This is the best SUV in the world
Those were the words of Andy Lewis, the head of product marketing at Bentley; an assertion of confidence streamed to journalists the world over mere weeks after the 2021 Bentayga facelift was uncovered over the internet.
With the Covid-19 situation effectively blocking millions of marketing dollars from being splurged on international press events, carmakers have been forced to find creative ways to get their latest products out there. And one of those ways involves Mr Lewis talking to me through a screen while I stand just a few feet away from the actual car – a road-worthy prototype of the latest Bentayga in all its rose gold glory – right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Protons and Peroduas aside, I don’t think I’ve ever driven a car on Malaysian tarmac so soon after its global premiere – 28 days later to be precise. But Bentley’s haste is understandable. The Bentayga is the fastest selling car in the British marque’s history. It accounts for nearly 45 percent of all new Bentleys sold last year and the 20,000th unit just rolled off the line in Crewe about two months ago. Clearly, this momentum is a goldmine that Bentley wants to preserve at all costs, especially when Aston Martin DBX deliveries and Ferrari’s upcoming SUV are just around the corner.
The new Bentayga certainly looks like a brand new product from every angle, engineered from the ground up to maintain Bentley’s edge in an increasingly competitive luxury SUV game. But it’s essentially a facelift in very loose terms; loose because 1,000 of its components are completely new. Among the obvious ones are the cut-crystal headlights, each housing 48 LEDs, and wider grille fencing up the returning four-litre V8 engine. They amplify the notion that the Bentayga is simply a Continental GT on stilts – a Continental Cross so to speak.
While it seems like an effective way of dolling up the face of an SUV that already looks perfectly at home in a rap video, I’m not too convinced about how the Continental GT’s design cues have been applied to the Bentayga’s rear end. Make the five-metre-long journey along its side, past the 22-inch painted alloy wheels that are part of the ‘Mulliner Driving Specification’ and you’ll find the same elliptical clusters flanking the GT’s boot lid looking a tad awkward in a bigger sea of metal. The B-shaped LED signatures, which I thought were a defining visual trait of the old Bentayga, are gone. And the number plate has dropped to the bumper to create more negative space for the emblems.
To the 2021 Bentayga’s credit, its massive rump is new in more ways than a debatable one. The one we’re most interested in at TG is the 20mm increase in rear track (more on how it drives later). There’s also a new removable tablet with a bigger screen and more processing power for rear passengers to fiddle with. The seat frame has been revised too; it manages to extend legroom by 100mm without the help of any structural changes while doubling the range of recline. My only gripe here is how rudimental the manual, spring-loaded reclining mechanism feels in comparison with the rest of the car.
This may seem like some unnecessary nit-picking for what is ultimately a pre-production tester. But expectations are high for the new Bentayga – and Flying Spur – now that the Mulsanne has been discontinued as an out-and-out flagship.
To that end, every other corner of the posh SUV’s quarters looks and feels exquisite. The analogue clock flanked by air vents mimicking Bentley’s signature wings, for one, make for a classy centrepiece that helps take your mind off the absent rotating display. A digital instrument cluster and 10.9-inch touchscreen infotainment with wireless Apple CarPlay – which looks like it may have been ripped off a recent Audi or Porsche – may not sound like a fitting complement for the royal-spec ‘Linen and Brunel’ leather upholstery with ‘Koa’ wood veneer. But the gadgetry and material extravagance fuse surprisingly well in a car engineered for traditionalists and innovators alike.
Bentley is clearly paying more attention to touchpoints and technology in the new Bentayga than outright performance – something the original Bentayga W12 already proved capable of back in 2015 in a landscape free of rivalry from the likes of DBX, Lamborghini Urus, Rolls-Royce Cullinan. That said, the sole twin-turbo V8 is no slouch either. Sure, one can argue that 542bhp and 770Nm is peppy at best for a block of metal that tips the scales at 2.4 tonnes. But the Bentayga is rapid – it does 0-100kph in 4.4 seconds with a vmax of 290kph – and deceptively so.
This came to light on the North-South Expressway en-route to Ipoh, when a glance at the speedo induced a brief moment of disbelief. Despite its 1,742mm height, the Bentayga is one of those cars that feels equally composed across a range of speeds broader than most national limits; a family-spec Continental GT, so to speak. And I was often fooled into thinking I was doing half my actual speed, such is the big Bentley’s expert insulation and stellar ride comfort (I managed to sneak in a lovely nap while testing out the ride in the back).
Although the W12’s bark and bite will certainly be missed – until the new Bentayga Speed comes along, that is – the V8 still makes for a properly fast SUV, even if it may lack some of the theatrics expected in this segment; AMG’s GLC63 S easily sounds more aggressive, though Sport mode certainly helps open up the Bentayga’s vocal cords. In normal driving conditions, cylinder deactivation and the eight-speed ZF box’s silky shifts ensure the car behaves just as any other premium SUV would in urban conditions. And manoeuvrability is relatively easy too for something measuring 2.2m wide and 5.1m long. This is after factoring in our drive on the wrong side of the road – navigating a LHD Bentayga through KL’s notorious traffic was not as daunting as we initially feared. It’s really pretty well set up for daily commutes.
For weekend jaunts, the returning 48V electric anti-roll bars continue to endow the Bentayga with the dynamic prowess of a sleeker machine. Along with the air dampers capable of reducing the car’s bulk to a hunkered-down form in a split second to cope with more spirited settings, the suspension excels in applications requiring comfort and performance alike. The aforementioned wider rear track aids their cause by improving steering response and linearity. And while the electric-assisted rack isn’t the most engaging one you can sample in the multi-million Ringgit bracket, I certainly have no qualms about calling the Bentayga a driver-oriented SUV in spite of its excess.
The Bentayga is the car with the broadest remit in history
The credit for that line goes to the Bentayga’s product line director, Chris Cole. He goes on to remind us of his project’s brief: an SUV that can deliver the performance of a supercar, ride comfort of a limousine and off-road ability to rival a Range Rover. And it’s safe to say Crewe has delivered.
Even though the LHD orientation put me within touching distance of every kerb and wide-eyed pedestrian throughout my time in the driver’s seat, there’s no denying the sense of occasion the Bentayga’s cockpit conjures. An all-terrain shootout with the Range Rover may be needed to objectively verify Bentley’s claim, but the Bentayga’s aptitude in reproducing the finest traits of a supercar and limousine within the frame of an SUV leaves me no reason to cast any doubt. And this is only the beginning for Crewe’s revitalised best seller.
To build on the momentum established by the initial V8 model tested, which can be had in four- or five-seat configurations, Bentley will soon make a seven-seat option available, before introducing a hybrid variant for markets that are more electrically-inclined later this year. And then there’s the second coming of the six-litre W12 engine which is expected to power the upcoming Bentayga Speed; the one I believe Malaysian buyers should be keener for as it continues to be one of the most cost-effective ways to own a brand new 12-cylinder car here given the taxation structure for SUVs (its annual road tax should amount to RM6,360 versus RM15,405 for the same engine in the Continental GT).
Then again, such fees are trivial matters for a million-Ringgit (before taxes) car which trivialises every trial and reservation thrown at it, such is its overflowing confidence and broad range of talents. If the future of high-end motoring is really going to be defined by SUVs, then the Bentayga is a benchmark done right.
Bentley Bentayga V8
Price: From RM743,900* (RM1,061,000* as tested)
Engine: 4.0L twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 770Nm
Transmission: 8spd ZF auto, AWD
Performance: 0-100 in 4.4 secs, 290kph
*Prices not inclusive of duties, taxes and registration
Debatable styling aside, the Bentayga continues to be one of the best all-rounders in its segment; a genuinely likeable "Premier League footballer's car" which addresses both luxury SUV and supercar portions of its formula with equal amounts of character and finesse.