Bentley Bentayga 2021 long-term review
Our plush new SUV may look like a mild update, but appearances can be deceiving
*Why we ran it: *To evaluate the depth and especially breadth of ability of the luxury SUV cohort’s now established leader
-Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Prices and Specs-
-Life with a Bentley Bentayga: Month 3-
*Is this V8 SUV now the best luxury car on Earth? Here’s our final verdict - 2 June 2021*
It’s already a well- established conclusion that Bentley’s SUV has a wider spread of abilities than any other car on the market. As well as being able to do 180mph flat out and lap the Nürburgring at supercar speeds, it can also crawl up precipitous muddy tracks that would stop any normal car short of a Land Rover.
And if this is true, the V8 edition of the Bentayga – my companion for the past several months and 2700-odd miles – must be the most broadly capable Bentayga (and Bentley) of the lot. This is my firm conclusion, at least.
To the original Bentayga W12’s capabilities you can add better fuel consumption (for 20% lower running costs and a 20% greater touring range); you will make a £10k saving on the buying price; and (this is an open secret) you will get the better engine of the two that Bentley offers.
The V8 sounds better, is more responsive and is so close to the 6.0-litre unit in performance terms that, although you concede roughly 60bhp and 100lb ft of torque (which are worth 7mph on the top speed and 0.5sec from 0-62mph), you would be hard-pressed to notice the difference.
Bentley has always sold this car on versatility, and the pearlescent silver Black Series model that came our way set about proving this in its first week, coping imperiously with deeper than usual Cotswolds snow one day and gliding beautifully over bone-dry back-road bitumen bumps the next. It also toted copious quantities of stuff (our water softener has a gigantic demand for granular salt in bags) and capably helped a relative move house, even though we couldn’t fold away its super-special rear seats to form a flat cargo floor.
The Bentayga’s best and most exhilarating duty was always a day trip, especially if both rows of seats were occupied. They’re superbly comfortable (provided that you make careful use of the multifarious ways of adjusting them), and there’s yards of room for two in the rear.
Ambient noise is controlled so well that front-to-rear conversations are easy even at 100mph; there’s no need to shout or bend forward, which is what you must do even in many high-tone saloons. Repeatedly, we set off on long journeys two, three or four up and reached our destination remarking how easy it had been.
The Bentayga isn’t quite top- drawer for road noise, mind. We started our time with it on 21in winter tyres, changing after about 1800 miles to 22in summer rubber, and while that brought a small drop in the ruling noise level, there were times when the lower-profile tyres let some surface rumbles into the car that we’re pretty sure Bentley’s suspension engineers will by now already be working to dial out.
The handling was terrific. Our car, equipped with the Dynamic Ride option, offered a rare blend of flat cornering and suppleness that only comes with the best-calibrated air suspension. Nothing is as effective as miles in a Bentayga at showing just how directly journey fatigue is geared to ride quality – as long as you agree to Crewe’s own optimal suspension compromises by choosing ‘Bentley’ mode on a console that also offers softer and sportier compromises.
In Sport, you get a few unseemly jitters; in Comfort, there’s just a hint of bounce. It becomes apparent the more you drive that the Bentley mode was reached after thousands of hours of driving and brain-strain, and so you’re never going to second-guess it.
The partnership of engine and gearbox is close to ideal, too. You never want for more poke and the note has been brilliantly balanced so that when driving gently, you’re hardly aware of the V8’s presence, but if you give it the beans, it becomes very apparent that you’re sitting behind a sophisticated high- performance motor. My only beef is a certain slowness of response to the accelerator off the mark, presumably for safety and emissions reasons. Others do it a little better.
On crowded streets, the Bentayga isn’t really at its best. At 2.2 metres wide, it’s a distinctly uncomfortable fit down many British city streets. It’s also likely to be the car that protrudes most into the traffic when parked. That mirror-to-mirror dimension simply isn’t relevant for buyers in Dubai, Palm Springs or Shanghai.
I might as well get a couple of other beefs off my chest, too. Many of Bentley’s option prices are ruinously high. I get that it’s necessary to pay plenty extra for a two-tone steering wheel that a skilled craftsman has spent a large part of a day stitching together, but why must one pay £565 for a spacesaver spare wheel? Such ‘soak the rich’ pricing risks making fools of buyers, I believe. I certainly would think so if I were one of them.
What else? I would like some of the controls to be modernised. Heating the seats on a winter’s morning is a long-winded and confusing exercise, and the steering ‘wand’ controls are inferior to the carefully thought-out ones in the Land Rover Defender. Again, I would bet that the team at Crewe are working on that already.
The Bentayga’s interior quality is unimpeachable, but its ergonomics and haptics are no longer entirely up to date.
Still, when the time came, it was a severe wrench to give the Bentayga back, and for more serious reasons than the way it distinguished my driveway. It found a buyer while it was still in our care and had to leave rather abruptly, which says plenty about its desirability. Its value to me was instantly evident from the gap it left, not in dimensional terms but in the sheer pleasure of travel and use.
I loved the big Bentayga for its refinement and its superb engine but never really got comfortable with it in town. It’s more an open road and country machine. The car’s width was certainly a problem in some of the streets near where I live. But there’s no doubt that its quality and refinement make you feel special, which is exactly what you would expect a £210,000 car to do.
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*Sense of occasion *Whatever you do with this car, even if it’s just a trundle to the shops or opening the tailgate, it feels special.
*Superb engine *The turbo V8’s response, sound and performance are so fine that I don’t see why you would want the W12.
*Interior quality *Bentley always said the Bentayga’s cabin would set a new standard, and it has to be the best in the business.
*Some switchgear *Things like setting the speed limiter or turning on the seat heating are fiddlier than they should be.
*Option prices *Some are ruinous. Bentley buyers can afford £565 for a spare wheel, but they can’t be happy about it.
*Final mileage: 4540*
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*All about the lighting - 19 May 2021*
I’m so glad the sun has finally come out, as it has transformed the way the Bentayga catches light. Even the brilliance of its elegant Silver Frost paint can be lost in dull conditions, but the combination of sunshine and clever sculpting along the side panels make it stand out, size apart, in any crowd. Sadly, such benefits of a brilliant summer are soon to be enjoyed by a new owner.
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*Time to push the fast-forward button as hard as it’ll go and try V8 life beyond 150mph - 12 May 2021*
There we were, on the point of sending our Bentley Bentayga V8 off to a new owner, when it suddenly struck me that despite all the power and sophistication packed under that long bonnet and behind that vast grille, I’d never actually driven it at the limit of its acceleration. I’d never obeyed that primal drive to press and hold its accelerator to the floor until we were doing at least two and a half miles a minute.
This might not seem a priority when we’re talking about a 542bhp SUV that can overtake troublesome traffic without the driver needing to rev its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine more than halfway to its 7000rpm redline, but it becomes a lot more important when you remember that there’s an even more powerful W12 Bentayga in the model listings, capable of delivering an extra 68bhp and an additional 100lb ft of torque. Does the performance of one negate the other? Surely, it behoves the thorough tester to run the V8 flat out, just to investigate any perceived performance deficit.
One of the benefits of living in the lower Cotswolds is that you’re never far from an airfield with a long runway, so with some persuasion of local air traffic control authorities and a promise to monitor their radio closely, I was allowed to give our V8 everything it had, four or five times.
Under normal circumstances, this engine is so effortless that it’s hardly there. From outside, you sometimes hear a typical V8 rumble at low revs, but when you’re at the wheel, the car simply glides. Give it everything, and hold it there, and the engine changes character completely.
For one thing, the tacho needle flies straight around to 7000rpm, in first and second. For another, what you thought was the most shy and retiring of big engines gets quite raucous, emitting a roar, overlaid with a bark that you’ll hardly have heard before, because it’s hard to replicate these sound effects at sane speeds on the public road. But give it the permission of a long, wide, unfettered track and the V8 is only too willing to announce, quite loudly, its relationship with the V8 version of the Audi R8.
Of course, there’s huge and sustained acceleration. You sink a long way into the plush seats, but everything stays beautifully stable. In your V8, you never spare a thought for the pokier, pricier W12 version. On our runway day, the Tarmac was greasy yet full-noise departures from rest were effected without a hint of wheelspin, thanks to a four-wheel drive system that has several levels of integrated electronic traction- keeping. You flash past 62mph in 4.2sec (admittedly, conceding half a second to the W12) and, in neutral wind conditions, just over 10 seconds later you’re doing 125mph. There’s no waiting – and there’s certainly no wishing for extra performance!
The upper trio of the Bentayga’s eight gears contribute little to acceleration. You’re still in fourth as you soar past 100mph, and even at 150mph you still have a couple of cogs to go. However, the top ratios are vital for the effortless, long-legged brand of Bentayga cruising they’re asked to deliver nearly all the time.
After 20 minutes’ flat-out acceleration testing, repeatedly investigating life on the other side of 150mph, our Bentayga returned to normal, smelling slightly hot but idling with its usual barely there smoothness.
Maybe it’ll never be used like this again in the long life that stretches ahead of it. Yet proving the Bentayga V8 was as good as its maker’s word somehow seemed an important final step before it departed our fleet, and now we know for sure that the claims are true.
*Brilliant build quality *You don’t bother examining paint quality and shutline uniformity on the Bentley; you just know they’re superb.
*Old-school switchgear *A gripe that bears repeating: having to hunt for seat heaters in a £200k car isn’t appropriate, when far cheaper models make it easier.
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-Life with a Bentley Bentayga: Month 2-
*With restrictions easing, we’re finally able to unlock our luxury SUV’s potential - 28 April 2021*
For the first few weeks of running this large, opulent, £200,000 SUV, I was starting to despair of finding ways to appreciate it. After all, if you’re restricted to 3.5-mile trips to and from the nearest market town on roads with several annoying intersections and few uplifting features, you’re really not taking advantage of a special car.
However, work has recently required some longer trips – one a 120-mile early-morning dash across the Cotswolds via the Fosse Way (before the mobile chicanes – aka truckers – got into their stride) and the other a trip down the M4 to Reading. Both proved to be meat and drink to the Bentley.
The first sojourn provided a perfect opportunity for it to demonstrate its surprising agility and the efficacy of its elevated driving position (I’ve raised the seat because I like to see the bonnet), which in turn allows you to place the car accurately on the road in conditions that are tighter than they would be for cars of lesser stature, because the Bentayga is pretty wide.
The second trip reinforced my conviction about the Bentayga’s supreme effortlessness, which in my book is a lot of what you’re paying for. It was the first time that I hadn’t thought constantly about the machine under me (I even played the radio), and that forget-it state is vital in understanding a model’s strengths and weaknesses. When you realise a car is so stable that you’ve hardly moved the steering wheel rim for miles, and when you’ve stopped consciously assessing road noise, it means the answers have arrived.
We have some long leisure trips planned for when motoring life gets a couple of steps closer to normal (a trip to the magnificent Beaulieu Gardens attached to the National Motor Museum is already in the diary), for which the Bentayga would have been ideally suited. The big SUV simply gets a bit better every day at fitting into my life, so what a shame that it must soon return to its maker earlier than planned.
My solitary gripe is the layout of some switches, which don’t come with as much logic attached as some of the (far cheaper) Jaguar Land Rover cars I’ve been using lately. This probably wouldn’t worry an owner as much as someone who spends their days making constant comparisons, but nevertheless it’s there.
*Sense of occasion *Whatever you do with this machine, even if it’s trundle to the shops or open the tailgate, it feels special.
*Some switchgear *Things like setting a speed limit through roadworks or turning on the seat heating are fiddlier than they should be
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*It’s time to ditch our luxury off-roader’s winter tyres - 21 April 2021*
Winter looked like ending, so I took the Bentayga back to its maker’s Crewe HQ to swap its 21in winter tyres for a set of ‘summer’ Pirelli P Zeros on the finest set of 22in 10-spoke alloys you ever saw.
Then I had 123 miles, mostly on two of the UK’s coarser and noisier motorways, the M5 and M6, to evaluate the difference between the two sets. Even allowing for the Bentley’s refinement and general excellence, the differences are fascinating.
The main benefit is in steering authority around the straight-ahead: there’s an enhanced feeling of precision that allows tiny steering corrections to be effective. Along with that is a small reduction of just- off-centre steering effort, which adds to accuracy. Both things improve the car’s agility, which is always surprising given its size and height.
If there’s a drawback to the standard tyres, I’d say it’s in the vibration detectable through the pedals and floor on coarse surfaces, taken fairly slowly. The car is more impressive the faster it goes, and although the noise builds, the increase is slight. No wonder that the Bentayga is comfortable and quiet over very large distances.
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-Life with a Bentley Bentayga: Month 1-
*Welcoming the Bentayga to the fleet - 10 March 2021*
This is going to sound weird: our Bentagya V8 long-termer has already been with us a couple of weeks, yet I’m still having trouble deciding whether it’s big or small.
I mean, it’s way bigger than most SUVs; of course it is. It’s 5.1 metres long, 1.7 metres high and 2.2 metres across the mirrors and weighs 2.4 tonnes. Those are big-car dimensions in any car manufacturer’s language. But if you park this new-look Bentley SUV away from other machinery, its excellent proportions make it look imposing yet also curiously compact.
Our car’s 22in wheels help a lot: designers are always banging on about how awful cars look on ‘small’ wheels. The rule, they say, is that big cars need big wheels – and we’ve got ’em. The other improvements help, too: the bigger, prouder grille and especially that altered tailgate shape, which removes unsightly shutlines from your sight. Such things don’t work very well in description, but park the original and revised Bentaygas together, rears facing you, and you will see that the difference is profound.
What seems to have died a death with this latest car is a folk view that the Bentayga isn’t too easy on the eye. The latest isn’t so different from the original, but to my eye it’s handsome. Perhaps those original impressions were born of the fact that, in the past seven decades or so, Bentleys have all been long limousines, graceful convertibles and svelte coupés. Now even the wider public seems to have decided that they can be SUVs, too.
The is-it-big-or-small question extends to the dynamics as well. Once you’ve learned to depend on the authority and fine centre-feel of the steering (which heavily contrasts that of other big cars), you discover that there always seems to be plenty of space left on the road. It helps that the Bentayga’s suspension geometry is so obviously well-honed: over bumps or cambers, the car simply tracks like an arrow. Driving close to walls and kerbs feels safe, because you know that you won’t be thrown off line.
Not that there has been a surfeit of opportunities to drive the Bentayga so far. Apart from a necessary journey from home to several Lambourn locations for the pictures you see on this page, the saga has been largely about lockdown. There’s a limit to how much enjoyment you get from a car just looking at it through your window, even when it’s a Bentley.
To make matters more urgent, there’s the versatility of this car to be tested: our editor-at-large, Matt Prior, reckons there’s a decent argument to the effect that the Bentayga is one of the most versatile vehicles you can buy at any money, given its ability one minute to emulate the refinement of a limousine fit for royalty and a few minutes later to do the Unimog thing over battlefield terrain. At one end of the dynamic spectrum, its performance is never compromised by what it does at the other. Plans are being laid even now for some essential off-roading.
We didn’t specify this Bentayga ourselves; rather, it’s a Bentley demonstrator. But the equipment is just about perfect for me, its first Autocar user, because it avoids showy two-tonery while allowing full appreciation of Bentley’s top-class build and materials quality.
The gleaming Silver Frost paint is calmed by a Blackline specification, while the 22in wheels are black- painted but diamond-turned. These things are perfect for a car that’s a tasteful signifier of wealth but must also radiate a use-every-day spirit.
The interior description talks of Beluga leather and Dark Tint diamond-brushed aluminium, but in essence we’re talking about a black interior with a series of carefully matched textures that perfectly display their quality.
For all its appearance of apparent restraint, our car is fitted with nearly £40,000 worth of options, five related equipment collections grouped as ‘specifications’, which show why Bentley buyers take much time and trouble over specifying their cars and enjoy it so much.
We’ve got the Mulliner Driving specification (22in wheels, quilted leather, embroidered Bentley emblems, bright pedals and ornate oil and fuel caps) plus the All Terrain specification (underbody protection, lots of driving modes and a luggage storage system so your Louis Vuitton baggage doesn’t f ly about). Chuck in the Touring specification (adaptive cruise control, a head-up display and all manner of ‘assists’), the Five Seat Comfort specification (ventilated seats and luxury head restraints) and the Blackline specification (black trim instead of chrome all over) and you’ve spent £37,990. Lesser options drive our car’s total to £208,035.
Impressions so far: it’s beautifully refined, with just enough V8 woofle under discreet acceleration (all that’s needed) to remind you that its engine has that most emotive of all cylinder layouts. The suspension is coming into its own, coping with our currently pockmarked surfaces. And the road noise is low wherever you drive, even though the car is still on winter rubber, which to me is more worth paying for than all the nappa leather you can climb over.
The Bentayga has depth. We must now proceed to evaluate its breadth.
I’m even more intrigued to try the new Bentayga after a stint in the Range Rover, itself heavily refreshed. Somehow, Solihull’s finest feels even smoother and more refined than before. I’ll bet that’s because of Bentley forcing Land Rover to raise its game further. It just shows what competition does to standards.
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-Bentley Bentayga V8 Black Seroes specification-
*Prices: List price new* £146,700 *List price now* £146,700 *Price as tested* £208,035
*Options:*Pearlescent silver paint £10,214, contrast stitching and piping £2705, Mulliner Driving pack £11,635, All Terrain pack £3610, Touring pack £6415, Five Seat Comfort pack £4290, rear acoustic privacy glass £1610, dark-tint waist rails £3000, heated steering wheel £405, mood lighting £380, Bentley Dynamic Ride £4025, Blackline pack £5380, Naim for Bentley audio £6660, spacesaver spare wheel £565
*Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy* 21.7mpg *Fuel tank* 85 litres *Test average* 22.9mpg *Test best* 26.8mpg *Test worst* 17.5mpg *Real-world range* 428 miles
*Tech highlights: 0-62mph* 4.5sec *Top speed* 180mph *Engine* V8, 3999cc, twin- turbocharged, petrol *Max power* 542bhp at 6000rpm *Max torque* 568lb ft at 2000-4500rpm *Transmission* 8-speed automatic *Boot capacity* 484 litres *Wheels* 22in, alloy *Tyres* 285/40 R22 *Kerb weight* 2415kg
*Service and running costs: *CO2* *294g/km* *Service costs* *None* *Other costs* *None* *Fuel costs** £688.60* *Running costs inc fuel* *£688.60* *Cost per mile* *25.01 pence* *Faults* *none
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