The world’s first ultra-luxe SUV has arrived, creating a new standard of opulence for the millionaires and billionaires who demand gobs of power, acres of leather, and the ability to tower over plebeians while fording rivers or scaling dunes—even if they almost certainly won’t ever venture beyond the gravel road leading to the stable or dock.
We first glimpsed the Bentayga in 2012, when Bentley unveiled the EXP 9 F concept at the Geneva auto show. Like many automakers, it saw an opportunity to give the filthy rich with a taste for SUVs something a little more exclusive than a Range Rover or Mercedes G500 to play with. The crew from Crew may be the first to market with a super premium truck—and let’s be honest, that’s what it is—but Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, and Lamborghini all have SUVs in the works.
Until the competition arrives, Bentley’s got the stage to itself with the Bentayga (the name comes from a rock formation on one of the Canary Islands) and can safely say it’s got the fastest production SUV on the planet, as well as the fanciest.
It is axiomatic that a stupidly expensive SUV must also be stupidly powerful. And so Bentley developed a new twin-turbocharged 6-liter 12-cylinder engine that’s good for 600 horsepower and a locomotive-like 633 pound-feet of torque. Such numbers propel the 5,240-pound leviathan to 60 mph from a standstill in a wowza-quick four seconds flat. That’s one-tenth slower than the Porsche Carrera S.
Top speed is an eyeball-compressing 187 mph, which puts it ahead of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, not to mention more pedestrian vehicles like the Ford Mustang GT or BMW M4. It’s so potent that Bentley plans to use it in future versions of the Continental and Flying Spur. For those who like to pretend their eco-conscious, Bentley will offer diesel and hybrid versions at some point.
You’d expect something so big and powerful to deliver single-digit fuel economy, and the Bentayga surely will if you’re hammering it. But drive with a modicum of restraint and you’ll see 16 mpg (combined, US). To do that, used a variable displacement system that deactivates six of the 12 cylinders when they’re not needed for extra power.
The Bentayga’s start-stop setup has been modified so the engine shuts off as you’re coming to a stop (most systems shut off once you’ve stopped). In another cool trick, take your foot off the gas at higher speeds and the engine idles so the SUV essentially coasts (a cool trick previously seen in things like the VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid). Overall, the powertrain is nearly 12 percent more efficient that its predecessor.
Naturally, the Bentayga comes loaded with the latest generation of active safety features like traffic sign recognition and cross traffic alert. Adaptive cruise control maintains a safe distance between everyone else on the highway. But Bentley’s taken it one step further with “Predictive Adaptive Cruise Control,” which uses navigation data and cameras to spots speed limit changes and sharp corners, and adjust the speed accordingly.
If you find yourself somewhere without a valet, it can park itself in a parallel or perpendicular spot.
Inside, the Bentayga’s as sumptuous as anything bearing a Bentley badge should be. The doors close with a vault-like thump, shutting out noise from the outside. Knobs are knurled to give them a more tactile feel (and more expensive appearance), and the sound they make is the type of detail Bentley engineers sweat over. “They can click plasticky, or they can click valuable,” says CEO Wolfgang Durheimer.
The front and rear seats (except the middle, if you go for the five-person configuration) are heated and cooled. They’re covered in leather pulled from cows that live only in cooler European climates—where they are subjected to fewer biting insects that might mar the hides. Of course they (the seats, not the cows) also offer massages, so you can fully relax while looking up through the 14.5-square foot panoramic glass roof.
Chrome ashtrays are available for those who enjoy the occasional cigar, and Bentley’s not about to scold you for enjoying your financial success.
To make sure the Bentayga can handle the rougher side of life, Bentley test drivers took it “from the dirt and gravel of South Africa and the dunes of Dubai, to the muddle fields of Cheshire, and form -30 C in the frozen North Cap to searing 50 C desert head.” It’s not a trials racing car—Durheimer says it won’t handle the Rubicon Trail, for example—but it’ll handle the snow-covered path to a ski chalet just fine.
The question with the Bentayga is the same we ask about today’s ultra-luxurious Range Rovers: Is anyone actually taking these off-roading? Or is the biggest obstacle they face jumping a curb at a mall parking lot?
“We assume our SUVs are used 95 to 98 percent on paved surfaces,” Durheimer says. But that doesn’t mean the customers don’t want—or demand—that it be capable should they ever find themselves driving through a snowstorm or flood. A customer may never click the knurled knob into snow or sand mode, but they’re paying a moderate fortune to have it there, at the ready.