In the future there will be only two kinds of car. For those who like languorous lines and driving hard, there will be sports cars.
Much as horses used to plough fields and pull carts, but are now ridden for pleasure, so sports cars, redundant on congested streets, will be driven on tracks, these toys then put away until the next time. And all other cars will be SUVs – comfortable, practical and functional, the workhorses of the road. We live more active lives. We sometimes really just need a van. An SUV is the answer, with – let’s face it – more emphasis for most of us on the U rather than the S.
If this dismays those who love their cars – SUVs have something of a reputation for being just a little bit dull – then two words might change their mind: Bentley and Bentayga. If the top-end car marques have, over recent years, dabbled with producing something SUVish, and certainly outside of their comfort zones – the likes of the Porsche Cayenne and Macan spring to mind – few of the results have seemed truly committed to the idea so successfully championed by the likes of Volvo, BMW and Land Rover.
Launches new and in the pipeline may yet rectify this – the Maserati Levante, Jaguar’s planned CX17, even SUVs from Aston Martin and Lamborghini, with its Urus. And then there’s Rolls-Royce’s Project Culcullen, an SUV due for launch in 2018. And small wonder even the least SUVish of brands are set to enter the market – in the US they’re already the dominant car type, accounting for roughly a third of the market, SUV sales (qualms over diesel pollution notwithstanding) are expected to surge 30% by 2020, while in China and India rough road conditions make the SUV an obvious choice over any low-slung sports car.
Add in the fact that in many emerging economies the very wealthy have chauffeurs and don’t actually know how to handle an out-and-out performance car, and such new SUVs give them the opportunity to buy into these motoring super brands. Perhaps SUVs even offer the chance for a kind of guilt-free driving in austerity economies - if a sports car seems frivolous, an SUV is multi-tasking. Value is inherent. It’s one argument - maybe.
But before all that has come the Bentayga, doing now what Lamborghini didn’t quite pull off with its preemptive LM002, the four-wheel drive “Rambo Lambo” it launched way back in 1986. As they say, it’s as bad to be too soon as too late – and the Bentayga is right on time. It shows just what’s possible if you’re prepared to spend £200,000-plus on something that diehard speed freaks might dismiss as looking like a well-appointed London taxi – at least until they depress the accelerator to discover quite what this kind of London taxi is capable of.
Well, all hail the Bentayga: this car takes the SUV rulebook and rips it up by effectively cramming everything one might expect from one of those big Bentley tourers into a shorter, higher body. It still looks like a Bentley too – losing brand identity being precisely the fear that has put so many car manufacturers off trying to make their own for so long.
Indeed, if a Bentley might typically have been a second car – blissfully free of the clutter and bits of stale crisp liberally scattered over the more everyday well-heeled family car – then now it seems to have accepted its parental responsibility, right down to offering the chance for spiking blood pressure and in-car screaming matches as one gets to grips with playing the aptly-named “Frozen” on the initially impenetrable tablet-based entertainment system. When it comes, enjoy that song, yet again, from - count ‘em - no fewer than 20 speakers.
Yet if so many other markets – clothing, cellphones – have embraced the fact that utility and high style need not be uneasy bedfellows, Bentley reveals that it can be done in a car too. It’s clear why the Crewe-based company has called this car its most significant launch in a decade. More than that, in defining a new market, it is one of the wider industry’s most significant launches too.
Almost everything on the Bentayga is new: the body is made from a lightweight but rigid aluminium/ steel mix; the engine is a new 12-cylinder petrol one, offering, the company claims, the best power, torque and economy combination of any SUV. And then, amid the quilted leatherwork – more creases in which to catch that small person detritus – there’s all the gadgetry: night vision, head-up display, driver assistance...
Certainly the dashboard’s pick ‘n’ mix of buttons can be bewildering and would have benefited from being more tidied away as a page on the touchscreen. And there are other touches that, while they may have sounded luxurious in the management meeting, are frustrating in reality.
The centre console, for example, has what one can only assume is a beautifully-crafted spectacles case – which only speaks to the likely age of the Bentayga’s myopic driver, or to the fact that they’re the kind who always wears sunglasses. It’s a nice idea, until you want to put your coffee down, when it’s revealed that the cup holders are under the glasses case, a home for which now has to be found before you can put your drink down, by which time it’s likely scalding your lap.
But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent all-rounder with luxuriousness to spare. And luxury, as much as practicality, is what this is about. Refreshingly, Bentley makes no claims to off-road capabilities, an honest assessment perhaps that a Bentayga is unlikely ever to go where no mega-bucks car has gone before, and is more likely to be found in just the same gridlock as the next, rather less well-appointed vehicle.
Indeed, the Bentayga’s traffic assist system means that, up to speeds of 3km per hour, the car can progress completely autonomously - leaving you with the chance to wipe spilled yoghurt from the buttery upholstery one more time.
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