When Bentley announced that it would enter the super-premium luxury segment of the sport utility vehicle (SUV) market a few years ago, it was the beginning of a new era, a watershed moment for the company and a totally new direction in its 97-year history.
It is safe to say that the company, based in Crewe, England, has laid down the gauntlet for other ultra-luxury car companies to enter the fray, with Rolls-Royce already testing its Cullinan SUV, while BMW is readying its introduction of the X7, which shares a platform with the Cullinan.
Mercedes-Maybach is also rumoured to be working on a GLS-based model to take on the market in 2018. On the sporting side of the spectrum, Maserati already has the Levante, and Aston Martin’s DBX is due for introduction in 2019, while Lamborghini’s Urus is also earmarked for 2018 introduction.
The Bentayga was launched in 2016 in W12 form and has now been joined by a diesel variant, to be sold in mature diesel markets such as Australia, the UK and SA.
According to Robin Peel, Bentley’s head of international marketing and communications, the introduction of the diesel model will appeal to a slightly younger buyer entering the Bentley market, someone not entirely perturbed by veering slightly away from the traditional W12 engine heritage.
Purposeful in its design, the Bentayga is distinctively a Bentley with quad, circular headlights and that large mesh grille, while the side profile is accentuated by baroque rear flanks that are reminiscent of the Continental GT.
While it shares a platform with the current Audi Q7 and the next-generation Porsche Cayenne, there are few, if any, similarities in cabin appointments, making the Bentayga an amiable sanctuary for the discerning gentleman or lady. From the quilted leather pews to the traditional organ-stop chrome vents, every item has been painstakingly crafted to attain congruence between one’s perceived and tactile quality of the materials used. Buyers can also choose from 15 types of veneers to suit their taste.
After many firsts for the company, the Bentayga will be available in 2017 with a 4.0-litre, triple-charged diesel engine that puts out an impressive 320kW and 900Nm, the latter available from just 1000rpm, essentially from idle if you will, which gives the vehicle effortless acceleration from any speed.
Another first for the model is the 48V electrical architecture, which has made it possible for it to feature a world-first 48V active anti-roll control system, which allows the electronics to compute and make suspension changes in milliseconds relative to the impending road conditions. In fact, driving behind one of the models during the launch drive I was intrigued at the resistance the vehicle has to body roll, a fact that was echoed by my spell at the helm while meandering through some mountain passes near the town of Rhonda.
What the 48V architecture also brings to the table is the ability to power the 7kW electronic turbo compressor, which allows for maximum torque to be available from idle and duly obliterates turbo lag. The electric compressor disengages between 2000 and 2700rpm when the sequential bi-turbo set-up takes over the reins above those revs.
In practice, it is impressively imperceptible and all you get at any given point in the rev range is the buttery, creamy spread of torque at your disposal. Diesel refinement, in my books, has been redefined. I have driven a number of impressive diesels over the years, including Audi’s V12 TDI, but even that pales compared with this V8 lump.
This particular engine is not entirely exclusive to Bentley, with Audi employing it in its SQ7, although it is said to have a more sporting bent in that application.
One of the key objectives, according to Peter Guest, product line director at Bentley UK, was that the engine had to meet the company’s standards of refinement and, to that end, I have to doff my hat to the engineers. Even standing next to the vehicle at idle, you would be hard-pressed to discern whether it is diesel or petrol fuelled, which speaks large volumes of the feat achieved here.
Even sticking the gearbox into neutral and revving the engine provides only a V8 murmur, which is also perceptible under full throttle. Guest is also proud of the fact that the sound is completely organic, with no synthesisers added to generate the exhaust note.
Taking 4.8 seconds to get to 100km/h from standstill and going on to a top end of 270km/h, the Bentayga diesel is said to be the fastest SUV diesel in the world, while having the ability to achieve a range of 1,000km, while sipping 7.9l/100km and emitting 210g/km of carbon.
The Bentayga diesel is every bit what we have come to expect of the brand. It is intricately put together, offering bespoke interior appointments and refinement that is simply peerless in the SUV landscape. – Lerato Matebese