2017 Bentley Bentayga
The fastest SUV
What It Is: Currently the fastest (187 mph) and most expensive SUV on the market, the Bentayga is Bentley’s opening salvo to the ever-expanding SUV ranks, and it stands alone as the only nameplate—not simply a more powerful and gussied up variant—to start north of $200,000. However, other ultraluxury makers, among them Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Maybach, Aston Martin, and likely even Ferrari, are rushing to join this party as swiftly as possible. A twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12 making 600 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque endows the roughly Audi Q7–sized Bentayga—no surprise given that it’s based on the Audi’s bones—with mega thrust. When called on, the Bentayga points its nose skyward (not unlike many of its owners) and then charges forward like it’s trying to escape the atmosphere. The pricing of this four- or five-seat über ute (a third-row option is being added for 2018) accelerates just about as quickly, with nearly endless options small and large, even including unusual and comprehensive falconry and fly-fishing packages as well as a $170,000 Tourbillon by Breitling timepiece.
Why We Tested It and How It Performed: Both of our previous Bentayga tests took place in California running 91-octane fuel. As impressive as the results were—warping this nearly 6000-pound SUV to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds—we wondered if the W-12 might run even stronger on the 93 octane readily available in our home state of Michigan. Short answer: Nope. This latest Bentayga hit 60 mph in 3.6 and the quarter-mile in 12 seconds flat. The 60-mph time was a tenth shy of the other two tests, but the rest of the numbers fell between those gathered in our two previous outings, including the 4.1-second 5-to-60-mph blast and the 2.4- and 2.8-second 30-to-50-mph and 50-to-70 passing times. That’s still extremely quick, and given that our latest ultra-luxe utilitarian sled weighed 109 pounds more than the quickest example—option content can make a significant difference here—those results are to be expected. However, this Bentayga turned in its best braking and skidpad performances, which still weren’t all that impressive, as we have yet to test one on the available summer tires.
What We Like: A dozen reciprocating cylinders under the hood is a magnificent start—from the velvety-smooth manner in which they alight, to the tastefully light snarl of the exhaust, and, of course, to never wanting for power. On the other end of the Bentayga’s performance spectrum, this latest version of the W-12 proved unexpectedly efficient, posting 23 mpg on our 75-mph highway test, substantially exceeding its EPA highway rating and matching the all-wheel-drive GMC Acadia Denali, which has half the cylinders and about half the power. The Bentayga’s interior looks the $200K-plus part, with spectacular leather that extends all the way down the doors—where the cheapening out happens and leather turns to plastic on lesser vehicles—and over the entire headliner. (Of the 15 available standard colors of leather, our car wore a stunning two-tone brown/beige.)
Other details worthy of the admiration of the numerous onlookers vying for a glimpse include an exquisite jewelry holder that clips into the front cupholders, elegant analog gauges (no digital cluster here to pander to the new-money crowd, thank you very much), the artfully rendered interior door handles, and a metal gas cap so weighty that those unaccustomed may fumble it during the first removal. There’s switchgear borrowed from Audi, such as the cruise-control stalk and the steering-wheel knobs, but at least it is slathered in enough chrome to set it apart. Although the Bentayga’s limits aren’t exceedingly high on the all-season tires our test car wore and the tire squealing starts early, it is ready to play near the cornering limit, where a dab of the brakes brings about a meaningful rear-end rotation. Plus, there’s a selfie app built into the Android tablets of the rear-seat entertainment system, which seems spectacularly on point.
What We Don’t Like: Why must the W-12 act so insecure, always trying to impress us with its mighty thrust? Initial throttle response is laggy when attempting to drive gently, and then the power comes barreling on far too strongly. There’s a sag during the 1-2 upshift, and then it delivers another unruly surge. Although complaining about price may seem a little too obvious, suffice it to say that the law of diminishing returns kicks in well before the Bentayga’s $235,525 opening price. Even with the extraordinary initial ask, Bentley charges extra for everything from interior contrast stitching ($1980)—the same on the steering wheel costs an added $210—to rear-seat entertainment ($7155), an 18-speaker Naim stereo upgrade ($4690), a seat that folds out of the cargo area ($3200), and the four-seat configuration ($11,015), not to mention a $7870 package of electronic safety aids such as lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, night vision, and a head-up display.
Even a heated steering wheel costs $455 extra. And at our $285,114 as-equipped price, the Bentayga lacks a power headrest adjustment, its lane-centering system annoyingly dithers the steering wheel, and the plasticky shift lever was creaking in our car. This Bentley also doesn’t ride as well or feel as structurally solid as the Q7, despite a high-tech adaptive suspension, and we prefer Audi’s MMI infotainment as well. Also, in terms of practicality, the Bentley struggles to measure up, holding only nine carry-on-size bags behind the second row, one less than the much smaller Ford Escape. Choose the four-seat option and the second row doesn’t fold, either. Those rear seats have a princely high seating height but not a lot of stretch-out room, some of which must be further sacrificed by sliding the seats forward if occupants want to enjoy much of their reclining capability.
Verdict: An exquisitely detailed, nearly three-ton luxury barge that accelerates almost like a Chevy Corvette Z06.