Mark Hedges heads across the pond to California to test-drive Bentley’s new, super-sleek 4WD—the beauteous Bentayga

At last, Bentley has produced a vehicle that’s fit for a labrador, a grouse moor or Royal Ascot – the Bentley Bentayga. The great car manufacturer, which is based in Crewe, launched the new Bentayga 4×4 in Palm Springs, California, earlier this year and it has now arrived in the showrooms.

Vast, magnificent and four years in the making, the new car is the marque’s first venture into the lucrative—and growing—SUV market. The Bentayga has pitched its superlative standard and is seeking to redefine the market against the all-conquering Range Rover and new SUVs from Jaguar and Maserati.

Despite its new, powerful offroad format, this car is still clearly a sleek and stylish Bentley in appearance, although it does wear splashes of make-up that will be familiar to Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 owners—all owned by the Volkswagen group. Seeing the car sashaying down the highway with bristling grill and four twinkling, floating headlights, it is, unmistakably, a Bentley. But, as she passes and then accelerates away, I note that the backside is plainer and more functional than beautiful. However, that’s good news for dogs, picnics and shotguns, all of which can be stowed with comfort and ease within the cavernous boot.

At a starting price of £160,200, the Bentayga is more expensive than the Range Rover with basic options and, although I’ve always thought, when it comes to smart yet highly capable 4WDs, that the Range Rover has no equal, the Bentayga is, is in many ways, a better car.

Certainly, the new six-litre twin turbo-charged W12 engine combines efficiency with unrivalled power and torque, making the car the world’s most powerful and fastest SUV. Furthermore, the sumptuous interior is a dream of handcrafted wood and leather throughout, all nodding in unison to the brand’s heritage. Indeed, it takes the firm’s team of craftsmen— including the 167 staff in the woodshop, who shape up to 15 separate pieces of veneer for each model—more than 130 hours to handcraft a Bentayga.

After admiring the new car for the first time in Palm Springs, I drove it through the harsh desert landscape, up towards the snowtopped mountains. The cabin was almost silent—so quiet, in fact, that I had to check the car had actually started after I’d pressed the ignition button—and it glided along the road with all the grace and elegance we’ve come to expect from the Bentley brand. The switchback turns up the mountain demonstrated the exceptional handling of this big, two-ton car and, off road, it coped with a demanding course like a cat playing with a mouse—not, perhaps, quite as ably as a Land Rover or a Range Rover, but better than anything else I’ve driven.

However, on a racetrack the following day, it showed abilities beyond any other SUV. I was able to test the various settings and, in the sport mode with Bentley Dynamic Ride active roll-control technology, which instantly counteracts lateral rolling forces when cornering, it was truly impressive, taut and responsive. It can take you from zero to 60 mph in just four seconds and it corners like a lurcher. In this guise, it performs just like a sports car.

A million miles were covered in development, new onboard entertainment systems have been added (including a pair of 10.in full HD removable tablets connected to the car via onboard 4G wi-fi) and a brilliant new engine has been created. The new Bentayga really is a luxury that you can take anywhere.

On the road
Bentley Bentayga
Price £160,200
Annual road fund licence £1,120 for first year, then £515
Combined fuel consumption 21.6mpg
Power 600bhp
0–60mph 4 seconds
Top speed 187mph

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