the Bentley. It has better steering than the vast majority of current sports cars and the sort of preposterous grip levels that almost leave you gasping for breath, while we'd even go so far as to say it feels slightly better sorted than a Continental; thank the 48-volt, powered anti-roll system for the Bentayga's dynamic display, which is utterly dismissive of the laws of physics. There's a huge difference in the ride quality between Comfort and Sport, the car noticeably hunkering down in the latter, but even in the former, it just won't let go of the road; we drove our favourite, bumpy back-lane test route in both modes and while the Bentayga was quicker in Sport, in Comfort it felt about as close to a road-going Dakar racer as we could possibly imagine - there was a lot more vertical body movement, but no let-up in the mammoth velocity across the ground.

Although its pace, refinement and general interior opulence are all facets that are expected of any Bentley, that doesn't make any one of these characteristics any the less sensational. The W12 is a bit gravelly in voice and muted compared to the marque's bombastic V8s, yet it still propels this mobilised wing of Chatsworth House along at enormous speed. Click it into Comfort, or keep it in the regular 'B' mode on the drive control rotary dial, and even the most sensitive of souls will find the air-sprung ride to be beyond reproach. There's a mite more wind and tyre noise here than you'd find in the lower, more aerodynamic Continental, but neither is anything to complain about.

And the interior... cor, it's exquisite. Bentley has finally managed to coerce its Volkswagen Group overlords to give it a modern satnav system with a more attractive screen and some climate control dials with integrated temperature displays as well, both of which help lift what is already an exalted ambience. We like the new, smaller-bossed steering wheel as well, but for the life of us we can't work out why Bentley has gone and abandoned the chunkier, milled aluminium-finish column stalks of the Continental and replaced them with plastic affairs from the Audi A3. It's the only aberration in an otherwise faultless interior.

Yes, we could lament the fact that, despite costing 160,000, er... 'basic', this Bentley still had a whole BMW 440i Coupe's-worth of options fitted to it, taking its price to almost 204,000. But seriously, forget all that, because here we have a genuine automotive game-changer. Bear in mind the Range Rover has been around for 47 years, unchallenged, as the premier luxury 4x4/SUV money can buy... and, with a crushing inevitability, it has been usurped. Say what you must about its visage, or about Bentley finally fulfilling Ettore Bugatti's infamous quip about the company building the 'fastest lorry in the world' - the fact is, if you want one of the most sumptuous, finest motoring experiences known to modern man, then the Bentley Bentayga is it. It is, in all senses of the word, a colossal achievement.

Alternatives:

Audi SQ7: Audi doesn't get close on power, as its powerplant is a 4.0-litre diesel... which is used in the 'lesser' Bentayga, though the SQ7 has the Bentayga's 48-volt anti-roll system.

Mercedes-AMG GLS 63: utilises the 5.5-litre V8 at 585hp and has the bonus of seven seats, with prices from 103,000. Good as it is, doesn't feel as special as the big Bentley.

Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic: as close as you will get to a Bentayga, at least until Rolls, Aston and Lambo launch their rivals. With a 550hp V8 and lashings of luxury, this costs from 133k.


Matt Robinson - 17 Mar 2017









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2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.

2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.2016 Bentley Bentayga. Image by James Lipman.








 

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