In general I’ve tried not to write about the pandemic. I try not to even acknowledge it. There are ample sources of information, misinformation, disinformation, opinion and everything in between; SHARP should be a respite. But in the case of this little adventure, it’s impossible to ignore that it was the tail end of a second winter of lockdowns and travel restrictions that inspired a four day “guys trip” in England.
If memory serves, we’d had a few, and the four of us were chatting over zoom — as had become the Saturday ritual. There was light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, in so much that travel restrictions in the UK were lifted. Meanwhile, I had over a million Aeroplan points, and nobody had any plans that seemed conflicting. So, I did the logical thing and booked the three of us business class tickets to London, where we would connect with our mutual friend who moved there about a decade ago.
What was initially pitched as a Bentley factory visit, as it was right on our path from Wales to the Cotswolds, turned into the offer of driving a Bentley on our trip. The plan was set, we land in London and spend the night in Bristol, then on to Caenarfon, back down through the Cotswolds for some shooting of the clays and a night in London. Almost four full days, three nights and too much driving. Exactly the kind of escapade you want a 2.7 tonne symbol of the British Empire for. If the Bentayga couldn’t crush the miles and ease hangovers at the same time, nothing could.
An Electrified Dilemma
Though I probably should have aligned this tale with Earth Day, it is evergreen so to speak. Our Bentley Bentayga wasn’t the W12 or the Speed but rather the hybrid. While it may be the least powerful Bentayga, it still has a very acceptable 443 horsepower on tap. Of course, the real trick is its efficiency, not to mention the capability of running short trips on electric power only (about 50km) — that way you can waft through tiny villages in silence, and then combust your way through the countryside.
What the Bentayga is really about, however, is its grand style, resplendent interior finishing, and capacious passenger accommodations. Our tester’s cream interior was gorgeous, but you can have whatever you want. From black leather and carbon or machine turned surfaces, to cognac and burled wood, and everything in between. It’s all gorgeous, it’s all real, and it’s all superb. The German brands don’t have anything that comes even remotely close to the overall level of material quality and craftsmanship. Also, no Bentley interior commentary would be complete without mentioning the metal organ stops used to turn the HVAC vents on and off. They’re almost worth the price of admissions alone.
Our green in colour and greener in footprint Bentley certainly looked at home in the UK countryside — nestled into a parking spot at an old pub or out front a Chelsea hotel — but deep down it’s a vehicle designed for North American roads. I almost made it through the four days without curbing a wheel, but alas I was done in by the lovely granite curbs of a Caenarfon car park that was designed for vehicles of 40% smaller proportions.
The Boundaries of Perfection
The only two areas where the Bentayga didn’t deliver were at opposing ends of the spectrum, specifically its braking and its infotainment system. The former induced varying degrees of confidence, not because of a lack of massive brakes, nor their effectiveness, but rather the occasionally inconsistent transitions between regenerative braking and mechanical braking. This is one of the pitfalls of this charging method, and one that few brands have perfectly nailed as of yet. Regarding the infotainment system, just don’t use it. Two of the passengers on our excursion were software developers, and one specializes in Graphical User Interfaces, and none of us could figure out how to use the navigation properly. Once we conceded to using a cable connection and had CarPlay working, we were saved. Presumably Bentley figured that would be the most common use case, and didn’t evolve this system any further than it needed to. Hopefully Android users have similar success with Android Auto.
A Verdict (Of Sorts)
As a full-size Range Rover owner, a few days with The Bentayga had me playing with the configurator. In typical Bentley fashion, the appeal of crafting a truly bespoke vehicle is alluring. Certainly the Bentayga charts above and beyond a Range Rover SVO or an excessively optioned Cayenne Turbo in terms of exclusivity. There’s a level of craft and charm that those mass-produced vehicles don’t have. There’s also the depth of engineering of the VW group to consider, as the Bentayga and the Cayenne (as well as Audi Q7 and Lamborghini Urus) all share some critical engineering — albeit extensively revised for each brand.
Honestly, if I were to do it I’d get the Speed, as it seems like the right way to wind out the internal combustion engine. That’s not to say the Hybrid doesn’t have its charm. Invariably when I drive a hybrid or an EV my default style becomes hypermiling — trying to get the best mileage possible. With four men, their luggage, and snacks in the Bentayga, a fast pace on the winding roads didn’t require large throttle opening so much as maintaining momentum in the corners, which isn’t hard with such massive tires. The compliance of its suspension and the near silence of its cabin both conspire to hide the fact this vehicle is capable of commendable pace, with the only limiting factor being how the winding b-roads have a tendency to get plenty narrow for a broad Bentley SUV.
In the end, the Hybrid might actually be the best choice as a bridge between combustion-engined vehicles and the battery-powered future. It gives you EV errand running, hybrid efficiency as well as petrol flexibility and convenience. That it does so in a stately and distinctive silhouette with one of automotive history’s finest interiors make it a rather unique offering.