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2017 Bentley Bentayga First Drive Review

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 9/9/2015 Manufacturer, Angus MacKenzie

There's a gap in the trees on the right hand side of the trail; beyond it, a sheet of rock falling steeply away from us, stepped and creased and made slick by the light rain. We tiptoe gently over the edge, and point the nose down the hill. It's so slippery we're advised to disengage the hill descent control and inch down on the brake, toes feeling for grip all the way. Every so often there's a sickening lurch as gravity overcomes the tenacious traction of the big Pirelli Scorpion tires, and the occasional crunch of metal on rock as topography triumphs over technology. But we make it down.

That's the good news. The bad news is they now want us to go back up. One of the test drivers shows us how it's done, deftly horsing the big SUV up the rock ledges. Once over the worst of them, though, there's little opportunity for finesse in the treacherous conditions: Titanic torque and a ton of horsepower gets the job done. All four wheels spinning, more than $200,000 worth of leather-lined, wood-trimmed Bentley scrabbles over the lip and back onto the trail. Yes, that's right. Bentley.

The 2017 Bentley Bentayga is a truly extraordinary beast; a 12-cylinder, ultra-lux SUV with a claimed top speed in excess of 170 mph, and the off-road chops to take it places few, if any, buyers will ever dare take it. The product of the fastest vehicle development program in Bentley's history — just 42 months, from concept approval to production — it is an extremely accomplished SUV from an automaker that has never built an SUV before.

Editor’s Note: After we drove the Bentayga prototype, Bentley revealed the ultra-lux SUV completely free of camo—those photos are shown here.

Read More: The 83 Hottest New Cars for 2016

2017 Bentley Bentayga Front Three Quarter In Motion 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Bentley Bentayga Front Three Quarter In Motion 01

But why build a Bentley SUV in the first place? Because luxury SUVs are shaping up to be the Next Big Thing, that's why. Bentayga sales chief Marcus Abbott says the segment, currently defined by Range Rover, Porsche Cayenne, and the more expensive Mercedes-Benz GL and BMW X5 models, will grow more than 60 percent to more than 30,000 vehicles a year by 2020. Bentley's target is to sell between 4,000 and 5,000 Bentaygas annually, with the U.S., China, Great Britain, and Germany its four biggest markets.

Being a part of the giant VW Group gave the Bentley team plenty to work with when developing the Bentayga. It's built on the PL73 version of VW Group's MLB (longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive) platform architecture that also underpins the new Audi Q7. However, the Bentley gets its own suspension and brakes (the brakes will later be shared with the next-gen Porsche Cayenne) and debuts VW Group's new 6.0-liter W-12 engine. With the exterior and interior designed in-house at Crewe, Bentayga project leader Peter Guest says 80 percent of the car is unique to Bentley.

"When we started, we had no idea what a Bentley SUV should be," says Guest. Extensive research revealed that potential buyers wanted something that offered the practicality of an SUV, but also wanted something sporty and, of course, fitted and finished like a proper Bentley. Off-road capability was important, not because anyone would seriously consider attacking the Rubicon in their Bentayga, but because of the credibility it delivered in the country club parking lot. Customers in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries are the exception, says Guest: "They all drive Range Rovers around town, but when they go out in the desert, they take their Toyota Land Cruisers. Now they will want to take their Bentleys instead."

2017 Bentley Bentayga Cabin 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Bentley Bentayga Cabin 01

The EXP 9 F concept unveiled at the 2012 Geneva show was an exercise in nouveau bling that's thankfully been dialed well back for the production Bentayga. The front end is much more restrained, sharing much more design DNA with the Continental GT and Flying Spur. One clever evolution: The headlights are fully flush with the body surface, with the headlight washer hidden in the outer unit containing the daylight running lights. Careful surfacing of the front corner takes your eye away from the long front overhang that's an unavoidable side effect of using the MLB architecture.

Exterior designer Sang Yup Lee has given the Bentayga's body side a strong character line running back from a B-themed front vent, and a hint of a Continental-style haunch over the rear wheel. The body side stamping, which includes the one-piece rear quarter panel and the door apertures, is the largest, deepest draw aluminum pressing in the world. At the rear are taillights that reprise the B-theme, and two large exhaust outlets.

The Bentayga won’t outperform a Jeep or a Range Rover in really rough stuff, but it will go a lot farther than you think.

In profile it's obvious there's been no concession to approach and departure angles. And that's deliberately so: "The overwhelming majority of potential customers preferred a more sporty design, something more toward Porsche Cayenne than Range Rover," says Guest. Says designer Lee: "This is a crossover with off-road capability."

The interior, designed by Darren Day, is beautifully executed, and rich in signature Bentley cues such as quilted leather and knurled metal. The dash fascia combines design themes from both Continental and Mulsanne, and the latest iterations of familiar Bentley instruments and switchgear. The attention to detail is impressive, from the ultra-thin chrome surrounds for the switchgear that are carefully placed to sit within 0.1 mm of the wood veneers, to the etched covers for the sound system speakers that look like woven metal. Four- and five-seat versions of the car will be offered, along with a choice of nine wood veneers.

2017 Bentley Bentayga Powertrain And Chasis© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Bentley Bentayga Powertrain And Chasis

The all-new W-12 under the Bentayga's hood shares basic architectural elements such as bore spacings with the outgoing engine, but is 66 pounds lighter and features direct and port injection to help it meet emissions, performance, drivability, and cold start targets. A cylinder deactivation system shuts down one bank of cylinders. The twin-scroll turbochargers are integrated into the exhaust manifolds, and a new oil system has been developed, with pickups that ensure good oil supply throughout the engine, plus suction pumps to scavenge oil from the turbochargers, even when the Bentayga is tilted at extreme angles.

Final power and torque figures have yet to be confirmed — the cars we drove were lightly disguised, near production-ready prototypes undergoing final calibration testing — but Bentley powertrain director Paul Williams says the new W-12 will deliver "well over" 550 hp and "more torque" than the 531 lb-ft of the current W-12. That's grunt enough to hurl the 5,000-pound Bentayga to 60 mph in less than 5.0 seconds and more than 170 mph, says Guest.

Our quick drive suggests those numbers are anything but idle boasts. The new W-12 delivers an effortless, endless surge of acceleration the moment you squeeze the gas pedal. You have the option to shift the eight-speed automatic transmission manually via the steering wheel-mounted paddles, but there's really no point as there's always an abundance of torque when you want it. On the freeway the Bentayga feels stupid fast, barreling past 100 mph like a freight train. On a winding switchback it will easily humble a Range Rover, and probably humiliate a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the standard 40/60 front/rear torque split helping it grunt hard out of the turns.

The Bentley Bentayga’s front-end styling is thankfully toned down from that of the controversial EXP 9 F concept. It shares design DNA with the Continental GT and Flying Spur.© Provided by MotorTrend The Bentley Bentayga’s front-end styling is thankfully toned down from that of the controversial EXP 9 F concept. It shares design DNA with the Continental GT and Flying Spur.

Bentley offers four on-road dynamic modes: Comfort, Bentley, Sport, and Custom. (Bentley mode represents what Guest and his team believe is the ideal setup for the car.) The steering feel can be changed in Custom mode if you want, though there's really no need, as the nicely weighted and impressively linear helm helps you accurately place the big Bentley through turns.

The Bentayga's killer app, however, is a trick anti-roll system called EWAS that uses fast-acting 48-volt motors to twist the anti-roll bars in the opposite direction to the cornering forces, keeping the car flat through turns. The EWAS system, which will be standard on 12-cylinder Bentaygas and optional on the V-8 versions that will arrive in the 2018 model year, works beautifully when you get the big Bentley among the switchbacks, keeping it uncannily calm and composed, yet feeling remarkably agile and light on its feet. Even better, there's no negative impact on the ride, which is probably the best yet from a VW Group-era Bentley.

In the Bentayga prototypes we drove, the Sport setting gave the most body control, with Bentley and Comfort allowing progressively more roll. However, the Bentley engineers were debating whether to make that level standard across all settings. They should. It's that good.

2017 Bentley Bentayga Front Three Quarter 03© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Bentley Bentayga Front Three Quarter 03

Off-road capability these days is increasingly determined by specialist software rather than specialized hardware, so it's perhaps no surprise the Bentayga boasts 90 different ECUs, more than double the number in a Continental GT. Bentley offers four off-road modes — Snow/Wet Grass, Gravel, Mud/Ruts, and Sand/Desert — all of which vary parameters such as ride height, throttle response, traction, steering, and transmission shift protocols to optimize performance in marginal conditions.

The Bentayga won't outperform a Jeep or a Range Rover in really rough stuff, but it will go a lot further than you think. Approach and departure angles are the limiting factors off-road; if you can get traction, there's so much torque available you don't need a low range crawler gear.

To be officially unveiled at the Frankfurt show later this year, the 2017 Bentley Bentayga is the real deal: It's both a proper Bentley, and a genuine SUV. The Bentayga's mission, says project leader Guest, is to take luxury to new places, from the city and the freeway, to sand dunes and mountains. "This really is a 21st century Grand Tourer," he says. And he's right.

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2017 Bentley Bentayga Front Three Quarter 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Bentley Bentayga Front Three Quarter 01

2017 Bentley Bentayga
BASE PRICE$200,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUTFront-engine, AWD, 4-5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE6.0L/600-hp/664-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve W-12
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT5,350 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE117.8 in
L X W X H202.4 in x 78.7 in x 68.6 in
0-60 MPH4.0 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECONNot yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S.Early 2016
2017 Bentley Bentayga Rear Three Quarter In Motion 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Bentley Bentayga Rear Three Quarter In Motion 01

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