NANTWICH, England — After 80-some odd years, Ettore Bugatti’s derision of Bentley as producing “the fastest lorries in the world” has been rendered literal. The Bentley Bentayga SUV climbs to the top of the burgeoning luxury-SUV heap with a 187-mile-per-hour top speed, 4.0-second 0-60 mph sprint time, and proportion and stance that its chief designer convincingly argues are evocative of classic predecessors going all the way back to the 24 Hours of Le Mans race cars of the late 1920s.
Bentley is particularly proud of the deep-draw front fenders, which sweep back in one piece, without cutlines, to the doors. There is a sharp crease at the top of the fender and a subtle counterwave between the crease and the hoodline. That deep draw recalls the type of bodywork found on Bentleys of the 1950s, Lee says.
All of the SUV’s body panels are aluminum, and Bentley set a weight target of less than 2,400 kilograms (5,300 pounds), product chief Peter Guest says — about 550 pounds lighter than it would be without materials and techniques to shave the weight. Still, some equipment was added at the end of development, and the Bentley Bentayga comes to market some 40 pounds heavier than Bentley’s target weight.
The deep-draw front fenders also allow for flush headlamps and daytime running lights. Bentley demonstrated a complicated assembly procedure in which those front fenders are removed from the body after arriving in nearby Crewe from the body plant in Bratislava, Slovakia, in order to make the flush headlamps and daytime running lights possible. The DRL lenses encircle body-painted circles that pop open to uncover headlamp-cleaning nozzles.
Two deep-draw horizontal character lines in the profile tie the front fenders with the rears, stopping just short of the creased rear fender wheel-arch accents, and the side daylight opening features an SUV-specific interpretation of Bentley’s now familiar hockey-stick shape. The rear window is faster, Lee says, than the windshield.
There’s a hands-free tailgate and optional leather-trimmed folding “event seat” that matches the cabin seats. It faces out, perfect for tailgating if you’re an NFL team owner.
A five-passenger version of the Bentley Bentayga with a rear bench will also be available at launch, and in either configuration, rear-seat passengers get a dedicated, removable 10.2-inch Android tablet with 4G, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity. Top among three available audio systems will be an 18-speaker/super-tweeter 1,950-watt Naim hi-fi.
Though the fast roofline might make headroom tight in the third row for postadolescent offspring, Bentley has a three-row Bentayga in the works. This is, after all, a big SUV, at 202.4 inches long and 68.6 inches tall on a 117.8-inch wheelbase.
The engine is an all-new, twin-scroll turbocharged 6.0-liter W-12 TSI, “the most advanced 12-cylinder in the world,” engineered and built in England, Guest says. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic sending power to all four wheels. The W-12 is rated 600 horsepower @ 5,200-6,000 rpm and 664 lb-ft @ 1,250-4,500 rpm, and it has cylinder deactivation turning it into a six at cruising speeds, plus a coast-down feature for gears five through eight. Bentley believes it may be the first engine ever produced to combine port injection with direct injection, which each help lower emissions. The engine is about 66 pounds lighter than the current W-12 found in other Bentleys, so expect to see it roll out quickly in other models. Hybrid and clean-diesel powertrains will become available after launch.
“Our philosophy is one car for all conditions,” Guest says. Of course, Bentley expects virtually all its customers will never let their Bentayga’s tires experience gravel, let alone serious off-roading, but just as the Continental GT Speed can hit 200 mph, the new SUV is designed to meet or exceed the capabilities of any competitor. (Though not mentioned, this certainly includes the Range Rover Sport.)
More importantly, with the new Bentayga, Bentley finally enters the hottest bodystyle segment in the business, both for luxury and commodity brands. When it launched the Continental in 2003, the brand’s annual output rose from about 750 to about 7,500, and the new model could raise it again to Ferrari levels of just less than 10,000 per year, along with the added benefit of Ferrari-like profit margins. Deliveries of the Bentayga begin in mid-2016, with a price just above Continental and Flying Spur, so expect it to start close to $200,000. A Bentley SUV might have seemed like heresy just a couple of years ago, but now it seems more obvious to this brand than to other ultra-luxury marques entering the fray. Somewhere, Ettore Bugatti is smirking.
2017 Bentley Bentayga Specifications
|Price:||$195,000 (est base)|
|Engine:||6.0L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve W-12/600 hp @ 5,250-6,000 rpm, 664 lb-ft @ 1,250-4,500 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 4- or 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|L x W x H:||202.4 x 78.7 x 68.6 in|
|0-60 MPH:||4.0 sec|
|Top Speed:||187 mph (mfr’s est)|