First Drive: Bentley Bentayga

The 2016 Bentley Bentayga.
The 2016 Bentley Bentayga.

The Bentley Bentayga — pronounced with a capital A sound in the middle — is the newest, fastest and most luxurious SUV you can buy. It’s packed with exquisite detailing that lifts it above the rest of the SUV crowd, plus technology that helps it drive shockingly well.

It’s more than 5.1 metres long, two metres wide, even excluding the mirrors, and weighs 2.5 tonnes with a driver on board. Under the bonnet is an all-new 6.0-litre W12 engine that shares not a single nut, bolt or screw with its predecessor. Two banks of six cylinders diagonally interlaced provide 600bhp and a creamy 664lb/ft of torque courtesy of two twin-scroll turbochargers.

The rear exterior of the 2016 Bentley Bentayga.

The rear exterior of the 2016 Bentley Bentayga.

Looks and image

Here’s the divisive bit. The back is a little bland and could belong to a few other brands if you squint, but small tweaks to the front since the concept stage have improved it no end. It’s colour-sensitive, though, and you’ll want to pitch for one of the beautiful reds, greens or blues. Bentayga Brown is a choice you might come to regret. Either way, the lustrous paint finishes are utterly gorgeous.

There are no image worries here. It’s a Bentley in every way; true to what the modern brand stands for and true to the direction the company’s founder W.O. Bentley would have wanted for it. If you like the idea of a luxury SUV, there’s nothing more appealing in the world.

Space and practicality

The interior of the 2016 Bentley Bentayga.

The interior of the 2016 Bentley Bentayga.

A big boot and useful cabin storage combine to make good on the Bentayga’s promise of space. The boot lip is high, but you can customise it with a practical fold-down ledge for sitting on. Beyond that is a capacious boot, three rear seats with loads of legroom and the back half of four-zone climate control. Just be careful with the beautifully soft leather, won’t you?

Behind the wheel

The 12 cylinders deliver near-instant, crushing, relentless torque that’s seamlessly delivered to the road via four independently electrically-controlled wheels of up to 22 inches across. It’s breathtakingly quick. You can’t completely escape 2.5 tonnes, but the Bentayga stays implausibly flat through corners thanks to a 48-volt electrical system that tweaks the ever-plush suspension while you drive.

Carrying indecent speed through corners without body roll is the big Bentley’s party piece, but the rest of the package is sublime. The multi-way adjustable seats are all-day comfy, the driving position is perfect behind the slightly-too-chunky steering wheel and the obviously Volkswagen Group-sourced satnav interface is a dream to use. There’s even a good sense of feel and feedback at the wheel.

It’s also so quiet that you’ll think you’ve gone deaf. In traffic, you’d think it was electric, and even at 70mph and 1,500rpm in the eighth of the buttery-smooth gearbox’s ratios, it’s like two clouds rubbing together. It doesn’t sound as good under power as the Mulsanne and the brakes should be stronger, but otherwise, it’s exceptional.

Value for money

For a starting price more than double that of the Range Rover, it depends how much you want that exclusivity, that badge and the mind-boggling attention to detail on offer here. But £1,400 to have a craftsman pick up a different colour of thread with which to stitch the dashboard does seem a bit unreasonable — and that’s just one of up to £70,000 worth of options on the press launch cars. Price issues aside, nothing can touch its combination of qualities and a Range Rover seems a bit budget by comparison.

Who would buy one?

SUVs are so popular the world over, that when you think about it, it’s surprising it’s taken car makers like Bentley so long to build a hyper-luxury one. The company has already raised its target of 3,600 units a year to reach adequate profitability — they’ll easily shift all 5,000 they can build every 12 months. People with the means will buy the Bentayga simply because it’s the best.

This car summed up in a single word: Mighty