Nothing on the road is more conspicuous than me right now, and for a change, I’m not entirely thrilled about it. If somebody painted an elephant pink, strapped a wailing siren to its back and sent it charging across the road, I doubt anyone would even notice. Big luxurious SUVs tend to stand out a little, and Bentleys – with their surfeit of chrome and bling – stand out a lot. So, imagine what it’s like being at the wheel of a 16-foot-long, bronze-coloured Bentley SUV, stuck in bumper-to-bumper gridlock traffic on the outskirts of Mumbai. I slump down into the soft, quilted leather to try and hide myself.
This is not how I felt a few hours ago. No, back then, the Big B was in its element, coursing majestically down the Bandra-Worli Sea Link with a massive reserve of power bubbling away under my right foot, waiting patiently to be unleashed. There were stares, but they were stares of recognition and acknowledgement, accompanied by more than a few thumbs up. You see, it may be rare and exclusive, but a Bentley is something most people can identify these days, if not by the Flying B logo, then certainly by the design. Big, bulging, LED-ringed headlamps are a staple of the modern Bentley, as are the pronounced haunches, and let’s not forget the massive, massive chrome mesh grille. The Bentayga has all of that and then some.
21-inch wheels on any car, you’d think, would look like they’re scraping layers of metal out of the wheel arches, right? Not here; here, they look almost normal sitting on their 45-profile tyres, and you can get 22-inch wheels as an option! Then there are the subtler details (if you can call anything on a Bentayga ‘subtle’), like the ‘B’ motif in the flank, finished here in carbonfibre, the other ‘B’ motif in the LED tail-lamps. But you tend not to notice these details because all you can see is the sheer size of this thing. It’s 16 feet long and seven feet wide, and it’s hard to imagine that under that lavishly sculpted bodywork sit the mechanicals of a straight-laced Audi Q7. It’s perhaps not quite as regal looking as the Mulsanne and certainly not as purposefully sporty as a Continental or Flying Spur, but for sheer presence, there’s just nothing like it. If you see it in your rear-view mirror, you instinctively get out of the way.
This, of course, doesn’t apply when you’re stationary and surrounded by trucks. In any other car, I’d have squeezed my way through the crowd and made it out in half the time, but in the world’s most expensive production SUV, I should probably just be patient. And besides, I’ve been meaning to have a poke around the new interior anyway, so what better time than now?
The Bentayga uses only the softest leather, the finest wood and solid metal. It’s an exceptionally well-appointed cabin, save for a few plastic buttons that feel relatively low rent.
The cabin is not so much a collection of parts as it is a series of sensations. The leather has a distinct smell to it, for example, that you don’t seem to get in any other brand of car. The Lambswool carpets are the type you’d expect to find in front of a roaring fireplace at some manor in the Scottish highlands, and I’m tempted to take my shoes off and dig my toes in. And obviously, Bentley doesn’t do faux wood; you can be sure that the polished slab across the dash is very, very real. The paddle shifters behind the leather steering wheel are solid metal of course, but just to make sure you don’t accidentally miss a shift, they’re knurled for a better grip. And yet, in the midst of all of this, one thing sticks out like a sore thumb. Yes, it’s much better than what you get in the Continental and Flying Spur, but the handful of basic-looking black plastic buttons almost undo all the hard work that’s gone into the rest of the cabin. The touchscreen may have a shiny new Bentayga skin on top, but appears to function like the last-generation VW Group unit; the new one used in Audis and Porsches just feels so much slicker. I do like the new rotary dial that lets you select drive modes and doubles up as the engine-start button though – it’s properly classy, and so are the trumpet-toggle style switches to control the AC airflow strength.
We haven’t moved in almost ten minutes, and tempting as it is to jump into the back seat while we wait, even I’m not that crazy. Luckily, I did spend a few precious minutes luxuriating back there earlier today and, well, it’s just as incredible as you’d expect. This may be a plus-size SUV, but seven seats? That’s for commoners. You could have five seats, but what would your staff think of you as you pulled up to the helipad with a bench in the back? No, you need the four-seat setup that we have here. The thrones are big, soft and unbelievably lavish. There’s more of that superb shaggy woollen carpet to soak your feet in, there’s the mandatory champagne fridge between the seats, and, of course, you can spec rear entertainment screens, in case you get tired of watching the world breeze silently by outside. Somehow, though, they’re more comfortable in ‘seat’ mode; reclining them just pushes your lower back outwards, like you’re in a dentist’s chair.
The individual rear chairs are just as big, plush and comfortable as the ones in front.
While I’ve been telling you this, a gap precisely one Bentayga wide has just opened up in the traffic, and I’ve gone for it. Conspicuous it may be, but that does have one advantage – it stops people in their tracks, leaving you free to get ahead of them.
Now, not content with just being the most lavish, luxurious and expensive SUV on the planet, Bentley also wanted to make sure the Bentayga was the most powerful. So forget V8s and don’t even utter the word ‘diesel’; this one gets an all-new 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 that pushes 608hp and 900Nm through four permanently driven wheels. And it’s capable of breaching 300kph. The thing weighs 2.44 tonnes, but you wouldn’t guess it from behind the wheel.
As the last of the traffic is behind me, I make a break for the wide open highway in utter style. Foot flat down, the Big B squats down on its rear axle, the eight-speed gearbox makes a few quick clicks down and all of the torque meets the road in one, drama-free bolt. Suddenly, there’s not a single car behind me. I’m told it’ll do 0-100kph in 4.1sec. I glance down to see a number much higher than 100 on the speedo. It sounds like a tornado, this engine. It’s not too loud, it’s not brash, but it’s not exactly tuneful either. It sounds very mechanical, like several thousand bits of metal are working in unison, and that has a charm all of its own. Not that many would ever care, but for its size and power, you can get a pretty decent touring range out of the Bentayga, thanks to its 85-litre fuel tank and the fact that it can run on just six cylinders when it’s not being pushed. And that’s the other great thing about this motor. It can break a hole in the space-time continuum if you want it to, but if you don’t, it can behave very calm, civilised and refined – just like a Bentley should.
608hp W12 is surprisingly multi-faceted.
It’s why the default driving mode when you start it up is ‘Bentley’ – halfway between Sport and Comfort. Here, the car is adaptive, with the engine, gearbox and steering changing their character based on your input. In Sport, it lowers itself on its air springs, the ride and steering tighten up, while in Comfort, you get a floatier, magic-carpet-like ride. And yes, though I thought twice about tackling the truck traffic like a typical Mumbaikar a few minutes ago, in truth, it is surprisingly easy to get comfortable with this enormous SUV from behind the wheel.
I pull over and step out, from thick wool carpet, to carbonfibre sill step (it extends automatically from under the car when you open the door) to hot tarmac. I walk around to the back, open the tailgate and flip out the leather picnic bench that unfolds over the electronically lowered sill. Apparently it can support 360kg of silver-spoon-fed weight. Time to sit down and reflect on my life and why I’ll never be able to own one of these. It’s not hard to see why the Bentayga exists. Even if you look past the growing preference for SUVs and crossovers in every segment, there’s also simply the fact that such an incredible level of luxury becomes more usable when dressed in the more practical guise of a 4x4. It certainly does in India.
And Rs 3.85 crore sure buys you a lot of exclusivity. At this stratospheric end of the market, there’s simply nothing like it around. Oh, except the top-of-the-line Range Rover SVAutobiography LWB with the supercharged petrol V8, which costs about the same. But that car has the same problem as the S-class Maybach S 600 – it’s expensive and luxurious in the extreme, but you have to live with the knowledge that there are lesser versions of the same car in existence. Not the Bentayga. This thing is bespoke. Small wonder India’s 2016 allocation of 20 cars is already sold out. If you do happen to see one of these unicorns stuck in traffic, be sure to stop and stare for a while.