Bentley is exploring radically new space by unveiling the production version of its Bentayga luxury SUV, and the British automaker likewise is counting on the vehicle to take its well-heeled customers to uncharted, rugged territory few Bentleys have ever seen before.
A Bentley SUV has been in the works for several years, and the first iteration, the EXP 9 F SUV concept, drew a cool reception at the 2012 Geneva auto show. The awkwardly proportioned utility vehicle appeared stiff, upright and top-heavy, attempting to carry over many of the design cues that had distinguished Bentley sedans over the years.
The ’17 Bentayga, soon to debut at the Frankfurt auto show and set for delivery to customers early next year, carries over a few of the concept’s themes, namely the prominent haunches, the general shape of the hood and the steeply raked backlight.
But there the similarities end. The headlights and grille are smaller, and the whole front end leans backward, flowing neatly into the hood. The greenhouse is reduced, and the roof appears to be lower, sloping down to the liftgate.
In short, the Bentayga has more in common with the sporty, sexy and successful Continental GT coupe – arguably the car that saved Bentley when it launched in 2003 under new owner Volkswagen – than the sedans in the stable.
There were many lessons learned in designing and unveiling the concept, Sangyup Lee, Bentley’s head of exterior and advanced design, tells WardsAuto during a media preview at the recent Concours d’Elegance in California.
Most importantly, the automaker identified solid demand for a premium luxury SUV unlike anything yet on the market. Lee says the concept was intentionally styled to test the waters with consumers.
“We like to measure how far we can push,” Lee says. “When we design, we always try to make a big step, and then we back off if we need to. When you make a small step, it’s difficult to make a design statement.”
Bentley uses a stream of superlatives to describe the new Bentayga, calling it “the fastest, most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world.”
Designed and engineered in Crewe, U.K., the utility vehicle is built in the adjacent plant on a line separate from the coupes, convertibles and sedans.
Bentayga: Most Powerful SUV
Unlike the flagship Mulsanne 4-door, whose body requires 96 hours of largely hand-crafting, the Bentayga’s aluminum body will be fabricated more quickly with automation, much like that of the Continental and Flying Spur.
However, the Bentayga is only the second application (after the Mulsanne) of superforming, an advanced process that heats aluminum sheet to 932º F (500º C), making it pliable enough for deep-draw molding of the front fenders to achieve a highly sculpted look.
Lee says superforming is 10 times more expensive than conventional aluminum stamping but is completely worth it.
“This is where elegant design comes from,” he says, referring to the surface treatment, which transitions from a positive to negative shape along the fender behind the LED headlamps. “There is no other SUV that has this type of beautifully executed coach-built type of surface. It’s something we are very, very proud of.”
Building the body from aluminum instead of steel helps saves 520 lbs. (236 kg), Bentley says.
From a performance standpoint, Bentley ensures the Bentayga will be unrestrained by climate or terrain, with an all-new 6.0L twin-turbo W-12 rated at 600 hp and 663 lb.-ft. (900 Nm) of torque and capable of a 0-to-60 mph (97 km/h) sprint in 4 seconds and a top speed of 187 mph (301 km/h).
The engine employs both direct and multi-port fuel injection, as well as stop/start and cylinder deactivation to shut down half the engine under light loads.
Not intended solely for highway and yacht-club visits, the Bentayga comes with off-road drive settings and the optional Responsive Off-Road Setting. Up to eight modes are available, allowing drivers to dial up the ideal setting for any surface.
Meanwhile, the display screen shows information on pitch, roll, wheel articulation, steering angle, compass bearing and altitude.
Like all Bentleys, the Bentayga comes with multi-mode air suspension, and the electrically actuated 48V Bentley Dynamic Ride system helps mitigate body roll.
Stop-and-go adaptive cruise control allows drivers to maintain a set distance to the vehicle ahead, without having to touch the accelerator or brake pedals, while Predictive ACC uses navigation data, sensors and cameras to anticipate and respond to upcoming turns and speed-limit changes – intended to improve fuel economy and comfort.
In the city, the Bentayga’s Traffic Sign Recognition system will detect a wide variety of traffic placards and then inform the driver. The vehicle also will be available with Park Assist to find suitable parking spaces (both parallel and perpendicular), then autonomously steer the SUV into tricky and narrow spaces. Electric power steering is standard.
Bold New Interior Design Language
Inside, the Bentayga represents a quantum leap in attempting to pamper Bentley customers while exciting them with a dazzling sense of style and new technology. At first glance, the Bentayga interior comes across as more contemporary and daring than Bentleys of the recent past, while upholding the coach-built heritage.
An all-new 8-in. (20-cm) touchscreen infotainment system responds quickly to commands, delivers state-of-the-art navigation assistance, has a 60-GB hard drive and can communicate in up to 30 languages. Three audio systems are available.
The dashboard design takes its inspiration from the Bentley “wing” motif, with the upper part of the IP flowing gracefully to the right and left of the display screen, extending to each A-pillar.
Each of the 15 wood elements within the interior is hand-crafted by Bentley artisans in Crewe from a choice of seven different veneers, then highly polished.
Front leather seats with contrast stitching move 22 different ways, are heated and ventilated and offer 6-mode massaging. Bentley sources the finest naturally tanned bull hides from cool European climates.
The second row can be configured for two or three occupants, and a removable 10.2-in. (26-cm) Android tablet with 4G, WiFi and Bluetooth for high-speed connectivity is standard in the second row. A similar device was offered for the first time in the Flying Spur a year ago.
The hands-free tailgate reveals a large cargo hold and the optional folding event seat, ideal for tailgating at polo matches. Three removable cargo bins, known as the Mulliner Hamper Set, can double as benches for sitting and are optional.
Customers can choose from 17 exterior paint colors (although there are up to 90 bespoke shades in the extended range), 15 carpet options and 15 types of interior leather. Alloy wheels range in size from 20 to 22 ins.
The Bentayga shares its underpinnings with the new Audi Q7 CUV and is intended to compete with the Range Rover, which will be considerably less expensive. No word yet on Bentayga pricing.
Bentley says its new SUV is shorter than the long-wheelbase Range Rover but still has more interior space. The automaker also says the Bentayga is faster than a Porsche Cayenne S.
When asked if the current form of the Bentayga already existed when the EXP 9 F SUV concept was unveiled, Lee smiles broadly: “Of course.”