A grand tour through Europe, or a trip to the grocery store.
It wasn't so long ago that SUVs were practical vehicles for parents to take their kids to school in, while occasionally being asked to do some light off-roading. SUVs have grown faster and more luxurious over the years, becoming such big business that even ultra-exotic automakers are looking to cash in on the trend. Bentley's first SUV, the Bentayga, debuted back in 2015 and swiftly took over as the company's best-selling model, accounting for 37% of sales.
The 2021 Bentley Bentayga arrived as the first major update to this model, sporting many of the same changes first seen on the Continental GT. After putting the Flying Spur through its paces as a wedding car, we had other ideas for the new Bentayga. The Bentayga is by far the most usable model in Bentley's lineup, so we took a few days off to drive it on some mini road trips. We quickly discovered that the Bentley Bentayga can make even the most mundane activity feel special.
The Bentayga adopts the same design language first seen on the two-door Continental GT. In short, the car looks far more attractive than the original while differentiating itself from lesser SUVs. At the front, two LED matrix headlamps give the Bentayga a signature Bentley feel with a stunning design that mimics cut crystal glassware. Moving down the car, the Bentayga changes even more with thinner, Continental-inspired taillights, a more sculpted tailgate design, a wider rear track, new wheels, and split tailpipes. Only the doors and roof carry over from the previous model, and we think the redesign makes an enormous impression.
Bentley sent us a Bentayga wearing a subtle shade of Ice paint, which can blend in or stand out depending on the situation. Parked on the grounds of a millionaire's estate, the Bentayga's finer details match the environment, befitting a car with a $177,000 starting price. But unlike any Bentley before it, the Bentayga must also satisfy its role as an SUV, blending in when the scene becomes more ordinary.
We took the Bentayga grocery shopping and managed to escape the Trader Joe's parking lot without anyone noticing. During a later trip to Target, the Bentayga drew attention from a small group who wanted to take pictures of it, so it's unlikely to go completely unnoticed.
As a result of its SUV proportions, the Bentayga cannot match the opulence exuded by its more shapely sedan, coupe, and convertible siblings. But once you hop into the cabin and shut the soft-close doors, it's a far different story. This cabin feels every bit as luxurious as the Flying Spur or Continental GT. As expected of a Bentley, the important controls all feel more upscale than those in a Maserati Levante or Range Rover.
Metal air vents pullies, knurled dials, and fabulous diamond-quilting give the cabin a bespoke feel. Our Bentayga came sporting a bold red interior that Bentley calls Cricket Ball, adding a touch of pizzazz to pop with the subtle exterior. If we were ordering a Bentayga, Cricket Ball would be among our top interior choices.
Did you know James Bond originally drove a Bentley, not an Aston Martin? You'd assume then that the company's cars would have technology befitting of a secret agent, but many previous Bentleys were lacking in this area. Not so with the new Bentayga. A new 10.9-inch touchscreen makes infotainment duties effortless, and a small but useful rotating knob can be used as a substitute to keep the screen free of fingerprints. The infotainment system's design feels very Audi-like, meaning the menus are laid out intuitively, and the response time is minimal. There's even Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay. Eliminating distraction is the ultimate task of an infotainment system, and the Bentayga achieves this goal.
Other clever features are integrated throughout the cabin without distracting from the old-school luxury ambiance. Bentley has gone for a new digital instrument cluster with a minimalist design that can also transform into a full-color Google map. Ahead of the shifter, a cleverly-placed wireless charger comes standard and provides easy access to your phone.
While the rear seat is a nice place to spend time, it is perhaps the one area where the Bentayga feels outmatched by some of its rivals. Our Bentayga came sporting the conventional five-seater configuration, though a three-row seven-seat and more luxurious four-seater are also available. We'd opt for the four-seat comfort specification, as it adds power-adjustability to the two rear seats and a helpful console with storage and cupholders. This specification compromises on practicality in exchange for creating a more luxurious experience for rear occupants.
The five-seat layout includes manual seat reclines, which feel pedestrian at this price point. Ventilation and massaging are also missing here, making us yearn for the Flying Spur's rear quarters. The Bentayga does still include one of Bentley's coolest details, an ejectable touchscreen tablet that controls the radio, rear climate, and navigation.
We can't imagine that too many Bentayga owners will risk staining their carpeted and leather-lined trunk with a Home Depot run or their kid's sports gear, but the cargo area will eat up plenty of Louis Vuitton luggage pieces for an impromptu weekend getaway. There are 17.1 cubic feet of space behind the second row, which is mostly hampered by the Bentayga's heavily sloped roofline. Folding down the rear seats opens the space to 62.6 cubic feet, which is on par with most compact luxury crossovers. It's not the most utilitarian SUV on the market, but it's the most practical Bentley available.
We sampled the Bentayga V8, with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo engine producing 542 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. This powertrain is also used in several Audi and Porsche models, but it receives unique tuning by Bentley. The eight-speed automatic delivers smooth shifts but can also rapid-fire gear changes using the paddle shifters. At 4.4 seconds to 60 mph, the Bentayga feels swift but in a smooth and dignified sort of way.
We were less impressed with the speed and more delighted by the elegant approach. Even at the car's 180 mph top speed, the cabin protects its occupants from the outside world. The adaptive Bentley Dynamic Ride suspension uses the engine's 48-volt mild hybrid system to iron out road imperfections while keeping the Bentayga flat and level through the corners.
For the speed freaks out there, a Bentayga Speed is also available with a 6.0-liter W12 generating 626 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque. We loved the twelve-cylinder in the Flying Spur, and here it drops the 0-60 mph time to 3.9 seconds and ups the top speed to 190 mph. A Bentayga Hybrid model will arrive later this year with a 3.0-liter V6 combining an electric motor to produce 442 hp and 516 lb-ft. This model sounds intriguing with a 31-mile EV range, but since the Bentayga is all about opulence, we suggest the W12.
The Bentayga came just in time for us to use up the last of our remaining vacation days. This gave us a chance to drive to a local beach, where even though the weather was far from perfect, the Bentayga elevated the whole experience. The massaging seats kept us relaxed on the journey while we jammed out to music on the incredible Naim audio system with 20 speakers and 1,780 watts. And if there are any kids in the back seat, they can put on their favorite tunes using the awesome rear tablet feature.
With the aid of 542 effortless turbocharged horses, we quickly reached our beachside destination, a family-owned pizza shop with some amazing menu items like tortellini and BBQ chicken pizza. We could have just ordered delivery from a local pizza chain, but taking a mini road trip in the Bentayga transformed a simple meal into something special.