The arrival of a Bentley SUV is at once counter-intuitive and an inevitability. The marque’s current renaissance dates back to the turn of the century and has seen burgeoning global demand. As Bentley has grown, so has its customer base, extending to the kind of far-flung territories that have driven the off-roader upmarket; places where status and size correlate, while unpredictable weather and poor roads make traditional automotive signifiers rather impractical.
Demand is already high for the new Bentley Bentayga. These new markets are hungry for a blend of performance, prestige and scale. Named after a rugged peak in the Canary Islands, the Bentayga is the essence of the brand, reborn as a high-riding off-roader designed to transport one anywhere without skimping on speed, craft and accoutrements.
Most onlookers expect it to make short work of its journey to the top of the segment. Whereas the swiftest Porsche Cayennes and most luxurious Range Rovers occupy a similar bracket of price and status, turning up one dial inevitably compromises another. A Cayenne Turbo S is not the first choice to ford a river and you wouldn’t take to the track to find the handling limits of the Range Rover SV Autobiography, at least not for fun.
So can the Bentayga be all things to its customers? On paper, it certainly fulfils the brief set out by Bentley’s top brass at the outset of the project: make this the fastest luxury SUV on the market. A top speed of around 187mph (the 300kmh benchmark) and four-second-to-60 acceleration put this massive, five-metre machine in true supercar territory. The Bentayga harnesses a new version of Bentley’s mighty 600bhp W12 engine and rides high on huge wheels, with all the off-road trickery to make effortless progress through any terrain and gradient.
In the metal, the challenges are slightly more obvious. Translating Bentley’s design language into an upright four-door has scrubbed out some of the marque’s typical muscular flow. The proportions, points out Sangyup Lee, the brand’s head of exterior and advanced design, are less SUV, more shooting brake, with a large rear overhang and steeply raked rear screen that doesn’t compromise utility. ‘It has to be very modern but also 100 per cent Bentley, even without the badge,’ he says. ‘It’s not a typical SUV two-box design.’
The Bentayga has to tick multiple boxes, distilling the Bentley spirit and substantial on-board accommodation into a high-performance package that won’t turn its nose up at sauntering up the steepest slope without breaking sweat. ‘The interior is all about truth to materials, wood, metal and leather,’ says Lee. It is also a technological showcase, stuffed full of discreet IT. The back seat is a suitable place to do business; optional extras include a £20k tripartite picnic hamper and a Breitling tourbillon dashboard clock (add £150k). If the standard trim isn’t enough, Bentley’s Mulliner division will fulfil your every whim, although such sybaritic excesses make off-roading akin to hauling a lavishly appointed Chippendale armoire over a mountain, Werner Herzog-style.
This is not a subtle car. But then, no one drives an SUV to keep a low profile. ‘At Bentley we really respect our traditions,’ says Lee, ‘but the luxury market is evolving.’ Someone, somewhere, is readying an obituary for the concept of ‘stealth wealth’.
As originally featured in the January 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*202)