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Driving: the dramatic Bentley Bentayga

26 January 2021
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Large, but perfectly formed

Powerful, luxurious and really rather dramatic, Bentley’s Bentayga represents the brand’s first foray into the world of luxury SUVs

I t's dark outside. Lowering pregnant clouds weep fat tears, actual and metaphorical, at the state of the world. It’s the middle of the day but lighter, happier times seem so far off.

The world has become one of bloated moral absolutism, polarised into rights and wrongs, haves and have-nots, blacks and whites with nary a shade of grey to be seen. In these darker times it is incumbent on all of us to recognise this global chiaroscuro and rage against the dying of the light in whatever small manner is available to us.

Everyone has different ideas, perceptions and opinions. That’s a given and perfectly acceptable. There’s a taste for every tongue and a seat for every backside. In the automotive world, I like my cars to be honest, well-engineered and reliable. I’m perfectly capable of being temporarily seduced by the skittish elegance of a prancing horse or the raw thunder of the new twin turbo V12 iteration from the DB stable. To me however, these are ‘play’ cars where my innate simplicity inclines me towards the appeal of the ‘everyday’. Practicality trumps style when it comes to filling a space in my personal garage.

Which brings us on to this issue’s vehicular offering. Luxury SUVs are fast-becoming the must-have mode of super-wealthy transportation. Range Rover has been doing it (and doing it well) since forever, of course, but from the road car manufacturers’ end of the market Porsche led the way in 2002 with the Cayenne, while Maserati and Rolls-Royce are soon to follow.

Bentley’s offering to the world is the slab-sided Bentayga – an all-terrain limousine that appeals both to the aesthete and prole in me. Capable of eliciting sighs just with its size, its understated elegant performance is anything but underwhelming. Bentley Cambridge, part of the Vindis group, located just off the A14 in the north of the university town, were the generous souls who provided me with this six-litre W12 monster decked out in a colour entitled ‘Extreme Silver’ (which would need much washing if off-roading is your thing) and upholstered in black ‘Beluga’ leather hide hand-picked from herds that graze high above sea level in northern Europe according to the marketing bumpf.

My life has been somewhat peripatetic. As a child of missionaries I was born in strife-torn Haiti, moved to the UK, moved back to Haiti and, on reaching my majority, continued on a meandering path, never settling long in any one place until fairly recently. The reason for mentioning this is simple: I don’t really have a sense of ‘home’. My Welsh heritage provides me with the word hiraeth which is a word that doesn’t directly translate but, in essence, is an emotion with no real grounding in geography.

From the moment I slid myself into the Bentayga I had that indescribable sense of being at home though. I’m no snake-hipped racing driver and the ability to roll my shoulders inside the cabin provided an unaccustomed instant relaxation behind the wheel.

Turn up the volume on the Naim audio system and be prepared to be transported to the front row of the opera

There are many buttons and switches to make your life easier and more comfortable which could be intimidating but, in this modern iPhone world, everything is designed to be intuitive and accessible. Turn up the volume on the bespoke Naim audio system and be prepared to be transported to the front row of the opera while cruising down the motorway.

While driving down that motorway it’s easy to see everything around you. Not only is the driving position infinitely adjustable, but the all-round visibility is excellent. Perched far above ordinary mortals you are also super-insulated from road noise, which just augments the power of the audio system.

In that cocoon it would also be easy to identify any of those annoying squeaks and rattles that sometimes creep into new cars, but there were none to invade my aural tranquillity.

If old-school coach builders could be teased from their retirements and let loose then the Bentayga could truly be a car of chthonic presence, dark and brooding with a malevolence to urge other road users from your paths

The behemoth under the bonnet is a joy to behold too. With the car weighing in at a gulp-inducing 2,422kg you might imagine that the completely redesigned W12 engine would wheeze asthmatically as it dragged its mass along the road. However, the twin-turbocharged direct injection lump is capable of delivering a titanic 664 lb ft of torque at just 1,250 rpm that seems to defy physics.

I class myself as the benevolent dictator of motorists and am happy just getting from A to B in sedate comfort knowing that I have sufficient power within my reach to get out of any potential scrape. Burying my right foot to join moving traffic drew astonished giggles from passengers and plastered an appreciative grin over my face.

The downside to this is, of course, the fuel-efficiency and I admit that the Bentayga is somewhat thirsty. The literature claims a combined 22.1 mpg but I found this to be rather optimistic. But, it’s a heavy SUV with a big petrol engine … what would you expect?

Driving the Bentayga is as challenging as boiling a kettle. It’s perfect for a long-distance cruise (refuelling stops aside) or simply for pootling to the shops. It’s a vehicle that has presence and integrity and will look good on your driveway or outside a fancy restaurant or club.

I believe I could probably move house using just this particular vehicle (in multiple journeys, obviously) as there’s so much room behind the driver. I could go on and on about it and things I love, but I have a word count that I have to stick to.

Which brings me back to where I started. It’s still dark outside and those polarising opinions are ever-prevalent. Some folks would say that the Bentayga is too big or too thirsty and thereby dismiss it out of hand. Personally, I think I would prefer rectangular headlights rather than the round ones on the nose but that’s just a detail.

If old-school coach builders could be teased from their retirements and let loose then the Bentayga could truly be a car of chthonic presence, dark and brooding with a malevolence to urge other road users from your path.

We’re all entitled to our opinions and this is mine. If my opinion doesn’t match yours then it’s not important. Let’s bring civility and mutual acceptance back into the world. The Bentayga is truly a car I would own and I can’t say that about many of the vehicles that occasionally share my life while writing this column.

It ranks so far up my personal serendipity-serenity scale that it makes me glow. I just wish that Bentley Cambridge had let me have longer to road test it. Another three years would just about suffice I think.

Words: TG

This article was originally published in Halcyon magazine in 2017

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