If you’re a British nonagenarian head of state and you want to let your 94-year-old husband drive the leader of the free world and his wife around, really you’ve only got one choice of transport. At least, until now you’ve only had one choice. You did it in a Range Rover.
And if you’re going to do it in any Range Rover, might I recommend one of these newfangled SVAutobiography models? It’s the slightly awkwardly named recognition that people with an unmentionable amount of money don’t always want to be seen in a supercar or what might be mistaken for an airport limousine. They might be prepared to spend an incredible amount on a 4x4.
This seems blindingly obvious now, but until recently, it’s as if there has been a cap on the money an SUV can ask. But like Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, once somebody does it, everyone realises they can. Hence the Bentley Bentayga, which had been a quietly mooted, should-we-shouldn’t-we project at Bentley Motors until Wolfgang Dürheimer arrived as Bentley’s gaffer (the first time) in 2011 and just told them to get on with it. He’d seen what the Cayenne had done for Porsche.
The following year, we all took a deep breath and a step backwards when he pulled the covers off the EXP 9 F concept at the Geneva motor show; even Dürheimer talking to a bloke with a falcon on his arm couldn’t quite distract from its face.
Today? Well, the EXP 9 F has morphed into something slightly less noticeable, but it’s still unmistakably a Bentley. With that nose, it couldn’t be anything else. I don’t know whether an SUV is just a more natural fit with Bentley than it was Porsche, or whether we’re just more accustomed to the existence of 4x4s, but here it is. But being a Bentley brings with it some broad demands.
Such as? They won’t let it out of the door unless it has a top speed of 187mph and it can do a passable impression of a sports car while it’s at it. Which means it has to have 600bhp. Which means it gets a twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 engine because, this being a Bentley, it’s quite heavy because, being a Bentley, there’s an awful lot of bull leather and burr veneer in there. This is, after all, a luxury car. Oh, and it’s an SUV, and there’s the outside chance that somebody minted will decide they want to drive up the edge of a sand dune without getting stuck, or tow a 3.5-tonne boat and trailer out of one of the great lakes without rolling back into one. Plus – genuinely one of the hardest things to do in a car – drive up some wet grass at the races. All while retaining the ability to do 187mph. I don’t think there’s a modern car with a broader remit than the Bentayga’s.
To that end, then, the Bentley-owning VW Group chucked the whole shebang at it. The platform, in effect, is shared with the Audi Q7, but it’s inconceivable that Bentley could make this car do all it wanted to without the adoption of the 48V system that the Bentayga shares with the SQ7. There’s no electric engine charge-boosting here (a 6.0-litre W12 with two turbos being perceived as quite enough already, thank you), but it does have beefy, electronically controlled active anti-roll bars that can slacken off when the car is going straight to give Bentley the kind of ride quality it wants yet can firm up in corners to give the kind of body control it needs.