The raindrops pelt the windscreen in anger as we approach the paddock building of the Formula 1 Circuit. Singapore’s prior sunshine and welcome has given way to gloomy clouds and wet tarmac. On the other side, inside the very pit garage that two-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton will occupy later in the season, lies the newest creation to roll out Crewe’s factory doors.
What is it?
What started life as concept at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show simply known by a bunch of vague numbers and letters (EXP 9F to be exact) evolved into the newest plaything for the Bentley boys (and girls) of the world when in July 2013, Bentley announced the Bentayga. The first ever Bentley SUV, capable of a largely superfluous 300km/h, built on the bones of the VW Group’s new large SUV platform; the PL71.
Above: The Bentley EXP 9F Concept
Gone were squared off edges, disconnected fasciae of the metalwork, turbo-prop wheels and garish grill styles of the EXP 9F concept. The Bentayga is quintessential Bentley, the prominent grille inserts, emblazoned across the front, welcome the front hood, seemingly draped over the rounded front wings as they have in the past. A subtle kink in the metal just over the barrelled quad-headlamps now separates the vertical and horizontal regions at the front.
As the silhouette gently rises from the A-Pillar, a ‘B’ shaped wing vent just before the front door sets the tone for the lower regions of the car’s flanks. As we skirt towards the rear door, the familiar feature line cuts across the sheet metal, forming another surface for light refraction, the rear however simple in execution – does little to hide the wide stance of the vehicle.
Look closer to find optional carbon-fibre elements like the diffusers at the front, side sills and rear wing seamlessly integrated into the bodywork. While the appreciation for design can be subjective – there's little argument that the Bentayga represents superb modernity with firm salute to Bentley tradition.
Bentley claim the Bentayga is a Bentley first and an SUV second. To this effect, the power plant chosen is thoroughly re-engineered version of the firm’s W12 engine. The major numbers are as follows:
- Engine: 6.0-litre twin-turbo (twin-scroll), direct-injected W12.
- Power: 600bhp@ 5000rpm – 6000rpm.
- Torque: 900Nm @ 1350rpm.
- Transmission: ZF 8-speed automatic,permanent all-wheel drive system with a 40:60 front to rear torque split.
- Performance: 301km/h top speed, 4.1 second 0-100km/h.
- Dimensions (Length/Width/Height): 5140mm/1998mm/1742mm
A concoction of steel and aluminium forms the monocoque; the front hood and fenders are made from aluminium – but given its large colossus, still weighs in at 2422kg. 17 paint colours are offered as standard, 90 others from the extended range and should the list not be exhaustive enough – Bentley will also paint your Bentayga in any colour as part of its bespoke program.
On the inside, there’s 15 hide colours to decorate the cabin, highlighted by 7 veneer species that form a salvo of tactile touch points, cocooning one in decadent luxury. In the centre of the dash console is an all-new 8-inch central touchscreen with gesture control. The new navigation software allows for 3D building display and stores up to 11GigaBytes (GB) of onboard music from a 60GB solid-state hard drive. CD, DVD… you name it, it’s got it, the text-to-speech and voice recognition functions are fluent in 30 languages while two 10” Android based rear infotainment tablets are optional for rear seat entertainment. Soundtracks are beamed through a 700w 7-Speaker Signature Audio system or an optional Naim 1800w, 19-channel, 18-speaker setup for the full philharmonic experience.
How does it drive?
In a word… sensational, despite the Singapore F1 harbour side street circuit hosting the proceedings, very little of it was actually at our disposal. A sharp acceleration stint leads us onto a quick left-right evasive manoeuvre, this, to exhibit the brutality of the engine and the finesse of the chassis.
Plant your right foot (all the way) down in the Bentayga and the resultant explosion of torque will rearrange one’s bearings of what is actually achievable in an SUV. Suffice to say, the last time I felt exhilaration and fear in equal amounts as I did in the Bentayga, it was my first time in a BMW M3. The 4.1 second 1-100km/h time of the Bentayga would place it on par with Porsche Cayenne Turbo S; even so, the Turbo S tops out at 284km/h – some 17km/h shy of the Bentayga.
The short burst of acceleration (some 200 metres) is all it takes to get the Bentayga into three figure speeds before I stomp hard on the brake pedal – a quick hard left and the right spares a traffic cone from being eternally wiped out – the Bentayga stays flat on its paws. The revolutionary front (dynamic) anti-roll-bar setup, augmented by the firm’s Dynamic Ride control system spreads pitch and yaw forces evenly across the car’s platform. The brakes are unfazed by the relative weight of the vehicle and complexity of the steering actions – clamping down with urgency and vigour.
A slalom section exhibits the connectivity of the speed sensitive variable ratio electronic power steering setup. Steering responses are administered rather quickly; the progressively metered outputs are easy to understand, instilling great amounts confidence very quickly.
The weightage is perhaps most impressive, given the rather agricultural sizes of the rolling rubber – piloting the Bentayga on the slalom noticeably takes about as much effort as a Honda CR-V. It’s the biggest compliment I could bestow this uber-SUV; given most owners will use it to cruise the various highstreets of the world.
If the Range Rover started the genre of the luxury SUV, and the Porsche Cayenne showed the world that an SUV could actually handle – rest assured the Bentayga has just moved the game on both accounts quantifiably further. In terms of performance and agility – it warps reality as to what is possible, yet maintaining traditional brand ethos of graceful style, pizzazz and impeccable finish; dare I say it, welcome to the era of the super-SUV…