Bentley really was ahead of the curve with the Bentayga. Enthusiasts may have baulked at the thought of this illustrious British brand apparently ‘sullying’ its ranks with an SUV of all things, but lo and behold, all the rest followed, albeit a good while later. The Bentayga went into production at the tail end of 2015, but it took Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce until 2018 to bring out the Urus and Cullinan, and we’ve only just driven the Aston Martin DBX.
Mere days on from trying out the latter, we were handed the keys to a facelifted Bentayga to drive, neatly demonstrating Bentley’s forward thinking. Forward thinking that’s paid off, because the SUV has been a smash hit, despite the divisive looks.
It is still a little challenging to look at from some angles, but the new one does a much better job of upscaling the modern Bentley look onto a big SUV. The grille doesn’t seem as out of place, and the Continental GT-like crystal-filled oval headlamps are a huge improvement over the slightly goofy ones they replace. The rear of the outgoing car was verging on bland, but that’s no longer the case, thanks to some light clusters which - again - look like they’re pinched from the Conti.
The interior of a Bentley is arguably more important than the exterior, though, and in there it’s all looking rosy. The dash has been redesigned with a distinctive, leather-clad U-shape that cradles the centre console, flanked by big chunks of some of the best wood trim in the business. Yes, the borrowing from the VW Group parts bin is liberal, but everything’s well-integrated, and it sits together well enough with the more bespoke Bentley bits like the metal ‘organ stop’ vent switches.
The 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 (again, a VW Group staple) awakens with little drama, ushering you forward with scant effort. On the move it’s perhaps not as quiet as we’d like, partly thanks to the road noise from the 22-inch wheels, but it’s immediately relaxing. The 22s do also mean you feel rough ground through that cabin more than you might expect, but overall, the Bentayga is a comfortable, leather-lined waft capsule.
As is the case across Bentley’s models, there are three main on-road driving modes to choose from (and some off-road settings we didn’t have a chance to try) - Comfort, the balanced ‘B’ mode, and Sport. Chuck it in Sport and the ride noticeably firms up while the V8 becomes more vocal.
The air springs and active anti-roll stabilisation system do an incredible job of keeping the Bentayga upright during hard cornering, and there’s even a very slight hint of feedback from the steering. There’s only so much that can counter a 2.4-tonne kerb weight, though - push too much, and the front tyres will squeal in protest as the understeer arrives. Under some circumstances, you might get a slight wiggle from the rear, but no more.
Not that we can imagine many Bentayga owners driving like this. We can, however, see them making the most of that 542bhp V8, which is a great match for the car. It still picks up nicely despite all the extra bulk relative to the Continental GT V8 we tried recently, rarely leaving you wanting for extra power. Lag is well contained, and it makes a good noise - one that’s much more burbly than cars from other brands with this engine.
Once back to driving normally, something started nagging me. Does this feel as much of an occasion as the superb Flying Spur? It didn’t take long to conclude that the answer is no, not quite. Perhaps that’s because the Spur carves out more of an identity for itself relative to its platform mates. When driving the Bentayga, on the other hand, it’s all too easy to notice the similarities with cars like the Q7.
You are made to pay one hell of a premium for the Bentley, too - the base price is £146,700, and ‘our’ test car had an additional £35,000 of optional extras.
Ultimately, the Bentayga just about justifies this, primarily because, among the posho SUVs, it still looks like the one to have. Realistically you’re looking at over £300,000 for a Rolls-Royce Cullinan with options, and while the Aston DBX is a whole lot more exciting to drive, it’s not anywhere near as good as the Bentley when you’re not in hooning conditions. Which, let’s face it, is going to be most of the time.
And so, the Bentayga will be doing the same thing it has been since 2015 - selling by the boat-load.