The Bentley Bentayga marks a new direction for the British brand, although this new SUV certainly still looks like a Bentley. The strong rear haunch and the diamond grille on the nose are both instantly recognisable.
Like the Flying Spur and Continental before it, the Bentayga takes full advantage of the VW Group’s ownership of the British firm. Beneath its imposing looks is essentially the same architecture that underpins Audi’s flagship SUV, the Q7.
The Q7 is already large, but at 5.14m long the Bentayga is even bigger. Unlike its Audi cousin, the Bentley won't be available as a seven-seater from the outset, although one will be offered later.
So will diesel engines and hybrid powerplants, although from the start Bentley is offering a 6.0-litre W12 petrol engine.
What's the 2016 Bentley Bentayga like to drive?
Let’s face it, if you have a car that weighs the best part of 2.5 tonnes but you want it to reach 60mph in 4.0sec and go on to 187mph, you’re going to need a massive engine. A 6.0-litre with 12 cylinders and two turbochargers should do the trick.
There’s cylinder deactivation technology fitted as standard, and this new unit is 30kg lighter than its predecessor, but it still emits 297g/km of CO2 and promises just 21.6mpg, officially. You'll be lucky to get anywhere near that in reality.
The Bentayga has four on-road driving modes and four off-road ones for its air suspension and four-wheel-drive powertrain. The ride is generally very good, as you'd expect from a Bentley, with only the occasional echoey ‘bong’ over sharp-edged bumps. It doesn’t matter that much whether you’re in Comfort or Sport (or the default, ‘Bentley’) mode, because things never become overly firm.
The Bentayga gets active anti-roll bars, which stiffen or slacken depending on what you’re doing. In corners they quickly stiffen to minimise body roll and keep the movements of that large body in check. It all works with remarkable effect.
As for the W12 engine, well, it's smooth enough at low revs, but work it harder and it doesn't sound that special. Put simply, the Bentayga wouldn’t hurt for a bit more 'woofle'. There’s also the occasional snatch from the automatic gearbox at low speeds.
Overall, though, the Bentayta is a quiet and very comfortable big SUV. True, it isn't as agile as, say, a Range Rover Sport but it's explosively fast in a straight line and an enjoyable thing to drive swiftly – as long as you're smooth – thanks to its well-weighted steering.
What's the 2016 Bentley Bentayga like inside?
There are a few clues in here that give away the Bentayga's roots, but no more than you’d find in other Bentleys, such as the Continental.
The new electronic controller for the eight-speed transmission leaves more room around it for additional switches and convenience features. Ditto the steering wheel still gets manual override paddles, but as in a VW or an Audi they’re small and rotate with the wheel.
Meanwhile, the part-touchscreen, part-dial-controlled infotainment system – while the best we've ever tried – has a level of ease and functionality like no Bentley before it.
The materials around you are what will elevate the Bentley in the opinions of many, with leather and veneer, turned aluminium air vents and their organ stop adjusters all reminding you that this is a cabin that has had a lot of attention paid to its creation. There is a tremendous feeling of quality, the detail on the chrome bezels on the switchgear, some of the panels - it is beyond what the market offers at the moment.
The front of the cabin is cocoon-like with a high centre console, while the Bentayga has loads of space in the back. If you buy the four-seat version – as most will, according to Bentley – then you'll get two armchair-like seats in the back rather than the usual bench. They're extremely comfortable and it's easy to get in and out.
Boot space is very generous. The load bay is flat and long, and plenty big enough for several large suitcases. There aren’t many clever tricks or cubbyholes, instead it's just a nice, uncompromised space in which to stow things.
Should I buy one?
The Bentayga ably fills one of the widest remits a manufacturer has ever set itself. Bentley has established a reputation as a maker of sporting cars that must also be luxurious. It’s hard enough in itself to make a luxury saloon that can do the thick end of 200mph while fulfilling the ‘luxury’ part of the tag.
Now throw on top of those demands the additional need for this vehicle to travel, as it will be asked to, into sand dunes or across frozen wastes, or to tow several tonnes of horse and trailer, and you start to appreciate the task Bentley has set itself.
It would, presumably, have been rather easier if it didn’t have to worry about the whole 187mph thing as well, but then it wouldn't be a Bentley. Yes, that £160k asking price is very high when you consider high-end versions of the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne are even sharper to drive and just as rapid, but we can't see any of that putting off buyers who want the ultimate SUV.
What Car? says...
Engine size 6.0-litre W12 petrol
Price from £160,000
Torque 664lb ft
0-60mph 4.0 seconds
Top speed 187mph
Fuel economy 21.6mpg