Back in 2002, there were many raised eyebrows (and possibly also some wailing and gnashing of teeth) when Porsche, a brand identified mostly for its performance sports cars with the iconic 911 as the figurehead, decided to release a new model : a large 2.3 ton SUV.
13 years later, and it seems that Porsche has had the last laugh, with sales figures for the Cayenne proving that it’s undoubtedly been a global success. In 2014, Porsche sold 65,941 Cayennes – more than double the amount of 911’s sold, and almost triple the amount of Boxsters/Caymans. The Cayenne may not immediately spring to mind when you think of Porsche’s sporting & racing heritage, but it is unquestionably a cash cow for the firm and is helping to fund further development for their other models.
SUVs have exploded in popularity since then, and are particularly popular in the premium brand sectors; BMW’s X range, Audi’s Q range, Land Rover’s Range Rover & RR Sport models are all now common sights on our road, filling our rear view mirrors with an intimidating glare and fast becoming the weapon of choice for any premier league footballer with cash to burn. Hungry for a slice of the profitable SUV pie, Mercedes, Maserati, Jaguar and even Lamborghini all too have models either ready for release or nearing completion.
Bentley haven’t been ignoring the demand for premium SUVs. They have been waiting quietly in the wings for some time, and have now announced the release of their first SUV in 2016 : the Bentayga.
An SUV with a Bentley badge on the front seems almost like a marriage made in heaven, and makes us wonder why its taken them so long to get in on the game. As a brand, they’re already synonymous with luxury interiors, large powerful engines, four wheel drive systems providing grip in all types of weather and on all surfaces, and are absolutely resistant to the constant drive for manufacturers to make everything lighter. Bentleys have always felt big, heavy and invincible, and aren’t ashamed of it.
True to Bentley tradition, the top of the range model will have a 12-cylinder W12 engine producing 600bhp and (wait for it) 900nm (663lb/ft) of torque, helping it to crack 60mph in 4.0 seconds and power on to a top speed of 187mph. There will also be lower-powered diesel and hybrid variants released further down the line. Sitting on the same group MLB platform that the Audi Q7 and next Porsche Cayenne will use, the Bentayga will offer 8 different driving modes, with 4 specific off-road modes so that those owners not averse to risk can actually take their Bentley off the asphalt. Slightly longer and wider than the Cayenne and Q7 at 5141mm long, 1742 high and 2223mm wide, the Bentayga’s dimensions will be closer to rivals such as the Range Rover, pitting it firmly in the larger end of the SUV spectrum.
As expected, the Bentayga’s interior will offer unparalleled levels of luxury, with the highest quality materials used for all switchgear and components. Top and side bolster sections of the leather seats (pre-tested for 6 months in various solar conditions to prevent fade) will benefit from diamond quilting, with 15 pieces of hand-selected veneer utilised throughout other sections of the interior. The dash, reminiscent of earlier models such as the Continental GT, will house an 8-inch touchscreen and also include a head-up display, and night vision. A host of advanced functions will be accessed from here, such as the adaptive cruise control, self-parking mode and traffic sign recognition. On-board Wifi will be included as standard, with rear passengers able to access it via a specialised Bentley touchpad running Android-based software.
An 85-litre boot will offer decent load space, and as is the norm this can be expanded via folding rear seats – all accessed via the hands-free tailgate.
From the outside, the Bentayga plays it somewhat safe. The huge front grill and round recessed headlights are immediately recognisable from previous Bentley models and are obviously becoming the corporate ‘face’ of the brand, but nevertheless give the car a distinct and unique front end which carries a lot of road presence. The side and rear profiles are neat and unfussy, with a minimum of superfluous body addenda and very precise attention to detail. There is a familiarity in the overall shape which is no doubt due to the shared MLB platform invoking images of the Cayenne and Q7, but the Bentayga still manages to retains enough individuality to shine on its own and remain true to the brand.
The Bentayga will be released in early 2016, with prices starting from £160,200. Bentley are hoping to sell 3,000-4,0000 units per year. It will face stiff competition from the likes of Porsche’s new Cayenne and the upcoming Jaguar F-Pace, but Bentley are no doubt confident that their individuality and uniquely cosseting interiors will help place the car at the top end of the luxury sector.