“All SUVs are equal, but some SUVs are more equal than others.” Had George Orwell, a man of principle, been an enthusiast of all-terrain vehicles, he would undoubtedly have driven a Lada Niva.
Had he still been around today, however, he would have found himself floundering behind the wheel of his jewel of Soviet off-road automotive genius, kicked to the kerb by a hulk of the highway, left munching a mouthful of dust in the wake of a Tarmac-crunching cruiser, and swatted sideways in the jet wash of an overtaking four-wheeled missile. Just like everyone else.
It had to happen, this developmental vault into ultra-SUV territory; it’s just a mystery that it took so long. All those years they had to wait, those deprived London Sloanes in their Barbour jackets and green wellies, chuntering into Chelsea in Range Rovers that looked like they had the drag coefficient and all the pizzazz of a warehouse.
So it’s been a long time coming, but at last, here it is, the SUV Posh, the singular offspring of an East German shot-putter and a Lockheed Blackbird: the Bentley Bentayga.
Automobile marketing personnel habitually show all the restraint of a starving property agent working on commission, but for once the hyperbole isn’t, well, hyperbolic. That said, let’s dispense at the outset with this car’s low point: its name. Bentayga? Bent what? It looks like one of those epithets designed by committee – in this case a blindfolded committee that pulled letters out of a hat. Apparently, the name evokes natural-world wonders such as the Roque Bentayga, an arresting spectacle of a mountain in the Canary Islands, and the taiga, the (disappearing) coniferous forest near the top of the planet. Bentley Bravo or Bentley Bravado would have done it for me, but anyway, let’s move on…
At some speed. As well as flying the pennant of world’s most luxurious SUV, the Bentayga is also the most powerful – and the fastest. Going straight in at number one in the charts isn’t bad for Bentley’s inaugural foray into this market segment, plus it has the statistics to back up all that big talk. The vehicle we tested, the Bentayga W12, is armed with – yes – a 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged direct-injection W12 engine that produces a whopping 600 bhp at 5,000-6,000 rpm and 664lb ft of torque at 1,350-4,500 rpm. But what you really want to know is the top speed – 301 km/h – and the 0-100 km/h sprint time – 4.1 seconds.
On the motorway, that power plant, coupled with eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, rapidly delivers you to naughty speeds, while all its horses give you a hefty kick in the pants when you put your foot down. The fleeting reaction time between depression of sole and bit-champing exuberance is suggestive of leaping to light speed in the Millennium Falcon. But the thing is, the Bentayga is surely practising some sort of stealth sorcery here, because such is the devotion to luxury living and all-round creature comfort that it accelerates with the roar not of a W12, but a grasshopper. Which is dangerous, because it’s difficult to tell just how fast you’re suddenly travelling. “Well, officer, Han Solo said it was quite all right …” isn’t going to wash, sorry.
Combined fuel-consumption figures are 13.1 litres of petrol per 100 km, but owners will be more concerned with how many litres of champagne they can stow in the capacious boot, not least in the bespoke “picnic kit” that can be stashed behind the rear seats. The oh-so-1970s ashtrays, however, they can probably do without. (Really? You want to stink the place up?) Other optional extras run from B for “Bling” all the way to the horizon, but who needs extras anyway when you already have ventilated front seats with massage function; electric blinds for the rear side windows; creamy leather expanses covering most surfaces (not least those on which you’re reclining) and forests of walnut caressing the rest; and Bentley’s superior signature audio system.
The Bentayga is a brute, but a sophisticated one at that and a joy to drive. It is made, however, for so much beyond simply posing down at the country club, because it can cope with more mucky, drenched, frozen, rocky and otherwise inhospitable conditions than most drivers dare look at on the Discovery Channel. (Good luck, however, finding half a square kilometre of Hong Kong not excessively regulated, shotcreted or turned into a concrete catastrophe for your off-road capers.)
On the road, the Bentayga W12 costs an oddly precise HK$4,831,762, and you can keep the change. That’s a lot of loot, but not surprising when you realise that the Bentley is the equivalent of the VIP section at Glastonbury. The Mercedes-Benz GL Class, the Porsche Cayenne, the Infiniti QX70 and especially the exquisite Jaguar F-Pace have all given it a right old go, but frankly they should just abandon their unequal struggle against Big Brother Bentley. For as Carly Simon sang, nobody does it better …