The 2017 Bentley Bentayga is an amazing thing; a 12-cylinder, ultra-lux SUV with a claimed top speed in the realm of 170 mph, and the off-road chops to take it places few, if any, buyers will ever decide to take it. The product of the fastest vehicle development program in Bentley’s history — just 42 months, from concept approval to production — it is an extremely well put together SUV from an automaker that has never built an SUV before.
Why even build an SUV in the first place?? Because luxury SUVs are shaping up to be the Next Big Thing. Being a part of VW gave the Bentley team plenty to work with when concepting the Bentayga. It’s built on the PL73 version of VW’s MLB platform architecture that also underpins the new Audi Q7. However, the Bentley gets its own suspension and brakes and debuts VW’s new 6.0-liter W-12 engine.
The interiod is beautifully crafted and is rich in signature Bentley-ness such as quilted leather and knurled metal. The dash fascia combines design themes from both Continental and Mulsanne, and the latest iterations of familiar Bentley instruments and switchgear. The attention to detail is impeccable, from the ultra-thin chrome surrounds for the switchgear, to the etched covers for the sound system speakers that look like woven metal.
The all-new W-12 under the Bentayga’s hood shares basic architectural elements such as bore spacings with the outgoing engine, but is 66 pounds lighter and features direct and port injection to help it meet emissions, performance, drivability, and cold start targets. A cylinder deactivation system shuts down one bank of cylinders. The twin-scroll turbochargers are integrated into the exhaust manifolds, and a new oil system has been developed, with pickups that ensure good oil supply throughout the engine, plus suction pumps to scavenge oil from the turbochargers, even when the Bentayga is tilted at extreme angles.
Bentley offers four on-road dynamic modes: Comfort, Bentley, Sport, and Custom. (Bentley mode represents what Guest and his team believe is the ideal setup for the car.) The steering feel can be changed in Custom mode if you want, though there’s really no need, as the nicely weighted and impressively linear helm helps you accurately place the big Bentley through turns.
The Bentayga’s killer app, however, is a trick anti-roll system called EWAS that uses fast-acting 48-volt motors to twist the anti-roll bars in the opposite direction to the cornering forces, keeping the car flat through turns. The EWAS system, which will be standard on 12-cylinder Bentaygas and optional on the V-8 versions that will arrive in the 2018 model year, works beautifully when you get the big Bentley among the switchbacks, keeping it uncannily calm and composed, yet feeling remarkably agile and light on its feet. Even better, there’s no negative impact on the ride, which is probably the best yet from a VW Group-era Bentley.
With a claimed top speed of 187 mph, Bentley boasts that the Bentayga is the fastest SUV in the world. The claim is made possible by a twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12 that makes a mighty 600 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque; an eight-speed automatic drives all four wheels. The interior can be configured to seat four or five; only the finest leather will cosset those lucky posteriors. Diesel and hybrid powertrains will be offered in the future; the Bentayga goes on sale in early 2016.