What is it?
An entirely new direction for Bentley - although this new SUV, the Bentayga, certainly still looks like a Bentley. Whether it feels like one or not we’ll come to in a moment, but for now, no question, aesthetically it has the cues.
The strong rear haunch, the diamond grilling on the front: I'm no arbiter of a car’s appearance (for which Bentley should probably be grateful), but if the task was to make it look instantly recognisable, the first job is done.
The Bentayga is an example of how gracefully Bentley’s model line-up has evolved since Volkswagen took ownership of the company in 1998. You can think of it as only the third ‘new’ model to have arrived since: if, like I do, you count the Mulsanne as a replacement for the Arnage, and thus the Flying Spur saloon and Continental coupé/convertible as the other two ‘new’ model lines.
This is at least as significant as those two: an example of the motor industry's overdue recognition that people who have an awful lot of money do not necessarily want to be constantly photographed driving a supercar or mistaken for an airport limousine driver. So they buy Range Rovers specified to the heavens - a fact Land Rover recently seems to have appreciated, too.
I’ve often wondered how far up the food chain the limits of SUVs run, and have suspected it’s quite a lot further even than this £160,200 Bentayga. I suppose Rolls-Royce will find out soon enough.
Meantime, though, the Bentley. Like the Flying Spur and Continental before it, it takes full advantage of Volkswagen Group’s ownership of the British firm. Beneath it is, ostensibly, the new MLB-Evo architecture that also underpins Audi’s flagship SUV, the Q7 – a car whose price has dipped into six figures, if you remember. And it’s a car that is already pretty vast, so at 5.14m long the Bentayga isn’t that much bigger again. At nearly three metres, the wheelbase is within 2mm of the Q7's and the Bentley will later offer seven seats - though there are no more than five for now.
Coming later too will be hybrid and diesel powerplants, but sensibly enough, from the start Bentley is only offering what’ll be the top-spec motor (until a Speed edition arrives): a new variant of the 6.0-litre W12 engine. Because, let’s face it, if you’ve a car with a 2420kg kerb weight and yet, because you’re Bentley, you want it to reach 60mph in 4.0sec and a top speed of 187mph, you’re going to need 12 cylinders and two turbochargers.
If that sounds thirsty, it is. There’s cylinder shut-down and this new unit is 30kg lighter than its predecessor, but still it only returns 21.6mpg on the combined cycle and emits 297g/km of CO2. During its day with us, although I’ll concede we drove it pretty hard, it returned little more than half of the combined figure.
Those aren’t the kinds of numbers that Bentley would rather you focused on. Instead, try some of these: there are 17 standard, 90 extended paint colours (and any other on request); there are 15 standard leather hide colours to choose from and seven different species of veneer. Again, if you want more, just ask. Our test car rolled up with £48,000 worth of options, which would by no means be an unusual order.