Bentley Bentayga

The Legend Bentley. I was intrigued to read David Lillywhite’s thoughts on the new Bentley Bentayga in the last issue of Octane, not least because often there’s a world of difference between what a journalist says and what he writes. By that, I mean some scribblers will test a car and prefer to reflect on their experience of driving it before committing pen to paper, or rather bashing on a keyboard. They won’t want to give the game away beforehand; they will keep PR types and test drivers guessing by muttering only a few pleasantries on the day.

But most of all, I was interested because I had the pleasure of putting in a few hot laps on a handling track in Southern California with David acting as ballast. That was fun on so many levels. I should, at this juncture, point out that I am a brand ambassador for Bentley. Actually, my involvement goes somewhat deeper than that but, the point is, I am naturally predisposed when it comes to the marque. With that out of the way, I will go on record as saying that the Bentley Bentayga is a truly remarkable machine. Scrub that, it is extraordinary.

However… As the esteemed editor of Octanepointed out in his article, there will be some readers for whom the idea of a Bentley SUV is an abomination. The brains trust behind it should be tarred and feathered for trashing its heritage. To them I say this: I understand where you’re coming from. I really do. But, before you pluck the chicken and warm the Acetone, I suggest you try one. You will not believe what it can do. I guarantee you will become a convert to the cause.

I am a racing driver so to me an SUV is a mere conveyance of convenience. Generally, they do not excite me. I know there are some good examples out there that handle well and are comfortable, but the Bentley is, in modern parlance, a game-changer. For starters, it has more than one million lines of code and almost 100 ECUs, all of which will probably mean nothing, but, take it from me, the amount of thought invested in the Bentley Bentayga is breathtaking. It is a technical marvel.

This dawned on me as I teetered on the edge of a precipice at Cahuilla Creek during the launch. I couldn’t believe that it could crest sand dunes with such ease, not least because every fibre of my being was telling me – screaming at me – that it would roll at any second. But no, it merely defied gravity, and in the sort of luxury you would expect, given the £160,200 price tag.

I still cannot believe it did what it did – or perhaps that should be that I can’t believe what it didn’t do, and nor can I believe that I was in such a place to witness it. A day later, we were at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, which was much more ‘me’. Here, I was able to show off a little after first being driven by journalists. What I liked most about the venue was that there was plenty of run-off, not that any of my friends in the media needed it. But it was only after swapping seats that I was able to outline just what the Bentley Bentayga will do.

Make no mistake, it serves up the sort of performance expected of the marque: the 6.0-litre W12 under the bonnet pumps out 600bhp at 5000rpm; enough of the good stuff to ensure a top speed of 187mph with 0-60mph taking just four seconds. And the handling? Gravity-defying. Again. You just don’t expect something so big to move so quickly and be so agile. I say this as an enthusiast, and as someone who values speed and handling above just about anything when it comes to a car.

As to the vexed question of whether or not it is a real Bentley, I reckon it is, but then I am biased. That said, I think even the most blinkered among us will be able to see that this sort of vehicle represents the future of the luxury car. What’s more, just about any manufacturer with heritage is getting in on the act, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and Maserati among them.

Remember when Porsche launched the Cayenne back in 2002? Marque fans were up in arms, railing about how it diluted its brand values and suchlike. The fact that it quickly became the most popular model in the range, which in turn helped fund the development of small-series ‘specials’ and a return to top-flight motor sport, soon silenced the critics. I expect the same will happen with Bentley. I honestly believe that even WO Bentley himself would admire the engineering invested in the Bentley Bentayga.

As David mentioned in his article, demand for Bentley’s SUV is already at fever-pitch and it will likely ensure the future of the marque. Surely that is something worth.