November 25th, 2016 at 10:00am
Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.
Reviewer: John McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Bentley Bentayga
I knew that Bentley achieved everything it wanted with the Bentayga when I drove up to the main entrance at the Greenbrier, one of the poshest resort hotels in the world. People stopped and stared. Suddenly the Benz’s, BMW’s and Range Rover’s parked out front looked somewhat pedestrian, even mundane. I overhead one woman breathlessly ask, “Who’s in the Bentley?”
You want instant rock star status? Get a Bentayga. But you better bring a rock star income along with you, too. The one I drove had over $43,000 in options, which in itself is enough to buy a decent luxury car. But for those who have this kind of disposable income, the Bentayga gives get something very special for your money.
Let’s start with the interior, which I think is the most impressive aspect of this car. It’s arresting, truly one of those open-the-door-and-take-your-breath-away designs. Bentley is masterful at choosing the perfect types of leathers and colors. And accents and contrasts. And textures and smells. It just makes you want to inhale deeply with every breath and run your hands over every surface.
Even more, it has a wonderful combination of modernity sprinkled with old-school touches. For example, it bristles with the latest in electronic interfaces but retains the damped organ-stop vent controls that Bentley used for most of the last century. From the quilted leather accents to the large burled walnut veneers that run through the tops of the doors and across the face of the dashboard, it gets awfully close to being garish but stops just in time to look impressively opulent instead.
As you look at the Bentayga’s silhouette you realize that it exhibits proportions not seen on any other SUV. It has a high belt line with chunky fenders. It has a chopped front overhang, but a stretched rear overhang. And the back lite is set at a faster angle than the windshield. In other words, there’s nothing else in the market that is shaped like it.
To drive home the “sport” aspect of this sport utility vehicle, it has a pronounced curve at the leading edge of the rear fenders, reminiscent of the haunches of a jungle cat ready to leap at its prey. And just in case the haunches don’t drive that point home, all you have to do is tap into its 600 horsepower W-12 engine. I’ve never felt 5,000 pounds of steel, glass and aluminum rocket forward so quickly.
The Bentayga is currently in a class of its own, but will soon share the road with a couple of cousins. The next generation Porsche Cayenne and the upcoming Lamborghini Urus will share the same VW AG MLB platform. Though each has its own unique personality they could vie for the same class of customers. That might muddy the waters from a sales standpoint.
For now though, the Bentayga has the market to itself. And it has made an impression that extends well beyond the 1%-ers it’s aimed at. When driving down the highway I noticed a number of people whip out their cell phones to shoot a video of the Bentayga as it whistled past them. That was a new experience for me. I’ve never seen people shooting a video of a car that I was driving. And I test drive a lot of different cars.
It’s amazing how people the world over are turning away from traditional sedans to buy an SUV instead. It’s even more amazing to see this happen at the upper crust of the luxury segment. And that tells me the Bentayga will probably end up being the best selling Bentley ever.