It’s tough to be a sheik these days. The price of oil is stalled at a level that hardly makes it worth pulling it out of the ground, or sand, or arctic sea floor, or wherever it’s coming from now. Times are so bad that Saudi Arabia — which often seems more like a trillion-dollar national oil company than a country — is about to start making its citizen-cum-employees actually pay taxes. Income tax, property tax, even a tax on gasoline. In Saudi Arabia! It’s unheard of.
It’s not a good time to be a CEO in China, either with the national economy finally correcting after decades of geyser-like growth. And if you live here in Canada, unless you’re an exporting magnate, you may be re-evaluating your long-planned vacation to Monterey because it just became 40 per cent more expensive.
From this gloomy perspective, it can seem strange that Bentley is choosing this moment in time to launch its first-ever SUV — the world’s fastest and most expensive. But it’s not just Bentley. Soon, if you’re in the market for a palatial sport utility vehicle, you’ll be overwhelmed with choices from Lamborghini, Maserati and possibly even Aston Martin. But the Bentley is here first, and as such, the Bentley will be the standard against which all others are judged.
That’s more than a little daunting for whoever comes next. Because, despite any economic lull, people with the means will want the Bentley Bentayga.
Wolfgang Dürheimer, the unflappably confident CEO and chairman of Bentley Motors, put it simply: “It’s an SUV. People will like it.” The German in charge of this legendary British marque knows he has a winner on his hands. Maybe the low price of oil isn’t such a bad thing.
Dürheimer is right. People really want SUVs, and there’s a yawning void at the very top of the market.
The Bentley Bentayga, a 12-cylinder salute to the finer things, will fill that void. It’s two and a half tonnes of hand- stained wood and expertly-stitched cowhide, riding on top of a motor so powerful it’d make a freight train blush, all wrapped up in Bentley’s typically understated metal.
The very first Bentayga is being delivered to Her Majesty the Queen. Not bad as far as market trendsetters go. Though, it makes you wonder: how will she spec her new Bentley? There are options. Will she go for the fitted Mulliner picnic hamper, created in collaboration with Linley? Will she decide on a satin paint finish, or will she have the new car colour-matched to her crown?
If Elizabeth II is feeling supremely regal, she will insist on having her Bentayga equipped with a dashboard clock that Breitling made for Bentley. The Swiss company can only make a few per year, on account of the extreme complexity of the clock’s tourbillon movement. One of those will add over $200,000 to the price of a $266,000 Bentayga. A bespoke satin paint finish is a snip at $39,000.
And though Her Majesty has been known to drive herself around, tooling around her property in her Land Rover, corgies likely in the passenger seat, the rear seat of a Bentayga is the place to be. It’s completely quiet, calm and smooth. An air-suspension system, along with the world’s first high-powered active anti-roll system, takes care of any rough roads. A pair of touchscreen tablets designed by Bentley are there for work or pleasure, while a remote controls the car’s secondary functions.
With a global audience eagerly awaiting the arrival of Bentley’s first-ever SUV, the firm knew the Bentayga would be driven in every condition imaginable. Test drivers took it up to the top of the most famous sand dunes in Dubai and Oman, in a heat wave that saw temperatures hit 53 degrees Celsius. The team drove it from the southern tip of South Africa to the northernmost part of Norway, and on roads, gravel, mud, snow, and ice all over the world.
For my part, I drove the Bentayga over California’s Imperial Sand Dunes, around the Chuckwalla Valley race circuit and across a rain-soaked muddy track in the Santa Rosa mountain range. Predictably, nothing stopped it. With 600 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque, it muscled its way over or through every obstacle. Using it to go to the cottage or a ski chalet is a gross underutilization of an exceptional asset, but worth it for the comfort.
Dürheimer’s unflappable confidence is warranted. Bentley’s first-ever SUV will be a winner, no matter what’s going on with the economy, the price of oil, or anything else. It is isolated from all that, above all that turbulence. And it will isolate you, too, if you give it a chance.