Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Bentley Bentayga V8

PORTLAND, Oregon – No sooner had we merged on the I-84 E out of Portland, did we come perilously close to being crushed between an oversize load and the concrete centre median. Thanks to a combination of good brakes and dumb luck, we came to a quick stop while the oblivious transport driver continued on – in our lane. To say that we were relieved was an understatement: Can you imagine trying to explain writing off a $210,000 vehicle after being hit by a house?

As expected from this upper echelon of über-luxe-bargery, closing the doors seals the Bentayga’s fortunately blessed occupants from any distasteful reminders of the outside world.

Fortunately, we, and our 2019 Bentley Bentayga V8 carried on unscathed, criss-crossing back and forth across the Washington Oregon border en route to Mount Hood.

The Bentayga, Bentley’s first foray into the increasingly profitable utility vehicle market, debuted in 2016 as the priciest, most luxurious, and most powerful SUV to date. Thanks to the trailblazing Porsche Cayenne, the idea of a luxury badge adorning the most utilitarian of transport is no longer an outrage. Those who are offended are decidedly in the minority – the Bentayga, like other premium SUVs before it – has quickly become the brand’s top-selling model. That Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Lamborghini will soon follow suit with their own opulent offerings now seems only natural.

Five years and US$800 million in development, the first Bentayga was the most advanced Bentley in its 99-year history. Employing more than 1,000 engineers, the Bentayga boasted an astonishing electrical complexity governed by 90 separate ECUs. Underhood, a whopping 6.0-litre W12 produced 600 horsepower and 660 lb-ft of torque – enough to propel the 2,422 kg (5,340 lb) behemoth from zero to 100 km/h in 4.0 seconds. Reflecting its über-exclusivity, the Bentayga was priced at $292,699, followed by the top-spec Mulliner edition at an eye-watering $344,124.

Since then, Bentley has released a hybrid version, and now – an economical carrot to dangle in front of those considering such lesser luxury offerings from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW – the new Bentayga V8.

Engineered for spirited athleticism

At $209,693, the V8 is hardly a bargain-priced daily driver. But it features all of the W12’s pomp and swagger – at a staggering $83,000 less.

The sacrifices are negligible. Aside from the extra 0.4 seconds it takes the V8 to reach 100 km/h from zero – it’s virtually the same vehicle. In fact, the smaller, lighter engine is not only placed further back in the engine bay for better weight distribution, it feels faster, features cylinder deactivation technology and reportedly achieves a combined 11.4 L/100 km combined, compared to the W12’s 15.0.

The 45 kg weight savings also contribute to the lower-riding Bentayga V8’s slightly more sporty character. Co-developed with Porsche, the 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8 is only marginally less powerful than the W12, with 542hp and 568 lb-ft of torque arriving like a freight train at 1,960 rpm. Delivering that power to all four wheels is an eight-speed automatic transmission. Standard full-time AWD defaults to a 40/60 front-rear torque split during normal conditions, with a Torsen centre differential and electronically locking rear helping to divvy up torque where needed.

While it’s highly unlikely that any of the ultra-luxury ute’s demographic will ever venture off the tarmac, the Bentayga underwent vigorous testing to establish its genuine off-road credentials, including Dubai’s Big Red, something of a rite of passage for mighty desert trucks.

Outwardly, there are few differences between the W12 and V8. In profile, the Bentayga somewhat resembles the Porsche Cayenne. It’s built on the same platform as the Audi Q7 and the all-aluminum body features character aspects drawn from Continental and the Mulsanne – from the sharp character line flowing from the B-shaped front vent, to the separate Continental-style rear haunch and the GT-inspired beltline. The rear glass is raked, but the long rear overhang helps prevent useable interior space from being too compromised.

The flat prow has the unmistakable face of Bentley, and some very clever engineering went into forming its front fascia almost entirely of aluminum. The mesh grille – incredibly hard plastic (black rather than the chrome of the W12) – acts as a crumple zone. Twin quad exhaust pipes crimped in a stylized V8 shape are a subtle nod to the new Bentayga’s powerplant. Matrix-beam LED headlights feature delicate, jewel-like bevelling. The dual-feature running lights also act as turn signals, with a body-coloured cap that conceals a high-pressure washer.

There are three wheel choices: 20-inch, 21-inch, and the 22-inch deeply dished, forged alloys with directional spokes on our tester. Behind these are large red brake calipers bearing the Bentley “B” on 400 millimetre discs up front and 300 millimetre in the rear. New this year, but not available for us to try, is a new 10-piston carbon-ceramic brake system that’s the most powerful brake offered on a Bentley, and whose 17.3-inch front rotors are the largest ever offered on a production vehicle.

Ensconced in opulence

If the Bentayga’s exterior appeal is very much open to personal taste (public reactions during our drive ranged from awe to pursed-lipped puzzlement) the cabin proves worthy of the storied British badge. The luxurious environment, wrapped in fine, fragrant hides, draws from both Continental and Mulsanne with an equal devotion to detail. The traditional Bentley logo influence in the “biplane wing” dashboard wraps around and embraces the cabin. The dashboard itself is handcrafted from fine wood veneers, laser-cut to within a 0.1 millimetre tolerance to sit flush with instrumentation. The switchgear also features the sort of knurling you’d see on fine watches, and traditional analog gauges rest beneath anti-reflective glass. The fat steering wheel, wrapped in two-tone, stitched leather is a beautiful, tactile point of contact between car and driver.

Standard is a four- or five-passenger configuration with an optional third row for a potential seven passengers. An eight-inch touchscreen relays infotainment in a choice of 30 languages to front passengers, while rear passengers can opt for a 10.2-inch removable Android tablet, or leather-wrapped desk that folds down from the seat back, airplane tray style. Notable is the head-up display that is clearly legible through polarized sunglasses.

As expected from this upper echelon of über-luxe-bargery, closing the doors seals the Bentayga’s fortunately blessed occupants from any distasteful reminders of the outside world. Cossetted within the vault like cocoon, passengers are well-insulated from wind or road noise, and the suspension is a marvel of compliant absorption.

Standard on the W12, Bentley’s electronically controlled anti-roll suspension is a much-recommended option for the Bentayga V8. Recalibrated for the lighter V8, the 48-volt system has 740 lb-ft of torque at its disposal, and its electric motors instantly react to help mitigate any roll or sway and keep the nearly 2,500 kg vehicle cornering flat. Using the “charisma switch” (their words, not mine) the driver can toggle between four dynamic modes – Comfort, Sport, Bentley and Custom – and four off-road modes: Snow, Gravel, Mud, and Sand. The body will also raise to a maximum of 9.6 inches for better off-road clearance or lower, to facilitate trailer hookup.

That such a large, boxy vehicle is so fast and handles so well seems as technically an aerodynamically unlikely as bumblebee flight. But with Sport mode employed, we were able to skip around the curvy roads below Mount Hood with an agility that belied the Bentayga’s size. Switching to Comfort for the rush-hour ride back, nary a pothole nor expansion joint marred the Bentayga’s luxurious ride.

Arriving in Canada later this year, the “bargain-priced” Bentayga V8 loses little cachet to its more expensive sibling – while delivering comparable power, better handling, and every bit as much pampering.