New Ferrari Purosangue & Lotus Eletre vs Bentley Bentayga

These super-fast, high-riding missiles sit right at the top of the sports SUV food chain. But which one is the king?...

Ferrari Purosangue leading Lotus Eletre and Bentley Bentayga over Severn Bridge

If, like many, you have an unhealthy addiction to social media app TikTok, you might have come across Steve Varsano, a private jet broker with millions of followers and (we assume) many more millions in the bank.

Operating from his opulent showroom on London’s Park Lane, complete with an Airbus fuselage in the reception, no less, Varsano’s videos delve into the intricacies of purchasing a private jet. It’s a fascinating process that few of us will experience first hand, and it’s remarkably similar to acquiring a super-SUV.

Whether you’re in the market for a Bentley or a Bombardier, the same basic questions need answering. How much are you willing to spend? How much room do you need for people and luggage? How far do you want to travel? Interior appointments need to be selected, too, and there’s the issue of whether you can handle the operating costs. Happily, What Car? is here to help, and our advice comes without the hefty invoice that Varsano will hand you.

So, relax, pour yourself a glass of champagne (or Prosecco, if that’s more your budget), and let us take you on a high-speed sortie to some of our favourite Welsh roads, as we guide you through the current state of play in the world of the super-SUV.

The contenders

The first candidate is the highly anticipated Ferrari Purosangue, which, rather awkwardly, isn’t an SUV – at least, not according to Ferrari. The brand claims the Purosangue defines a new genre and is a thing all of its own.

And you know what? Even though its raised stance still makes it an SUV in our book, we can see where the Italians are coming from. There is next to no bloat in its design; everywhere you look, there are taut, unyielding lines, almost as if the body of the brand’s 812 Superfast sports coupé has been tightly wrapped around a more practical, hatchback package.

Ferrari Purosangue rear

And while we were tempted to discount its name as marketing fluff (the Italian word ‘Purosangue’ translates as ‘pure blood’ or ‘thoroughbred’), it’s undeniably the most driver-focused super-SUV on the market. It has only four seats, it features impossibly clever adjustable suspension (more on that later), its structure is said to be stiffer than that of the now-discontinued GTC4 Lusso, and it’s powered by a front-mid-mounted 6.5-litre V12 petrol engine. This is all proper supercar stuff.

But does that mean it’s the best super-SUV? To shine a spotlight on the Purosangue’s strengths and weaknesses, we’ve brought along two alternatives that take very different approaches to earning that appellation: the Bentley Bentayga S and the Lotus Eletre.

While the Purosangue was conceived as a bespoke model from the ground up, using ingredients from Ferrari’s own kitchen, the Bentayga is essentially a re-engineered Audi Q7 with a twin-turbocharged V8 engine sourced from Porsche. This may sound like a compromise, but experience tells us that the Bentaga’s high-speed opulence is hard to beat. In other words, it is laced with Bentley DNA.

Ferrari Purosangue with Lotus Eletre and Bentley Bentayga noses

By contrast, it’s fair to say that the Eletre shares nothing in common with any Lotus that has gone before it. It’s heavy, it’s electric and – crucially – it’s not a sports car. However, two of those criticisms were levelled at the Porsche Cayenne when it was launched, and that SUV’s huge popularity keeps its maker in rude financial health. So, if you like Lotus’s traditional models and would like to see more, it’s in your interest for the Eletre to do well.

And on paper at least, the stats look promising, whichever Eletre you go for. We’ve opted for the twin-motor, 600bhp S model (visual garnish aside, it’s mechanically identical to the standard Eletre), which is capable of 0-62mph in a claimed 4.5sec – a match for the Bentayga S but some way off the 3.3sec time of the Purosangue. A 900bhp R version is also available, bringing an uprated rear motor, a two-speed gearbox and a 0-62mph sprint time of 2.9sec. We’ll be putting that model through its paces later this year.

Behind the wheel

Cruising along the M4 motorway in convoy gives us a chance to assess our interior surroundings, and the first surprise comes from the similarities to be found between the Ferrari and Lotus. We say ‘surprise’, because despite occupying two very different price brackets, they’re almost inseparable – materially at least.

Ferrari Purosangue dashboard

Everywhere you look (and touch), you’ll find swathes of Alcantara synthetic suede, grey decorative carbonfibre trim inserts and exquisitely stitched leather, while front seat passengers get their very own infotainment screens. You also sit relatively low in both cars, gripped by heavily bolstered sports seats.

The Ferrari is better at making you feel like you’re behind the wheel of a GT car, though. With its long bonnet, low windscreen and a yellow rev-counter taking centre stage behind its flat-bottomed carbonfibre steering wheel, you are immediately primed for an old-school Ferrari driving experience. Sounds perfect, right? Well, it’s great until you try to use the infotainment system.

Like that in the Ferrari 296 GTB sports car, the Purosangue’s infotainment screen is housed within the instrument binnacle itself, with control via touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel. Unfortunately, while these are indented for easier identification (unlike those of the 296), there’s no haptic feedback to confirm presses, and with a significant lag before your commands are obeyed, they’re a distracting nuisance while driving.

Lotus Eletre dashboard

This interface is so bad that you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when you jump behind the wheel of the Lotus, with its superb 15.1in OLED touchscreen. It’s exceptionally sharp and highly responsive, plus its menus are thoughtfully arranged, making it a pleasure to use.

The Eletre’s screen is also easier to operate than the Bentayga’s relatively puny 10.9in effort. However, even that is far better than the Purosangue’s system, and we do like the row of physical shortcut switches below the Bentayga’s screen and the matching climate control dials; these operate with the precision of a fine Swiss watch and have knurled edges that delight the fingertips.

In fact, it strikes us as rather ironic that the Bentayga – despite its Audi Q7 origins – feels the most special and bespoke of the three inside. That’s no doubt helped by the myriad trim, leather and stitching options available (our car featured £3185 Brushed Aluminium trim inserts and an £8260 Mulliner Colour Specification dual-tone interior). Another option is a 1780-watt, 20-speaker Naim sound system, which sounds a tad richer than the still mightily impressive 2160-watt, 23-speaker KEF sound system in the Lotus. It also leaves the 1420-watt, 21-speaker Burmester system in the Ferrari sounding a touch flat.

Bentley Bentayga behind the wheel

If you’re after the most hushed motorway cruiser, the Bentley is the super-SUV for you. Packed to the gunwales with sound-deadening materials, it is whisper-quiet at high speeds compared with the Ferrari and Lotus, both of which generate noticeably higher levels of wind and road noise.

Lounging around

Our first proper pit stop takes place underneath the iconic Severn Bridge and gives us some time to eat lunch, take some picturesque snaps and, crucially, inspect the rear seating situation. Because let’s face it, what’s the point in owning a continent-crushing super-SUV if it isn’t big enough to accommodate your best mates and their requisite ski gear?

To everyone’s surprise, Lotus – previously the purveyor of small, cramped sports cars – has designed an SUV with as much rear passenger space as the Bentley. In fact, the Eletre offers fractionally more head room than the Bentayga (on account of its £1200 panoramic roof being fixed and non-retractable) and just as much leg room.

Ferrari Purosangue with Lotus Eletre and Bentley Bentayga under Severn Bridge

That is to say, loads; we honestly don’t see the need to order your Bentayga in long-wheelbase form. Instead, if you want a touch more comfort, we’d opt for the £10,670, four-seat ‘executive’ configuration, which swaps the rear bench for two individually adjustable rear seats that are separated by additional storage. A similar set-up can also be had in the Eletre and, at £5000, it almost looks like good value – especially when it nets you a 9.0in rear touchscreen that is noticeably bigger than the 5.0in ‘remote’ screen in the Bentagya.

Ferrari, meanwhile, provides two individual rear seats as standard, with a storage compartment between them, but the term ‘executive’ would be rather a stretch. While the seats can be electrically reclined like those in its rivals, they’re rather thinly padded, and the aggressively sloping roof forces occupants into a relatively upright position. An adult of average size seated behind someone similar up front will find only a hand’s width of head and leg room – plenty for short trips but far from ideal on long-distance jaunts.

The Eletre’s boot initially appears shallow, but it’s deceptively spacious, accommodating 10 carry-on suitcases below its parcel shelf. In the four-seat guise of our test car, the Bentayga loses a small amount of load space compared with the standard five-seater, but either way its boot isn’t as capacious as the Eletre’s, accepting eight cases. Meanwhile, the Purosangue’s boot can hold just five cases; if you’re eyeing up this car, it might be wise to set aside some funds for fitted luggage, or better yet, arrange to have your entire wardrobe flown ahead.

Bentley Bentayga with Lotus Eletre and Ferrari Purosangue boots open

Regarding seating flexibility, the two rear seats and centre storage box in the Purosangue fold down in a 40/20/40 split, as do the standard rear bench seats of the Bentayga and Eletre. However, if you opt for the latter models in their four-seat configurations, their seats don’t fold at all. Nevertheless, in the Bentayga, you do get a ski hatch for added convenience.

The black mountains

With the sensible practicality tests out of the way, we’re keen to head to some twisty roads and discover just what these super-SUVs can do. The A4107 – just a 20-minute diversion off the M4 – is a perfect test for cars like these, with a smooth surface and long hairpin bends that can push a car’s balance, tyres and suspension to their limits.

In this environment, the Eletre – an SUV that Lotus claims ‘drives like a Lotus’ – should thrive, and for the first couple of miles at least, it does a pretty good impression of a well-sorted performance car. Body lean is well controlled through the hairpins, and even the Purosangue struggles to stay ahead of the Eletre when leaving them, such is the instantaneous thrust from its electric motors.

Ferrari Purosangue front cornering

However, in faster bends, it doesn’t take long before the Eletre starts to run wide of your intended line. Try to correct this with a stab of the accelerator pedal or by lifting off mid-corner, like you might in a Lotus sports car, and the Eletre remains resolutely inert; its handling balance is safe rather than sporty. We’re looking forward to finding out whether the Eletre feels more nimble and rewarding to drive when fitted with the Dynamic Handling Pack, which includes active anti-roll control and four-wheel steering. This is standard on the R and a £6599 option on other versions.

The Eletre also sends your head tossing from side to side when it encounters uneven surfaces and changes of road camber; the Bentagya S does a much better job of isolating occupants from the same imperfections. This is no doubt helped by the fact that its cushy air suspension (with active anti-roll control) is only 15% firmer than that of the regular Bentayga, which is exceptionally comfortable.

The Bentayga also has much less of a tendency to tramline and be pulled into ruts than the Eletre, and this – combined with a wonderfully flexible V8 engine and a smooth-shifting eight-speed gearbox – makes it a massively relaxing car to cover ground in. But exciting? Not particularly. The steering could do with being much sharper, heat-dissipating carbon-ceramic brakes should be standard (the steel discs got worryingly hot while driving back and forth for photography) and it is surprising that Bentley hasn’t seen fit to up the power of the V8 engine for the S model; like the regular Bentayga, the S makes do with 542bhp.

Bentley Bentayga front cornering

It’s what we would call ample power rather than astonishing, and that’s not a criticism you can level at the Purosangue. Rumour has it that interest surged when Ferrari announced it would feature a V12, and it only takes five minutes behind the wheel to see why. Plant your foot into the carpet and the engine’s song transforms from an aggressive snarl into a full-blooded howl; total output is 715bhp at 7750rpm, yet the needle can stray beyond 8k before a gearchange is demanded.

From a standstill (on a race track), 62mph arrives in 3.3sec and 120mph in 10.6sec, yet somehow it doesn’t feel too fast for the road. In the Ferrari 812 Superfast, the same engine feels overwhelming at times, but it has more decorum in the Purosangue, enabling you to enjoy its vast power without fatigue setting in.   

In truth, Ferrari could have thrown that V12 into a bus and it would sell like hotcakes, but the engineers at Maranello still went to great lengths to give the Purosangue handling to match. We’re talking four-wheel steering, Multimatic active dampers and a four-wheel drive system that’s so complicated we’ll not even attempt to explain it here.

Ferrari Purosangue engine

These clever systems work in unison to create a natural sense of agility and balance. Front-end turn-in is sharp, while the rear-biased four-wheel drive system allows you to play with the car’s cornering stance at will. It is exciting, interactive and very un-SUV-like. And while the high-tech suspension can’t completely hide the car’s significant mass, bottoming out on a couple of occasions with the dampers in their soft setting, the Purosangue soaks up most bumps far better than you might expect of a car with such tight body control and large wheels. Dynamically, it rewrites the fast SUV playbook.

The operating costs

Amazingly, in this company, the Eletre looks like good value. It costs £94,155 less than the Bentayga S and a whopping £207,555 less than the Purosangue. It is important to note, however, that both the Bentley and Ferrari are expected to hold on to their value better.

And while the promise of cheap overnight home charging means the Eletre should cost less to run than petrol alternatives, prepare to foot a hefty bill if you have to rely on the public charging network. On our 428-mile road trip, it returned just 2.07 miles per kWh, giving it a theoretical range of 226 miles – 36% down on its official figure. We had to stop and charge three times, taking on a total of 239.05kW for £188.84.

Lotus Eletre charging rear

That means the Eletre cost more to ‘fuel’ on this trip than the Bentagya S (£175.40), although it did prove more abstemious than the thirsty Purosangue (£267.83). Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have the Eletre on your company car list, you’re quids in. Electric cars attract fantastic benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax breaks, so it will set you back a tiny amount in monthly salary sacrifices compared with any petrol SUV.

All three cars provide such goodies as keyless entry and start, Matrix LED headlights and wireless smartphone charging, but the fact that you have to splash out on a £5800 Touring Specification pack before your Bentayga S gains adaptive cruise control is a little odd. That said, against the Purosangue’s £20,000 four-layer paint job, such an expense almost seems reasonable. In total, the Ferrari’s options added up to £98,259, including its panoramic sunroof – a snip at £12,326.

When it comes to safety, none of these vehicles has been tested by the independent experts at Euro NCAP, but it’s clear the Eletre has the most advanced safety systems. There are 34 – yes really, 34 – sensors on the Eletre, including four deployable LIDAR sensors that map the world around the car. In time, this should enable hands-off driving, but there is no legal framework for it to operate this way just yet. At present, though, the adaptive cruise with lane assist is impressive, keeping you locked to your lane in a confidence-inspiring manner.

Lotus Eletre leading Ferrari Purosangue and Bentley Bentayga across Severn Bridge

Our verdict

Ferrari purists can breathe a collective sigh of relief, because the Purosangue sets a new benchmark for handling among SUVs. The grip, balance and poise it exhibits in fast corners have to be experienced to be believed, while its V12 engine is nothing short of a masterpiece.

However, this performance comes at a cost, and we’re not talking purely financial. The Purosangue isn’t as usable as most conventional high-end SUVs, having only just enough room for you to bring along a couple of friends and their overnight bags. Some will be willing to put up with this compromise, but if practicality is the very reason that you’re considering an SUV, you will no doubt be better served by the Bentayga. And space isn’t the Bentley’s only virtue; it also happens to be classier inside and quieter at a cruise, plus – for those among whom such things matter – it’s significantly less expensive to buy.

Ultimately, in this rarefied corner of the market, it all comes down to personal preference. Do you want effortless luxury with a hint of sportiness, or sports car dynamics with a dash of practicality? The choice is yours.

Ferrari Purosangue with Bentley Bentayga and Lotus Eletre rears at night

The Eletre, meanwhile, is something of an outlier, proving that things are different if you want a super-SUV that’s powered by electrons rather than petroleum. While it’s practical, well equipped and blindingly quick in the real world, it simply doesn’t engage its driver like a Lotus should, and that’s a problem when the brand claims that its SUV handles like a sports car.

The Eletre might well surpass the expectations of electric luxury SUV buyers, but it’s likely to leave petrol-blooded Lotus loyalists a little cold.

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Specifications: Ferrari Purosangue

Ferrari Purosangue bonnet badge

Price £313,360
Engine 12cyl, 6496cc, petrol
Power 715bhp at 7750rpm
Torque 528lb ft at 6250rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic, 4WD
0-62mph 3.3sec
Top speed 193mph
Official economy na
Test economy 13.0mpg
CO2, tax band 393g/km, 37%

Specifications: Lotus Eletre S

Lotus Eletre bonnet badge

Price £105,805
Engine Two electric motors
Power 603bhp
Torque 524lb ft
Gearbox 1-spd automatic, 4WD
0-62mph 4.5sec
Top speed 160mph
Battery capacity 109kWh (usable)
Peak charging rate 350kW
Charging times 10-80% (peak rate) 20min, 10-80% (7kW) 17hr 30min
Official range 354 miles
Test range 226 miles
CO2, tax band 0g/km, 2%

Specifications: Bentley Bentayga S

Bentley Bentayga bonnet badge

Price £199,960
Engine 8cyl, 3996cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 542bhp at 5750-6000rpm
Torque 568lb ft at 1960-4500rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic, 4WD
0-62mph 4.5sec
Top speed 180mph
Official economy 21.7mpg
Test economy 19.7mpg
CO2, tax band 294g/km, 37%

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