As the second hour standing in LAX’s dreadful arrivals queue passed, I realised my schedule was going hopelessly awry. I still had a 130-mile drive to Palm Springs: in LA traffic, four hours or more. Factor in no food and nearly 24 hours without sleep, and Bentley’s Bentayga luxury SUV launch seemed to be in serious peril.
Then something very Bentley happened. Private jets were summoned. We were in Palm Springs within the hour. All was back on track; I had received my first glimpse into the wonderful world of being a Bentley driver.
A chauffeur-driven ride later, I was sipping champagne with the firm’s chairman and CEO Wolfgang Durheimer. The launch of the Bentayga is vitally important to the firm (it’s invested over £800m in the project), so no less a person would do. The Bentayga, he says, is a car customers have been requesting for years. It’s now a £160,000 reality.
Technically, a £230,000 reality, given Bentley customers’ to-date average £70,000 options spend. But I was too tired to split hairs, too weary to double-check the apparent £150,000 price of the Tourbillon clock option (it’s correct), so I retired wondering how the heck Britain’s most fabled luxury sports car firm will make a convincing SUV.
As I blinked into the Californian sunshine, some questions were torn up. OK, the concept version of this car, shown in 2012, was an abomination; a boxy old Audi Q7 with a Bentley grille welded on. But the production version is far better. Imagine a Continental GT turned into an SUV and you’re half way there. The rear haunches and raked rear screen particularly standout. And you won’t care less what it looks like once you’re inside. It’s amazing. Rich, indulgent, comfortable, spacious, packed with tech. I’m struggling to name a modern interior that’s better.
Even the drive isn’t like a regular wallowy old SUV. It’s lither, roll-free and more tenacious. Durheimer told me this was the most sporting of luxury SUVs and he’s not wrong: he’d know too, given his internal reputation for regularly topping 200mph in his company Bentley when at home in Germany.
The silence is other-worldly, the comfort of the ride is beautiful and the stability at all speeds is the antithesis of a tippy-toe 4x4. The most incredible part, though, is the performance. A 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 engine delivers 608hp and monumental acceleration – 2.3 tonnes yet 4.1 seconds to 62mph. Great waves of pulling power and a 187mph top speed comfortably deliver “world’s fastest SUV” bragging rights.
However unbecoming it seemed, I also went off-road. After all, it is an SUV, and a jolly capable one at that. To contrast, we then jumped into a helicopter and flew into the desert to drive across some sand dunes, because Bentley owners will be doing that all the time when they find out how good it is there too.
The shock of returning to normality loomed but I had one last blast in the Bentayga (and one more private jet) before shattering back to reality at LAX. Durheimer had convinced me. This is a genuine Bentley alright, a haven of luxury and performance that’s even more impenetrable than the sports cars and saloons that’ll sit alongside it in showrooms.
No wonder Bentley’s already added a third to its first-year sales estimates: customers are quite rightly fighting for the existing units, whatever the price.
★★★☆☆ | Design
★★★★★ | Performance
★★★☆☆ | Practicality
★★☆☆☆ | Value