2017 Bentley Bentayga: First Drive

17Bentley_Bentayga_First-Drive_MH_01.jpg 2017 Bentley Bentayga | photo by Mike Hanley

CARS.COM — If you have enough money you can buy pretty much whatever you want when it comes to cars. Want a 577-horsepower wagon? No problem. Need an all-electric performance sedan? You got it. What you couldn’t buy, though, was an ultraluxury SUV. That’s about to change with the debut of the 2017 Bentley Bentayga.

Related: Bentayga: Bentley’s Fast, Luxurious First SUV

With a starting price of $231,825 including a $2,725 destination charge, the Bentayga makes the Land Rover Range Rover (starting price: $85,945) look affordable and aims to provide the same go-anywhere capability while also delivering the kind of refined on-road performance expected of a Bentley.

To that end, I had the chance to drive the Bentayga on surfaces many U.S. buyers likely never will encounter with theirs: rolling desert dunes, technical off-road terrain and a racetrack. In between, I was able to drive the Bentayga on the highway, city streets and winding mountain roads.

17Bentley_Bentayga_First-Drive_MH_03.jpg 2017 Bentley Bentayga | photo by Mike Hanley

The most remarkable thing about the Bentayga is how well it handles all of these vastly different terrains. It’ll plow through loose sand and tiptoe down a 30-degree descent just as well as it effortlessly cruises on the highway. While it seems a little excessive to build so much off-road capability into a vehicle that will rarely, if ever, see that kind of terrain in the U.S., Bentley has done a masterful job integrating the technology that enables the Bentayga’s multifaceted performance capability. Plus, it wouldn’t be an ultraluxury SUV if a little excess weren’t involved, am I right?

Speaking of excess, the Bentayga uses a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine. It’s an all-new version of the 12-cylinder engine that’s appeared in other Bentleys such as the Continental GT sports car, and it’s rated at 600 hp and 664 pounds-feet of torque. It uses a special oil system to ensure the engine gets enough oil even on 35-degree inclines. Engine power is routed through an eight-speed automatic transmission to a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system. Bentley claims the 5,379-pound SUV can hit 60 mph in 4 seconds on its way to a top speed of 187 mph.

As high-performance engines go, this 12-cylinder is incredibly refined. At idle, you can’t hear it or feel any engine vibration from the driver’s seat. Power comes on in a wave that makes passing slower traffic on two-lane roads effortless. Like the Range Rover with the supercharged V-8 engine, the Bentayga has plenty of power to spare at highway speeds. Eventually, V-8 and plug-in hybrid V-6 models will be offered for the Bentayga.

17Bentley_Bentayga_First-Drive_MH_04.jpg 2017 Bentley Bentayga | photo by Mike Hanley

As good as the 12-cylinder engine is, I was more impressed with the Bentayga’s optional active suspension system. Dubbed Bentley Dynamic Ride, the system uses electric motors that act on the stabilizer bars to limit body roll in corners. It’s an effective system; it kept the Bentayga relatively flat on winding mountain roads and made this big SUV feel more at home on a 17-turn, 2.7-mile racetrack than it had any right to be.

Working with the active stabilizer bars is a four-corner air suspension. An air suspension might conjure thoughts of pillow-soft ride quality, but that’s not what the Bentayga provides; the ride is relatively firm, and small imperfections like cracks or bumps in the road are transmitted to the cabin, making the ride feel busy at times. Ultraluxury shoppers likely are going to expect more road isolation than the setup provides. Suspension responses don’t appreciably change whether you’re in the Comfort, Bentley or Sport modes, which are selected via a rotary knob on the center console. Sport does, however, improve acceleration response and keeps more engine power at the ready by preventing the automatic transmission from upshifting aggressively.

17Bentley_Bentayga_First-Drive_MH_05.jpg 2017 Bentley Bentayga | photo by Mike Hanley

The Bentayga shares its platform with the redesigned 2017 Audi Q7 SUV, and completed bodies are shipped to Bentley’s factory in Crewe, England, where final assembly takes place. Apart from a few Audi tech details, such as the configurable instrument-panel screen, the cabin is pure Bentley with its focus on exquisite detailing and rich materials. Nearly every surface is finished in leather, wood or chrome.

It’s a comfortable interior, too, with seating for four or five, depending on the rear-seat configuration. The front and rear seats have firm but comfortable cushions. The rear seat is comfortable for adult passengers thanks to good thigh support and legroom and a cushion that’s high enough from the floor. The rear backrest reclines, too. Eventually, Bentley will offer a two-seat third row that’s meant for children.

17Bentley_Bentayga_First-Drive_MH_06.jpg 2017 Bentley Bentayga | photo by Mike Hanley

Bentley is the only ultraluxury brand with an SUV in its lineup, but it won’t be for long; both Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce are planning to launch SUVs in a few years. In a way, it’s surprising that this segment has lacked an SUV until now, given their popularity in the rest of the car market and the sales opportunity they present. Bentley’s U.S. President and CEO Michael Winkler said Bentley owners average about five vehicles in their household, two of which are luxury SUVs. Now, with the Bentayga, Bentley has a do-anything SUV for its want-everything customers.

17Bentley_Bentayga_First-Drive_MH_02.jpg 2017 Bentley Bentayga | photo by Mike Hanley


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