There’s something about driving a Bentley which says “I’ve made it,” in a way few other cars do.
These are vehicles for those who have not only made their pile, but are happy to let you know it, and not in a flashy new-money way that kits your house out with gold taps but with the elegant solidity of a global bank. You’re clearly so comfortable in your success that only driving an automotive leather-lined city block will do.
Yet this city block has something else to it. It literally sets you above ordinary drivers on the road, looking down on the hoi polloi, because this is the Bentley Bentayga, the brand’s luxurious SUV.
The very concept seems like an oxymoron. Take a vehicle that costs more than some houses, kit it out in a manner better suited to Buckingham palace than hunting buck, then jack it up and send it into the boonies. Why would you? Yet now you can, just as you can take a car designed to trounce all others at speed and do the same, with a Porsche Cayenne or Lamborghini Urus, a Jaguar F-Pace or a Maserati…
In fact we did nothing of the sort, if only because truly off-roading anything that weighs 2.5 tons would require a second AWD and a tow rope and snatch strap, just in case.
Instead, we sampled the route many of the car’s real owners will follow, puttering around Auckland’s city centre, parking this 5.1-metre-long, 2.2-metre-wide vehicle amid a flotilla of SUVs at Cornwall Park’s café, before cruising along SH16 westwards, to saunter past its vineyards.
After all, this wagon costs $285,000 as standard; our test model $336,641 with all its cost options tallied. Families heading into the boondocks in one of these are more likely to carry champagne and caviar than coke and chips, and tackle gravel winery driveways, not gravel pit washouts.
You expect library-quiet running from a Bentley, and this 4.0-litre turbo diesel is surprisingly quiet. And it delivers both the relaxed cruise and the punchy acceleration you expect from the brand, thanks to the efficiency of an eight-speed auto transmission, and the mighty 900Nm of torque the engine delivers from virtually idle to 3250rpm, just before peak power arrives, at a generous 320kW. You also expect both reasonable handling for the format and a cossetting ride, both of which this Bentayga delivers. It felt impressively confident rounding the few corners we tackled with vigour, and at no point did it transmit any unpleasantness from the roadway to our wannabe patrician bottoms.
And then, of course, there’s the environment. And we don’t mean outside – though Bentley claims an overall thirst for this car of just 7.9l/100km – we mean inside, where a herd of gently-reared cows breathed its last to clothe the interior in Beluga leather. And clothe is hardly an exaggeration; it’s all over the place, even the parcel shelf is leather-clad.
Checking out the cost options was a bit of a shock, though. Stuff you’d consider standard on many mass-market cars costs extra in this one. The ‘city’ specification includes park assist and reverse traffic warning as well as top view camera and traffic sign recognition; the entire suite of city safety aids adds $12,374 to the price. The ‘touring pack’ that includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist and a head-up display threw an additional $17,704 onto that – almost as much as a new small car – and only the ‘sunshine’ option brings items you wouldn’t expect as standard, like the sun roof and electrically-operated blinds for the side windows.
Mind you, a well-heeled buyer could be forgiven for going overboard, for the options list runs for pages. And though some of the prices are eye-watering to folk like me, some are not. You could spend over $20 grand for a set of 22-inch alloy wheels, or more than $70K for a personal satin-finish paint commission, but just $471 to have a human being contrast-stitch your steering wheel or $300 for a first aid kit and warning triangle.
We suspect looking at the price list, or factoring in the valet bill if you do track mud onto those lush carpets, won’t bother the buyer of a new Bentley, and nor will this car’s ostentatious size.
After all, the same brand’s Mulsanne sedan is a touch longer and almost as wide. And though size and weight are a handicap when it’s speed, acceleration and incisive cornering you’re after, they’re a positive bonus if it’s gravitas you seek. And this Bentayga delivers that in spades.
Reported by Jacqui Madelin for our AA Directions Autumn 2021 issue