Palm Springs, California. Bright sunshine and blue skies; the conditions are perfect. There’s almost no haze, visibility is brilliant and the air is so still, smoke from a nearby chimney is rising straight up. It’s almost too good to resist.
What’s getting me all lathered up, of course, is the picture postcard road we are on; it runs dead straight, laser like, for an unreal 10 or 12 kilometres. And because visibility is so good and traffic non-existent, I can see far off into the distance, all the way down to what looks like a dry lake bed. Understandably, the temptation to just let rip is super strong. What’s holding me back, however, is a sign board; it says ‘speed enforced by aircraft’: no, seriously! I pinch myself, is this for real or am I dreaming?
Not wanting to be spotted, I crane my neck and start scanning the blue. This doesn’t sit well with my passenger, a journalist from the Middle East. He’s silent initially, but pipes up after a bit. “What are you doing?”, he asks in amazement, his thick Arabian accent not able to hide his surprise, “Are you alright?” I try and explain that I’m looking for spotter planes, but that confuses him even more. But since there’s not a spec in the sky and no engine drone either, I jump in, gun the W12 and take off. And take off is the operative word here.
The Bentley lunges forward with such ferocity, it blows my mind. It can’t put all its power down, but pins me back in the seat so hard it causes me to let out an involuntary ‘WOOO-HOOO!’. And then, incredibly, it continues to hold me there, the shove sustained by an overabundance of torque from the massive W12. My passenger does shoot me a disapproving look, but I’ve no time for that; the analogue speedometer has already crested 100mph; 160kph on the digital speedo. And still, the 600bhp continues to hurl us forward with the limitless feel of a turbine engine. For the record, this 2.4-tonne SUV can dispatch the 0-100kph sprint in just four seconds.
The sensation of going at supercar speeds, sitting ‘two floors up’ is also quite unique; this isn’t a slippery supercar that holds its weight down low, and I feel the mass shift around a bit on its suspension at speed. But overall stability is stellar and it doesn’t feel nervous in the least. As the speedo runs past 250kph, I feel the aerodynamics come into play. Wind noise rises, the air feels like it has ‘thickened’ and the rate of acceleration slows. The W12 though, continues to punch a Bentayga-sized hole in the air; and before I know it, we cross 270. Although the Bentley feels super stable, and there’s plenty ‘left in the tank’, my passenger is getting quite vocal now, so reluctantly, I let up. I can’t understand a word of what he is saying, but I get the message. Still, a few moments later, I can’t help but wonder, “Did that just happen, or was it all a dream?” Things happened so quick. It was all over in a flash. Were we really oh-so-close to 300? What a run!
There’s even more action up next, as I pull into a circuit twenty minutes down the road. Now, taking a big SUV to a track is normally an exercise in futility. There’s excessive body roll, massive tyre wear and at times, it isn’t much fun either. So, I’m expecting plenty of heave ho and loads of tyre degradation.
But the first couple of minutes out on the circuit have me doing a double take; the Bentayga corners so flat, it’s a bit disorienting. Yes, it does mildly drop a shoulder on the way into corners, and there is a hint of roll too, but body control is so good, you can just power out of corners like you wouldn’t believe. This, of course, is down to the new 48V active anti-roll bar system that has both, more energy and more speed to keep this broad-bottom luxury liner on an even keel. And it’s not just the good body control, the Bentley has hugely capable brakes, a nicely connected electric steering system and a reasonably quick eight-speed gearbox too. It does understeer with all that weight in the nose, especially if you overload the front tyres, and you need to drive around this. But all things considered, it’s still a hoot to drive. It doesn’t have the agility of the Porsche Cayenne and isn’t as nice when you really get on it, but the Bentayga’s remit is much wider, and how many owners will drive on a track?
Extreme luxury and performance in a single package.
Where they are likely to drive it harder is on a mountain road. And here, it feels much more at home. I say this with plenty of confidence because a couple of hours later, I find myself on just such a stretch; a hill road that takes an hour or so to traverse. And it’s just perfect for the job. Around 30 percent wider than the roads we have back home, it is fast, flowing and has a delicious rhythm to it. And after the track, I just can’t help but get stuck right in; the Bentley flying from apex to apex, loads of grip, unbelievable poise and an innate ability to rocket out of all manner of corners, a fair amount of the 608hp put to good use.
The Bentayga, of course, is even more at home delivering a massive hit of comfort and luxury. The fast-acting active anti-roll bars ‘open up’ and allow ride comfort to be super supple. Bump absorption, especially over the larger holes, is often so good, it literally feels magic carpet-like as the chassis soaks up everything. And it is seriously capable on broken surfaces too. Of course, some really large holes are likely to upset it and sharper edged bumps could affect it too, but it really does have the potential to be super special on our roads back home. It just seems to have the right balance between floaty and tight, and the manner in which it seems to isolate the suspension from the rest of the car feels special too. Can’t wait to drive it on our roads back home.
It’s even pretty capable off-road. Precious few owners may end up taking their Bentley out in the wild, but it still felt quite at home rock climbing and sand surfing. Of course, we drove it on a purpose-built course, meant to show exactly what the Bentayga could do and no more, still having walked the course and having experienced some of the drops and climbs, I have a healthy respect for the Bentley, even off-road. Sure, it’s nowhere near as capable as a Range Rover, but for general mud plugging, sandy trails and our kuccha roads, the Bentayga clearly is accomplished enough.
There’s no low range, but the huge 900Nm of torque sorts out most inclines.
What owners can enjoy on a daily basis is the Bentayga’s ability to cruise effortlessly in near silence. This is down, in large part, to the creamy smooth engine and the great cabin insulation. I also love the super fluid steering that feels light and freshly oiled at low speeds. Then there’s the massive oomph of the engine, that tosses you forward even if you so much as caress the throttle.
Leather used comes from bulls that live in cooler climes as there are fewer marks from insect bites. But flimsy black plastic buttons jar with wood and leather symphony.
What truly makes the Bentayga a super luxury SUV is the cabin. Famous for its exceptional build and old-world skills, Bentley acquired many of the best craftsmen around when it split from Rolls back in 1998. And that shows. As expected, sumptuous saddle leather lines almost every crevice in the cabin, the build of the wooden bits is millimetre perfect and the quality and finish of the chrome, splashed liberally over the cabin, is so good each bit looks like a mini work of art, good enough to mount on your mantelpiece. I kid you not; I stared at the chromed door handle over and over, and the gear selector with the chrome finish just gives the cabin a massive lift. And is there any doubt Bentley makes some of the finest seats! They look fabulous to begin with, the quilted bits, extra bolstering and the hints of chrome adding yet another dash of luxury. And on the Bentayga, they are so large and supportive, you sink right in. They feel smooth to touch, have that combination of suppleness and firmness only seen on the finest luxury leather goods and unlike some others, the seats feel robust enough to last forever. Bentley has cleverly used the same super comfy seats at the rear of this four-seater and you get 20-way adjustment and massage function on all seats. There are a few areas though where Bentley should have done a better job. There should have been a bit more legroom in the rear of the cabin, functionality on the central touchscreen is poor and why oh why does Bentley still have to use these lightly built black plastic buttons?
The nose of the Bentayga, in my eyes, isn’t brilliant either. It’s a Bentley for sure and looks the part with the chromed-over mesh grille and the big round LED light surrounds, but they could have given it so much more character by cleaning it up and giving it more of a ‘bluff’ nose. Still, the rest of the design, at least for me, hits the spot. I love the tightness of the flanks, the exaggerated haunches work superbly and the really ‘fast’ or raked rear windshield works nicely too. I even love the chrome-lined tail-lights that shout out Bentley (or even Rolls).
Breitling tourbillon clock costs over Rs 1 crore!!
Bentley has clearly hit the ball out of the park with the Bentayga. It’s the fastest, most expensive and most sinfully luxurious SUV currently available, and for that alone, it deserves applause. It drives brilliantly, rides superbly, has a super comfy cabin and feels extra special every time you look at it, sit in it or drive it. Yes, there are a couple of areas where it could and should have been a bit better, especially when you consider the expected starting price of Rs 3.75 crore. But, all things considered, the Bentayga is a colossal step forward and Bentley knows it. Indian customers can also look forward to a few better suited variants when it goes on sale here in June this year. There is also a ‘benched’ five-seater version, a seven-seater is on the way and there’s even a diesel V8 and a plug-in hybrid expected further down the road. If you’re looking for a super luxury car that’s great to drive and can handle the rough and tumble of our roads easily, the Bentayga is the one to consider. Currently the only car in its class, it’s likely to have Bollywood stars, industrialists, power brokers and politicians, all lining up. Note to dealer; make sure you pre-order enough white.