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2017 Bentley Bentayga: First Drive Review

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author photo by Mark Elias May 2016

The introduction of any new Bentley is always an event -- so imagine what it turns into when the luxury automaker decides to dabble in the SUV realm. Always up for a party (even while maintaining a proverbial stiff upper lip), the crew from Crewe, England, jumps all in with the 2017 Bentley Bentayga.

When Bentley introduced the EXP 9 F concept at the Geneva Motor Show in 2012, critics derided the design as too conservative, too boxy and frankly too unnecessary to make a successful go of it in the marketplace. What a difference a few years make! The 2017 Bentley Bentayga does away with all the drawbacks that afflicted the original concept, and the result is a substantially better, more luxurious automobile.

What's a Bentayga, Anyway?

According to Bentley, the name Bentayga is a combination of Bentley and the Taiga, the world's largest transcontinental snow forest. Or could it be named for the Roque Bentayga mountain peak in the Canary Islands? Whatever the name's true origin, the 2017 Bentayga is prepped to do battle with the likes of SUVs from Land Rover, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and a future offering from Rolls-Royce.

Loaded for bear, with a new version of Bentley's 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12 engine, the Bentayga is stout enough for any situation it could encounter -- and then some. Producing 600 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque is sufficient to scoot the 5,380-pounder out of its own way, and those same specs generate a sports-car-like 0-to-60 mile-per-hour run in 4 seconds, with a top speed of 187 mph. Although mileage estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency are not yet available, they're expected to fall somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.

Diesel and hybrid powerplants should be part of the product mix in the future.

The Bentayga is fitted with a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, full-time all-wheel drive (AWD) and a Torsen center differential for all types of terrain.

This Bentley rides on an entirely new suspension that the driver can control (along with the engine and drivetrain) via a single rotary dial located on the center console. From there, you can opt for Comfort, Sport, Bentley (a combination of the previous two modes) or Custom settings for a constantly adaptable drive experience.

The range of drive types can be expanded with the available Off-Road setting, which adapts the ride to constantly changing off-road conditions. As we found in our test vehicle, the vehicle is quite capable of going virtually anywhere, and Bentley officials claim it is good for wading in up to 20 inches of water. To be fair, you'll probably never need to test the Bentayga in a river or stream, but knowing the ability is there if you need it only adds to the vehicle's appeal.

In addition to ride quality that can change on the fly, a computer-controlled air suspension raises and lowers the vehicle according to the tasks at hand. It can also be lowered to "access level" for easy loading and unloading of cargo. Finally, as an option, Bentley introduces the world's first 48-volt electric Active Roll Control technology, which manages to eliminate side wallow and keep the body roll relatively flat while negotiating turns and curves.

A Real Looker

Proportionally, the Bentayga flirts with but stops just short of being overbuilt. Relying on the same platform that underpins the Audi Q7 and A8, it features a long bonnet, or hood, with short overhang in front and a smallish rear glass with long overhang in the rear. The Bentley DNA is everywhere, from the chromed matrix grille, adorned above by the flying-B logo, to the rounded fenders shaped by superforming technology. This same process enables the presses to complete the shaping of the SUV's haunches over the rear wheels.

But inside the Bentayga is where the vehicle really makes its claims as the most luxurious SUV in the segment. Craftspeople and artisans in Crewe spent 130 hours per vehicle in total construction time, and most of that effort goes to the interior, which can be customized to an owner's taste. The company employs 58 veneer artisans who book-match an unlimited variety of wood to give the impression that the interior was crafted in a furniture factory. Leather craftspeople hand-stitch hides throughout and provide custom touches, including embroidery and contrast piping for a distinctive Bentley look. The automaker is so attuned to special requests that if you have a favorite tint or lipstick color, they can match it in hide tints and exterior paint. But be forewarned: Everything has its price.

Two types of interiors are available on order to accommodate four or five passengers. Bench-seat-equipped models are every bit as luxurious as any other Bentley, just not as exclusive. Ordering the 4-seater deletes the middle seat in the second row and essentially places two of the first-row thrones in the second position for executive-class seating, separated by a center console. All models offer heating and ventilation, as well as massage functions. A cooling box will be available at a later date.

The in-car entertainment is otherworldly, with an available rear-seat DVD system comprised of two removable 10-inch Android-based tablets that can leave the vehicle for charging and docking in an office. If live streaming is your thing, the Bentayga has you covered via the included 4G Wi-Fi hot spot. The standard 700-watt 12-speaker Bentley signature audio system can be swapped out in favor of the value-added 1,950-watt Naim Audio system, with 22 speakers and a 300-watt subwoofer in the boot. Apple CarPlay is standard. Rear cargo volume is 15.2 cu ft. for the 4-seater, while the 5-seat model checks in at 17.2 cu ft.

Behind the Wheel

The Bentayga is one of those rare vehicles with a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality -- but in the best way possible. Let's call driving in the Comfort or Bentley modes the vehicle's Jekyll side. Here, the luxury SUV displays impeccable road manners that absorb any imperfections, not to mention muffling any outside noise intrusions we encountered while driving through the backwoods of Connecticut. Steering is well sorted with good road feel, and the 8-speed automatic transmission never went hunting for a proper gear.

If you want to encounter the Bentayga's Hyde personality, just switch the rotary dial to Sport mode. The SUV transforms into one of the world's fastest luxury vehicles, with neck-snapping acceleration and an intoxicating growl that had us tearing down the front straightaway at the legendary Lime Rock Park racetrack. Standing hard on the brakes produced virtually no fade before going into a right-hander that quickly sent us on our way to the other end of the facility. After a few laps, we experienced the Active Roll Control technology in an accident-avoidance maneuver, which had us accelerating then braking heavily while swerving right to avoid a collision. The system worked as designed, offering a rapid lane change without any untoward body roll.

The Bentley Bentayga comes well equipped right from the factory. The standard W12 model with full-time AWD will begin at $229,100. The W12 First Edition, which we tested, will start at $297,400. Individual pricing depends on any special options, such as the additional $28,000 picnic unit. A local Bentley retailer can provide you with more information.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Bentley Bentayga: First Drive Review - Autotrader