Ultra-Luxury SUV Meets Dune-Buggy Set

Bentley was determined to make its ultra-lux Bentayga more than just a pretty SUV.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

February 24, 2016

6 Min Read
rsquo17 Bentley Bentayga shows its stuff at Imperial Sand Dunes
’17 Bentley Bentayga shows its stuff at Imperial Sand Dunes.

PALM SPRINGS, CA – The rolling Imperial Sand Dunes southeast of here draw dune-buggy enthusiasts who attack the sandy hills. Their frame-cage contraptions are utterly utilitarian.

But on this particular day, a caravan of other vehicles shows up for serious off-road dune driving. The buggy bunch seem surprised at the sight of these vehicles that are decidedly different from theirs.

These are well-appointed all-new ’17 Bentley Bentaygas, the automaker’s first venture into the SUV world. It doesn’t get any lusher than these 5,379 lbs. (2,440 kg) ultra-luxury power trippers that are go-anywhere agile, as they proceed to prove up and down Imperial terrain.

Decked out in a variety of colors such as Extreme Silver and Dragon Red, the Bentaygas look a bit out of place at a monochromatic spot where you expect to see Lawrence of Arabia ride up on a camel.

But the U.K. automaker selects the rolling dunes as one of the places to demonstrate what the Bentayga can do off-road.

Sure, it is a great-looking vehicle that costs a quarter of a million dollars and offers the lap of luxury inside. But it’s not just a pretty SUV. It’s a road warrior that easily cuts up and down the sand dunes, where “soft-roader” CUVs and definitely cars would rightfully fear to tread.

The Bentayga doesn’t break a sweat in the sand. And later in the day, it keeps a British stiff upper lip while doing treacherous rock climbing at Cahuilla Creek, a craggy location where mountain goats would feel at home. 

Bentley bills the Bentayga as the world’s fastest, most powerful, most opulent SUV that can go just about anywhere. For instance, if a rich Mideast sheik wants to off-road in high style in the Arabian Desert, well, Bentley has the SUV for him, says Michael Winkler, who heads Bentley’s U.S. operations. Would a sheik actually do that? Probably not, but he could if he wanted to, Winkler responds. “That’s the point.”

The same applies to other Bentayga capabilities. It is fast thanks to its 6.0L engine, a new turbocharged W-12 that produces 600 hp. Top speed: 187 mph (301 km/h). Will owners (the vehicle goes on sale in May) take it to that limit? Don’t plan on it, and make way if they do. But again, they like knowing they can.

“You sell the horsepower but the customer expects the torque,” Rolf Frech, Bentley’s board member-engineering, tells me.

So if a Bentayga readily climbs sand dunes and gets up and down gullies, an owner will feel confident driving on a wet road in a rainstorm.

At the press preview, the Bentayga shows its speed and stability on the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. The vehicle goes flat out on straightaways, bites into corners and floats across to take on the next one.

Derek Bell, a five-time Le Mans winner who now is a Bentley ambassador, rides shotgun as I do hot laps. He talks of the car as if it were human. “Go up into that corner and then swoop out,” he says. “The car wants you to do that. It’s looking to you for guidance.”

An SUV That Looks Like a Bentley

The Bentayga looks like a Bentley, yet it also very much looks like an SUV. That’s an accomplishment considering much of Bentley’s 97-year history involved making big vehicles that resemble land versions of private yachts.

The Bentayga sports the familiar Bentley matrix grille. The wheel arches and fenders look sporty. The rear haunch and high profile give heft. It looks like a rich jock. 

“You have to push the language of design a little forward,” design director Stefan Sielaff says, noting the differences between the Bentayga and flagship Mulsanne sedan exteriors.

“The Mulsanne is the Mulsanne,” he says over lunch in a tent pitched at the sand dunes. “But an SUV appeals to different customers. They have the money to buy a Bentley but they want it to have a contemporary look and feel.”

Advanced technology played a role in stamping sections of the Bentayga’s aluminum body parts. Aluminum presents greater fabricating challenges than steel. Superforming is an advanced process that heats metal to 932º F (500º C). It was used to create some of the Bentayga’s crisp lines, particularly on the rear panels.

“It is an important process for us, but it takes time,” Sielaff says. “You can’t really do it for high-volume vehicles.”

The Bentayga contains an exquisite interior with an array of royal trappings, such as twin-sewn diamond-design leather seats. Impeccable craftsmanship runs from front to rear. The cabin comes in either a 4- or 5-seat configuration.

Check all the boxes on driver-assist systems, from blindspot detection to adaptive cruise control to park assist.

The core of the infotainment system is an all-new touchscreen platform with haptic controls, analog gauges and a pair of removable rear-seat entertainment tablets on the backs of the front seats. The tablets are connected to onboard 4G WiFi.

The 8-in. (20 cm) front-row infotainment/navigation screen is not as big as some  in other vehicles. Sielaff says that’s by design.

“We are German-thinking (Volkswagen Group owns Bentley), and we don’t think big screens are really the future because they tend to be distractions,” he says. “The future is an advanced head-up display in the glass (windshield).”

The Bentayga’s head up display in the direct view of the driver offers data such as warnings, speed and navigation instructions.

An LED head-up system is in the works, but engineers are working on clarity issues, he says. “We’re not yet at 100%.”

Bentley eventually will put third-row seating in its SUV. The automaker says there’s enough room to do that. But it stands to be a children-only seating zone.

The Bentayga shares the same platform as the VW Toureg and Porsche Cayenne. An extended-wheelbase model is in development and would lend itself more fittingly to third-row seating.

The Bentayga starts at $229,100. The one we drove had $77,685 in options. That includes such things as the rear-seat entertainment tablets ($7,000), the Naim premium audio system ($4,690), enhanced seat stitching ($1,980) and a so-called “smoker’s specification” ($590). The latter consists of a couple of front- and back- seat ash trays. (But they’re really nice ash trays.)

Bentley owners like to personalize their cars. For the money-is-no-object set, options include a gold Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon dashboard clock and a Linley 3-piece picnic hamper that snuggles into the cargo area.

A Bentley executive once spoke of a customer who had his car’s interior accented with wood from a tree in his estate’s forest. When it comes to personalization, Bentley has but three rules, the exec told me. 

“One, it must be legal. Two, it must be in the realm of possibility. Three, you must be able to pay for it.”

Bentley is taking orders for the Bentayga now. Dealership deliveries start in May. Tallyho, wherever one might go in this SUV aristo.

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'17 Bentley Bentayga Specifications

Vehicle type

4- 5-passenger, front-engine, 4-wheel-drive ultra-luxury SUV


6.0L turbocharged W-12


600 hp @ 6,000 rpm


663 lb.-ft. (990 Nm) @ 1,250-4,500 rpm


8-speed automatic


117.9 ins. (2,995 mm)

Overall length

202.4 ins. (5,140 mm)

Overall width

78.7 ins. (1,999 mm)

Overall height

68.6 ins. (1,742 mm)

Curb weight

5,379 lbs. (2,440 kg)

Base price


Fuel economy



Range Rover, Cadillac Escalade



Power plus

No third-row seating…yet

Exquisite interior

Mid-size nav screen

Impressively engineered

Budget-minded need not apply


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