Obsessively detailed interiors. Shocking performance figures. Huge price tags with the weight to match. These are all things you quickly associate with Bentley. SUV? Not so much. But in 2016, Bentley tried to get in on the money-printing SUV game with the Bentayga, a leather-lined and champagne-filled W12 land missile.
Now, Bentleys aren’t meant to be cheap, unless we’re talking bad Craiglsist purchases. So the trouble was that the starting price for the 600 horsepower W12 model was over $225,000, and the options list could send that number through the stratosphere. As a result sales figures weren’t quite what Bentley anticipated, in the middle of this surge for über-expensive luxury SUVs, and it had to do something to make the car more accessible to buyers.
Enter the Bentayga V8, which is nowhere near what you’d call “affordable,” but does a strong amount of Bentley-ing for a lot less.
(Full Disclosure: Bentley wanted me to test out their V8 model Bentayga so terribly they flew me out to California, had me take a 100+ mile drive from SFO airport through Half Moon Bay on my way to Carmel Valley to check into a super chic resort, and fed me some great food before doing suggesting I do more driving around Salinas and the Monterey Peninsula.)
The Bentayga is based on the same VW Group MLB platform as the Audi Q7 and Q8, Lamborghini Urus, and Porsche Cayenne. You can get seating in four, five or seven-seat configurations, and if you love your falcon more than your friends, it can get accommodations in the cabin too. Personalization methods are damn near endless as well.
This new model comes with the twin-turbo V8 you’d find in the Audi S8, which is definitely a kickass power plant, but comes with a price tag that’s slightly easier to swallow.
Powering the Bentayga V8 is a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter engine, boasting 540 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 570 lb-ft over a broad span from 1,960 to 4,500 RPM. Power is managed through an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive.
It’ll stomp from a dead stop to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and can surge to a top speed of 180 mph, so it’s as fast as a lot of respectable sports cars.
Fuel economy figures are 14/23/17 for city/highway/combined estimates, and I got right at 17 MPG over several hundred miles covered. If you’re craving better economy from your Bentley Bentayga, there is a hybrid option on its way.
Loaded with all the opulent features you expect from Bentley, the Bentayga weighs in at a stout 5,280 pounds, and that’s before you start adding options.
Speaking of options, the base Bentayga V8 has a starting MSRP around $160,000, but my Silver Storm test car was loaded up with the good stuff, and rang up at $233,000. I’m not really in the tax bracket where you’d consider that an amazing deal over the W12 model, but congrats to anyone who is.
Bentleys are known for epic creature comforts, and Fancy Kristen would approve of the environment inside the Bentayga. Stepping inside I find myself surrounded with several cows worth of the softest contrast-stitched leather, insulated with double-pane glass which prevents any hint of a mouse sneezing just outside the cabin breaching my eardrums. And that’s before we discuss the seats.
When in the front two seats of this big Bentley, it’s an experience. Three-stage heating and cooling functions to manage keeping your contact with the seat at the optimal temperature, and five different massage modes, with five different stages of intensity. Having made two long drives of over three hours each during my time with the Bentayga, I put all of these settings to the most comprehensive test, and found that the second stage of the heated seats paired with full blast “stretch” mode of the massage was one of the finest combination of seat comforts I’ve ever been treated to.
Bentley also takes security into detailed consideration, incorporating a biometric lock on a miniature safe built into the center armrest, should I want to store my tiny, expensive belongings inside the Bentayga while I’m shopping at Neiman Marcus.
When I tested the 2018 Bentley Continental GT earlier this year, I gave high praise to the optional Naim for Bentley audio system, and in the Bentayga it’s even more impressive. Pumping a 1900-watt, 21-channel amplifier, the system jams through 21 speakers which include a combination of nine tweeters and subwoofers, four advanced bass speakers, and a subwoofer producing 300 watts on its own.
I put a giant variety of music choices through this system, and was blown away—damn near literally—by the strength and clarity of this audio system. So much that I forgot to take a single picture of the speakers. Whoops.
Supple and speedy are words that can effectively be used together, when referring to a Bentley. When I’m late for a meeting, and need to cover a ton of miles, the Bentayga will get me there in a hurry without feeling like it. When doing triple digits in any car, I’d expect it to feel complicated and involved with your highest attention. Not in this car.
The responsiveness and supple connectivity to the road you experience at over 100 mph as you move along the highway is met with a ride quality most cars can’t accomplish at 55.
Bentley somehow provides a wonderful balance of elegant cruising even though there’s a 180 mph top speed at your disposal. I didn’t go anywhere near the top speed of the Bentayga, but if I did, I know I would have been comfortable in it.
Steering is sharp and light, but not disconnected from the road in a manner you get in a Lexus. Bentley wants its drivers to know they’re still driving, not removed from the experience. This isn’t an appliance, but instead it’s a well-suited car.
Drive modes include the usual comfort, sport, and custom combination options, and one can opt for the Bentley Dynamic Ride system which incorporates a 48-volt active anti-roll bar to provide intricate controls of the suspension and power output to meet your wildest demands of the Bentayga, whether on the road or far off it.
You get the best of both worlds by getting a suspension system that’s agile when you meet any fast corner while being able to articulate any corner of the suspension with ease, should you want to take your $200,000 SUV crawling over the rocks Moab.
Absurdity is the best word to describe how well the Bentayga carves corners. I took multiple passes up the seven-mile stretch of Laureles Grade between Laguna Seca and Carmel Valley Road, which basically simulates a fun, smaller stretch of my widely-used test route of the Angeles Crest Highway in Southern California.
When approaching a corner with any warning sign with the speed recommendation, the Bentayga can easily double that speed and add 10 mph, staying flat and planted to the pavement from turn-in to corner exit.
No hint of body roll nor slip was felt, and any stab of the throttle upon an apex was met with a most fluid surge of power delivery. Blasts of power are a joy, and I made sure to test how stable the torque delivery is from any rev range. I can think of $100,000 sport sedans that can only hope to be this good.
Quickly I forgot that I was in a 5,300-pound SUV, packed full with a ton of luxury features and a massive sound system. I felt like I was in an M5. The Bentley Dynamic Ride system really managed the weight transitions when I was carrying large sums of speed between quick left and right sweepers.
Steering sharpened up perfectly when I would put in some harder angles at higher speeds. Canyon roads easily become the powerless to the Bentayga’s ability to thrash. I really want to play with this on the Angeles Crest Highway’s 66 miles of bends and elevation changes, or along some sort of scenic alpine mountain journey. I loved feeding in buckets of buttery torque as I’d exit a corner, with nothing but a sheer shove forward. At the same time, the suspension calibrations would make any long drive over a harsh concrete California freeway as smooth as any German autobahn.
The misery of sitting in traffic for a couple hours was quickly washed away by all of the cabin treatments and those impressively spoiling front seats. Several luxury cars on the market have massaging seats, but the Bentley actually stretched out my aching back nicely.
The details matter here. From the perfectly-stitched seats to the jeweled headlamps and the solid feeling from closing any door, or pressing any switch, the Bentayga was wonderful.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The Bentayga, even in this new V8 trim, is still a fortune. Sure, the starting MSRP is just north of $160,000, and a few big selections took my tester well over $200,000, and you can hit over $300,000 if you go wild on the options sheet.
If the seven standard paint colors, 15 hide interiors, and dozen duo-tone leather appointments aren’t satisfactory the most demanding buyer’s tastes, Bentley’s Mulliner commissioning department can handle damn near any request... for a price.
Most of us can’t afford a six-figure car, but there’s definitely a market for an SUV in this range. Otherwise car manufacturers wouldn’t be dumping millions into making new platforms and plants for these to be on the road. An owner might get the occasional stare from passersby because they’re in a mammoth of a Bentley, which might bring forth some judgement, but that’s only if they’re really paying attention to the outside world when you not totally encompassed in the cabin experience.
Most of these aren’t going to end up in the hands of sporting drivers such as myself. Nor are they to be found scaling rocky paths far from any smooth pavement. Most are more likely to end up in the most affluent neighborhoods, doing the usual errands in the finer shops, and that disappoints me a little. This is such a special, capable machine that it deserves to be maxed out as much as possible.
The über-pricey SUV trend isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Plenty of buyers are out there, and Bentley wants to get their money just as much as the likes of Mercedes and Porsche and Lamborghini. The Bentayga is an obscenely cool SUV that packs as much luxury as it does performance. It treats you to insane levels of comfort while stomping any surface.
I understand that most drivers aren’t going to push the Bentayga anywhere near its potential, but those owners are also likely to appreciate the level of detail and luxury present here. I know I could.
Do you really “need” the W12? Of course not. At this point that engine is the ultimate luxury, and the V8 edition should do everything Bentley owners need—and more—just fine.
More than fine, in fact. Opulently.