With Bentley, Maserati and Jaguar launching new high-specification sports-utility vehicles this year, Graham Scott examines the driving force behind these lavish 4x4s
The seemingly unstoppable rise of ‘sports-utility vehicles’ (SUVs) looks set to go into overdrive during the next few months, with a clutch of elite marques, such as Bentley, Maserati, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce, launching grander—and larger—models into the already crowded market for smart 4x4s.
It seems we just can’t get enough of these safe, practical vehicles that allow us to sit up high and view the countryside, pack in children, dogs and gear and that cope as well with long motorway trips as muddy tracks and fields. Surprisingly, there’s a definite gap opening up above even the most luxurious Range Rover, which is swiftly being filled. Manufacturers that have never before built an SUV are now
designing and building vehicles at an unseemly pace.
The first into that exclusive niche is Bentley, which has stolen something of a march by already launching the Bentley Bentayga—as good-looking inside as it is on the outside. Even interior designers would be amazed at the quality of the leather that clads its diamond-quilted seats and the electronics, which allow 22 different adjustments. Bentley spent six months solar-testing to ensure the leather won’t fade and every single item in the interior has had the same attention paid to its design and function.
The vehicle is no sloth, either. It can hurtle along at a top speed of 187mph and, despite weighing nearly 2½ tonnes, it can propel itself from silent rest to 60mph in four seconds. With 600bhp on tap, these barnstorming figures do back up Bentley’s claim that this is ‘the fastest most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world’. Prices start close to a jawdropping £160,000, but the first year’s production has already been sold and Bentley is considering how to build more. The very first vehicle will be delivered to The Queen, who, reportedly, enjoyed her test drive.
It’s not all just opulent luxury and the latest in technology. The Bentayga’s four-wheel drive system should ensure that owners can go where they please and arrive in comfort, whether navigating a rough track or a snowy, muddy field. The driver is seated high, seeing safely over other traffic and hedges. There’s a vast amount of space in the rear for everything from guns to picnics and corgis.
This leaves Jaguar Land Rover busy selling variations on the Range Rover, Discovery and Sport versions and much more. However, Jaguar, which has never made an SUV in history, is another
manufacturer that’s been quick to enter the market. The name of the latest Jaguar, F-Pace, is a clear signpost as to where it’s going. The F-Type is the source of the four-wheel-drive system, so it’s obviously aimed more at a sporting road audience than serious offroaders, but the name also echoes Sir
William Lyon. The founder of Jaguar famously said that his cars should display ‘grace, pace and space’.
With prices starting at about £34,710, first deliveries are expected next spring. The SUV market has grown by more than 88% in the past decade and Jaguar is expecting to sell more F-Paces than any other
vehicle it makes.
The next arrival may well come from Maserati, another company making its first foray into SUV territory. More usually associated with grand tourers, whose greatest off-road diversion would be a gravel drive (freshly raked), the Italian brand is going to launch the Levante. This big SUV will be built using only Maserati parts, which, in a world of conglomerates and shared platforms, is something of a fascinating departure.
The Levante should be unveiled at the spring motor shows, which is still some way ahead of Rolls-
Royce. Its first SUV, the Cullinan, is in the testing phase, so it’s several years away from production. Rolls-Royce insists it will be a better vehicle than the Bentayga, but, as was said under different circumstances, ‘they would, wouldn’t they?’.
All these vehicles have variations on petrol or turbo-diesel engines, but if you’re looking to leave little more than tyre tracks, then there are at least two electric vehicles to consider.
Audi is working up its A6 e-tron quattro and the all-American, allelectric company Tesla has already
launched its Model X, which should be available in the UK next spring.
The battery pack is made in Tesla’s own Gigafactory and should give a range of some 250 miles. The Falcon doors cantilever upwards almost vertically. Inside, there’s flexible accommodation for seven and ‘medical grade’ air filtration.
Performance will be huge, but if that isn’t ludicrous enough, there’s a mode called ‘ludicrous’, which can be downloaded remotely to your vehicle to pump it up some more. All modifications and upgrades, such as the autopilot autonomous mode (where the vehicle starts to drive itself), will be downloaded direct by Tesla to the vehicle while you’re sleeping. Now, that’s clever.