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First drive: 2017 Bentley Bentayga

Sprinting up sand dunes and down ditches in Bentley's $232,000 Bentayga

Short of being borne aloft in an ornate sedan chair by muscular porters, the Bentayga is the most luxurious way to travel anywhere.

I will never cease to be surprised by the sheer resolve of the rich. They know what they want, and will go to great lengths to get it. This brings us neatly to Bentley and its announcement that it will develop its first SUV. Some purists were upset, but after spending time with the long-anticipated Bentayga, it’s a surprising example of uncompromising luxury. Why step out of your comfort zone when you can take it with you?

Bespoke brilliance

Standing on a sandy dune next to a fluttering dining tent in a vast expanse of desert outside Palm Springs, California, the Bentayga is still unmistakably a Bentley. It sports a fascia not dissimilar to the Continental Flying Spur sedan, with flush LED headlamps that flank the familiar matrix grille.

Along the side, a creased “power line” flows from a B-shaped vent at the front wheel well, along the car’s steel and aluminum monocoque body, to its tall rear haunches. The whole package plays a delicate balance conveying practical strength and refined style, highlighted by subtle details like the B-shaped tail lamps and Bentley-etched headlights.

This attention to detail is even more abundant on the interior, where the symmetrical dashboard arrangement is styled after the winged Bentley logo. Even the handcrafted leather of the seats sport a quilted pattern derived from hunting jackets. Each knob has solid knurling around it, while the mesh grilles covering the Naim premium speakers match the sew pattern throughout the cabin.

The Bentayga is a surprising example of uncompromising luxury.

If you forego the optional fifth row, you’ll have 15.2 cubic feet of storage space. You can fill this space with your own luggage, but if you want to up your luxury game, you can opt for the custom picnic set, which is a series of bespoke boxes containing enough fanciful accouterments to host one heck of a champagne-fueled tailgate soiree. Seriously, it’s fancy stuff. Your guests can gather and marvel at the $150,000 Breitling Tourbillon clock that one of four customers a year can get their gold-dusted fingers on. While you gather your jaws off the floor to wonder aloud who would pay a Porsche 911 Turbo’s-worth of money for a clock, Bentley’s sold three already, as of this writing.

Where the pavement ends

The outward display of the Bentayga’s elegance would mean nothing if its engineering wasn’t equally as good, but thankfully Bentley’s attention to detail extends to more than jewel-encrusted clocks. With dunes ahead, I dialed in the sand-dune-specific setting of the Bentley All Terrain Specification controls. There are eight settings in total ranging from sport, to comfort, to various off-road presets so the Bentayga can traverse snow and mud seamlessly when it leaves the tarmac.

2017 Bentley Bentayga First Drive
Bentley Motors Limited
Bentley Motors Limited

Say what you will about the luxury SUVs never leaving the Gucci parking lot, but in the Middle East — where luxury and miles of sand daily coexist — the need for it to perform here isn’t merely a fanciful demonstration. Large applications of throttle help ascend tall mountains of the grainy stuff, thanks to the newly crafted 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 sending 600 horsepower through permanent all-wheel drive. The Bentayga will climb hills that surpass 35 degrees of incline. In fact, it does it quite effortlessly. From simply maneuvering around, to rapid ascents and descents, there’s no sense of impending sand entrenchment.

That effortless luxury continued when we moved on to other off-road obstacles. With a twist of the terrain dial and a rise in suspension, the Bentayga scampered up boney rocks and through mud ruts. We easily trudged through a troublesomely steep descent thanks to the hill-descent feature automatically engaging and taking over during the travel downward.

Comfort-crafted coach

You don’t need to be crawling down a rock face in the Bentley to appreciate its new-found technological prowess. An arsenal of safety and entertainment technology bring Bentley’s classic coach-building techniques into the modern era.

Twelve ultrasonic sensors, five cameras, and two different radars give drivers improved situation awareness with audible alerts and multiple camera views. At night, an infrared camera will display the road ahead in the driver’s information screen, highlighting any detectable pedestrians in a red box. That info screen, by the way, is nestled in-between traditional analog gauges and partnered with an 8-inch touch screen in the middle of the dash. Both screens share a surprising amount of data, including full color satellite-mapped navigation screens and the real-time all terrain information screen.

Backseat passengers can get in on the action in more than a couple interesting ways. For one, there is a touchscreen remote control found in the Flying Spur. It’s a smartphone-like device that can be removed from its dock and display information like the car’s speed, media functions, and HVAC controls. You can also have two Bentley Entertainment Tablets, which are 10.2-inch removable tablets mounted to the backs of the front seats. These removable Android-powered tablets have the same functions but also allow you to access maps, the Internet connection via on-board 4G Wi-Fi, and just about anything else you can do on a smart device.

Lap of luxury

With its off-road capabilities confidently demonstrated, we took to the highway. In the optimum Bentley driving setting — a halfway point between comfort and sport — traveling at speed is almost dangerously smooth; I started speeding before I realized it. Its speed is certainly felt when its deliberate, during passing moves and cheeky empty-desert road sprints, for example.

Bentley claims the Bentayga will launch to a top speed of 187 mph, which is a segment-leading metric. From a standstill, a stomp on the gas will test the luxury SUV’s stated 4-second 0 to 60 launch time. After a short beat of lag, the turbos flutter, and your gut is punched backward into the seat.

That’s great for a straight line, but the Bentayga wants to cover all its bases by being able to take a corner, too. It’s a tall order, but the Bentley Dynamic Ride is equipped with a 48-volt electric active roll control, which counteracts the hefty leans through the bends, and proved its worth on several unrestricted track runs. To be fair, this sort of dynamic driving situation is even less likely than a dirt trail run, but it does drive home the fact that the Bentayga can be driven at speed with confidence. This an SUV first, but it’s still a Bentley.


Most of us have a bottom line, but Bentley knows no boundaries. Starting at $232,000 the Bentayga quickly sails north of the $300K mark with a litany of options that cost a few thousand dollars. Meanwhile, the comparatively less expensive Range Rover SVR promises its own luxury off-road-to-track experience for around $110,000, but it will always come with compromises. When it comes to exquisite, go-anywhere extravagance, the Bentagya is second to none.


  • Detail-focused exterior design
  • Supple, luxurious interior
  • Wide array of tech accessories
  • Effortless off-road capability


  • Myriad of options swell the price
  • Stout turbo lag
  • Sporty, but heavy through corners

Editors' Recommendations

Alexander Kalogianni
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Alex K is an automotive writer based in New York. When not at his keyboard or behind the wheel of a car, Alex spends a lot of…
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