Originally Written for Destination Luxury, June 2017
Founded in Crewe in 1919, Bentley is recognised the world over as the manufacturer and marketer of quintessential British Luxury cars & SUVs. Brothers Walter & Horace Bentley began their motoring careers selling French DFP cars in North London. Whilst in his office in Cricklewood, Walter took inspiration from an aluminium paperweight on his office desk and calculated that this same material could be used in manufacturing light weight pistons for high performance engines. Fuelled by their passion for innovative and high-performance vehicles, the first Bentley rolled off the production line in September 1921. Over the coming years, Bentley’s cars formed a solid reputation for exceptional durability, and performed well at races and hill climb events. Having been acquired by Rolls Royce in 1931 and more recently Volkswagen in 1998, the brand has managed to stave off the commercialisation and subsequent loss of character often associated with large company takeovers. To the contrary, the Bentley brand has flourished, and displays now more than ever it’s quirky and somewhat eccentric English roots.
Now a household name, the modern Bentley cars are renowned for their industry leading performance, and luxury design features. The Continental GTS is considered by many to be the ultimate British Sports Car, featuring classic looks with modern twists and industry-leading driving technology. The 6 litre, 626bhp engine delivers 0-60mph in 4 seconds, and with a top speed of 206mph leaves little doubt as to its racing pedigree. Whilst the body shape is a classic dating back over 10 years, modern touches and a sumptuous, well-equipped interior make the car perfectly relevant for modern life.
Another icon of Bentley design and craftsmanship is undoubtedly the Flying Spur, with the name alone evoking unprecedented levels of intrigue and excitement. Don’t let the decidedly ‘grown up’ design fool you. Whilst the cabin seats up to 5 adults in 5-star luxury, beneath the hood lies a signature W12 Bentley beast. That’s right, W12. Because in the world of Bentley, why make do with one V6 when you can bind two together to make a W12.
It’s precisely this boundary-pushing, innovative and borderline eccentric approach to car design that gave birth to the Bentley Bentayga, the world’s fastest SUV. Featuring the same 6 litre W12 as found in the Flying Spur, the Bentayga matches the Spur’s 0-60 time of just 4 seconds, and tops out at a phenomenal 187mph – certainly a best in class performance for the luxury SUV sector. Combine this with Bentley’s 4×4 drive system, no less than 8 driving modes and a good helping of that famous British eccentricity, and you truly have a car fit for a king of the wilderness.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Bentley’s Product Marketing Manager, John Simons, who took us through how the team brought the Bentley vision of performance and luxury to life. With over 1 million miles of test driving in conditions ranging from the Arctic tundra to desert sand dunes, it’s clear that no stone has been left unturned in developing both the on and off-road capabilities of the Bentayga. Before we get too excited by the sheer power of that W12 engine, John reminds us that ‘performance is nothing without control’, and introduces us to Bentley’s all-new Dynamic Ride system, just one of the innovative technologies that lie at the heart of the Bentayga.
From the front, it’s the Bentayga’s imposing grills and air intakes that capture your imagination. Bold, brash and larger-than-life, it leaves little doubt that this car means business. Chunky off-road tyres, robust yet stylish alloy wheels and powerful lights add practicality, whilst the bodywork gives a nod to Bentley’s days as a Rolls Royce brand.
Then Bentayga’s sumptuous interior is the result of the 25 hours spent hand-stitching the premium leather which has been tanned and dyed to Bentley’s own bespoke specifications. The steering wheel alone is the product of 15 hours of love and attention which is immediately apparent from its luxurious feel. Elegant chrome work, intuitive systems and infinitely adjustable seats combine to prove that this is a car that is meant to be driven on long trips. The level of comfort for driver and passengers alike is bar none.
Finding an area to give such a diverse vehicle the test drive it deserves was a true challenge, but the area around Colorado’s Dunton Hot Springs proved to be just what we were looking for. Steep and often winding roads; gravel, rock and asphalt and even a sprinkling of rain allowed us to put the Bentayga through its paces in its natural environment.
The Bentayga has bridged the gap between performance and luxury flawlessly. The handling was truly unbelievable across each and every type of terrain we threw at it. The 4-wheel capabilities are exemplary for a car of its size and can easily be compared to those of any leading off-road vehicle. Cornering is smooth and positive even at high speeds, without ever losing sight of the youthful fun that inspires off road drivers. Combined with the supreme levels of comfort and safety that lie at the core of the Bentayga’s existence, it truly stands within a class of its own within the 4WD category.
As a testing ground, the Dunton Hot Springs complemented the Bentayga perfectly. Lush forests, crystal clear streams, dramatic mountains and winding ribbons of tarmac felt like the natural habitat of a car like the Bentley. Roaming such a breath-taking landscape from the man-made beauty of the Bentayga was, quite simply, staggering. Nothing was too much for the car which rose to the occasion without hesitation no matter what challenge we threw at it. Bentley set out to deliver its message of performance and luxury to corners of the world it has until now been unable to reach. With the Bentayga unleashed, I think it’s fair to say that there is not a corner of this world now that can’t be converted by the gospel according to Bentley.