Bentley already has deposit-paid orders for the first full year of Bentayga SUV production, meaning any customers ordering today are unlikely to take delivery before 2017.
The definitive production version of the market-topping SUV has been revealed at the Frankfurt motor show. Sources have told Autocar that the Crewe-based company can produce between 3000-4500 Bentaygas per year, suggesting a healthy customer response to its most controversial new model.
Bentley describes its £160,200 model as “the fastest, most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world”. It also has “the world’s finest automotive cabin” that offers “unparalleled luxury” in its sector, according to Bentley.
It’s all part of Crewe’s strategy to maximise the short lead it is about to open up over other budding premium SUV makers, notably Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini. But up to half a dozen expensive car brands are rushing to create new SUVs for the niche they believe is opening above the most expensive Range Rover.
Bentayga prices will start around £30,000 above the top Range Rover and are likely to be driven much higher by the bespoke equipment.
Despite its size and high price, the Bentayga is not being positioned as Bentley’s flagship: that role will continue to be played by the £225,000 Mulsanne limo. Bentley wants to emphasise the practicality, strength and durability of its new SUV, as well as the luxury.
“Owners may never drive these vehicles off road,” said engineering director Rolf Frech, “but they must know it will perform in tough conditions.”
Frech devised a million-mile test regime, the toughest yet for a Bentley, taking prototypes to five continents in the most difficult conditions “to ensure unwavering performance”.
Body and chassis
The car’s original shape was heavily revised after a different concept, shown at the 2012 Geneva show, failed to win the approval of show-goers and management at the Volkswagen Group, of which Bentley is a part.
Today’s Bentayga is lower and more ‘Bentley-like’ but is still 5.14 metres long, with a wheelbase of nearly three metres. It is slightly longer than a long-wheelbase Range Rover, but the roof is about 60mm lower - a move, designers say, that helps maintain the Bentley sporting character. The styling comparison they prefer is with the sleek Porsche Cayenne rather than the tall Range Rover.
The Bentayga uses an iteration of the VW Group’s new MLB-Evo platform for large vehicles that has already been used for Audi’s new Q7 and is coming soon in an all-new Cayenne.
Construction is described as aluminium-intensive (the Bentayga’s bodyside is the industry’s largest single aluminium pressing), but materials are a mix of aluminium, steel and composites, according to function.
The Bentayga has an all-new computer-controlled air spring system whose ride height, damping, roll control, stability, hill descent and traction are all controlled by the driver from a console-mounted rotary control. There are four selectable on-road modes and four for off-road driving.
One innovative feature is a quick-acting, 48V anti-roll system that can rapidly vary the car’s body roll control, front and rear, according to conditions. It provides both stability in hard cornering and a relaxed ride on the motorway.
The Bentayga is the first Bentley to take towing seriously. A trailer assist feature allows a driver to select a desired articulation angle between car and trailer and maintain it when reversing. A stability system applies the brakes selectively if the trailer starts to sway dangerously on the move, also cutting engine torque if necessary.
The steering is a new electrically assisted system with a variable rack and pinion, higher geared at the extremities to allow quick low-speed manoeuvring.
There’s also an electronic differential lock that uses the brakes to mimic a locked diff to tame wheelspin.
Engine and transmission
At launch, the Bentayga’s only engine offering will be a completely redesigned twin-turbocharged petrol W12 engine, claimed both to improve efficiency by 11.9% and reduce weight by 30kg.
Crewe is proud of its status as the VW Group’s centre of excellence for 12-cylinder engines and has worked hard to make the new engine (which will be used by selected Audis and VWs) more compact than its predecessor. The new W12 is 24% shorter than a V12 would be, Bentley claims, a great aid to packaging.
The new W12, which is mounted north-south in the nose, packs 600bhp at 6000rpm and 663lb ft of torque between 1250rpm and 4500rpm. It drives through an eight-speed, paddle-shift ZF automatic to a four-wheel drive system featuring a Torsen centre differential.
The standard car rolls on 20in wheels, but 21s and 22s are also available. Soon, Bentley says, Bentaygas will come with both diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains. This will be Crewe’s first hybrid, although the system is likely to spread through the company’s range as demand grows in export markets such as China. A spoiler-adorned, higher-performance W12, likely to be christened Speed, has also been spotted undergoing tests at the Nurburgring.
The new W12 has stop-start and an efficiency-boosting cylinder deactivation system that shuts down the valves, fuel injection and ignition systems when the engine is turning below 3000rpm or developing up to a third of its torque, provided the car is in at least third gear.
Another efficiency measure on the move is a so-called ‘sail’ mode. If the driver releases the accelerator in fifth to eighth gear, the torque converter disconnects and freewheels, engaging again only when the driver gets back on the accelerator or the car begins to accelerate downhill.
Bentley claims a top speed of 187mph for the Bentayga and a 0-60mph time of 4.0sec - deeply impressive figures for a model with a 2422kg kerb weight and a generous frontal area. Furthermore, Frech insists the car must be able to achieve its top speed in a 40deg C temperature, with no degradation in refinement or cooling performance.
The CO2 output of 292g/km is better than that of previous W12 models but not a vast improvement, and combined fuel consumption of 22.1mpg is the reason why the Bentayga needs an 87-litre fuel tank
The cabin bristles with high-quality materials (“If it looks like metal, it is metal”) and a vast selection of standard and optional new-era equipment. The interior designers’ mission was to set quality standards that exceed any previous SUV and rival other Bentleys.
The fascia design echoes the wings of the Bentley badge, flowing from door to door. A ‘floating’ driver info panel with bright mineral glass as its screen, speaker grilles behind a fine metal mesh, intricate knurling on all important switchgear and new diamond-quilted seats with up to 22-way adjustment are some details.
You can order either a two or three-person rear seat layout, and the rear seat system folds down to carry extra luggage. A seven-seat layout is coming.
The Bentayga is expected to swell Bentley sales volume by more than 3000 cars a year and send total annual volume well beyond 10,000 units. First customers will get their cars early next year.
Q&A with Peter Guest, Bentayga project director
Were you in charge of this project from the start?
“Yes. I picked it up towards the end of 2011, while our Strategy Group was still deciding how we’d expand the company. Building an SUV was the obvious thing to do. Our CEO, Wolfgang Dürheimer, knew that better than anyone. He made it clear from day one.”
Is it daunting, running something like this?
“It is. At first, I was a bit scared, to be honest, even though I’ve been head of body and trim at Bentley for nine years and led plenty of technical projects at TWR before that. But it was the size of this project one tended to reflect on, and the clean sheet of paper aspect.”
Could you explain the brief for the Bentayga?
“That’s easy. I was looking just the other day at the notes we made four years ago: to build an SUV that would sit at the pinnacle of luxury while being capable and practical as well. We haven’t changed at all. This is the car we’re about to launch.”
Have there been any major surprises during the car’s development?
“Two, I think. One is how much people have known about the project. We’re only a small company, but wherever you go, people know it’s live and have an opinion on it. That’s great. The second thing is how much fun it’s been. As I said, the size of the job was daunting at first, but the skills of our 20-strong core team, and support from Mr Dürheimer, and even the support of the UK government [which wanted to keep the work at Crewe] have made it a really enjoyable time. I feel very lucky.”
Comment - Why the Bentayga will be a runaway hit
We should all enjoy the debut of this new Bentley Bentayga, because it’s going to be special.
Rarely does a car manufacturer prepare to launch a completely new type of car - something it has never made before - knowing that it’ll be a roaring success. But that’s how it will be for Bentley, for three reasons.
First, for SUVs of all sizes, shapes and prices, the market is booming. You can hardly make a mistake with them.
Second, Bentley’s manufacturing standards are so high that there’s very little chance it will launch something half-baked, which might be the problem with others.
Third, Bentley’s modern faithful are sitting out there in the market, waiting for something new, as Porsche owners were for the Cayenne. SUVs are prestige cars, as Range Rover proves. Bentley has always made prestige cars. The two things will go together like a dream.
Readers from our sister publication What Car? have been to see the new Bentayga - see their reactions below.
Autocar's Doug Revolta discusses the new Bentayga with Bentley's head of product marketing Marcus Abbott in the video below.
And here, we sit down with Bentayga product line director Peter Guest.
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