April 16, 2024


Automotive pure lust

2021 Bentley Bentayga Gets a New Look

South Africa is always a long way away, but our visit in February now seems distant in more than just geographic terms, coming as it did in the last weeks of a pre-pandemic world. We traveled to Cape Town to drive a late-development prototype of the revised Bentayga, the story set to coincide with what was meant to be the car’s official unveiling in April. The coronavirus changed that plan dramatically, delaying the official launch by more than two months, which explains why you’re not seeing masks or social distancing in any of the pictures from South Africa.

You’re also seeing Bentaygas still wearing the disguise intended to keep the car’s secrets safe from spy photographers, although you can see the finished car in our preview here. The thick plastic cladding actually adds significant mass to the prototypes and had to be carefully designed not to alter their aerodynamic profiles too much. The camouflaged cars carry dashboard warnings that the cladding is likely to come loose at speeds of more than 160 mph. On the public roads of the beautiful Western Cape, that shouldn’t be a big issue.

The level of disguise might also seem disproportionate for what is effectively a midlife face-lift, but that’s because the Bentayga received a comprehensive visual makeover, effectively getting entirely new front and rear ends. The restyle serves dual purposes, answering some of the criticism of the first-generation car’s styling while addressing the need to stand out against a growing number of newer rivals.

Bentley was first to the ultra-luxury SUV party and had this rarefied part of the market to itself for several years. But now the field is getting crowded, with the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Lamborghini Urus on sale, and the Aston Martin DBX and Mercedes-Maybach GLS600 about to launch. To underscore its brand identity in that sea of six-figure SUVs, the new Bentayga gets a broader grille, and “cut glass” elliptical LED headlights are meant to provide a stylistic link to the Flying Spur and the Continental. And the new wraparound liftgate, with its oval taillights, tacitly acknowledges that the original car’s rear end was short on obvious Bentley cues.

Mechanical changes are limited, very limited. A 0.8-inch increase in the rear track is the highlight of the “what’s new” part of the briefing, and beyond a few software tweaks, every other dynamic component is carried over effectively unchanged. That doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of topics to discuss with the Bentayga engineering team, which is working through hundreds of checks to get the cars ready for launch. We ask the most obvious one straight away: Why hasn’t there been a mechanical makeover on a similar scale to the design changes?

“Because owners love it,” Bentayga line director Chris Cole said. “The overwhelming feedback we have had from customers about the car is, ‘Don’t change the way it drives.'”

Signing off on any new car is still a complicated process, especially when it comes to one as technically complicated as the Bentayga. The two prototypes in South Africa are both fitted with a data-logging system that automatically records the expected mechanical parameters, but also allows the test team to log granular details, down to the number of trim creaks and rattles to be tracked down later.

There are two prototypes to drive in South Africa. One is fitted with the twin-turbo V-8 that will be available from launch, the other with the mighty W-12 that will follow later in the Speed version. Bentley has also confirmed there will be another plug-in hybrid version, using the same 3.0-liter V-6 as the outgoing hybrid but poised to be the most fuel-efficient Bentley of all time.

The V-8 remains as impressive as we remember it, with a sense of big-cube muscularity at low revs and a commendable lack of turbine lag when driven gently but an equal willingness to work hard and deliver plenty of snarl and rasp when worked to its 7000-rpm limiter. Despite sitting below the W-12 in the Bentley hierarchy, the V-8 doesn’t feel like a poor relation, and its power and torque figures (542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet) are identical to those claimed for the Aston Martin DBX. It also features cylinder deactivation, shutting down four cylinders under gentle use to boost fuel economy. We’ll have to take their word on that, since it’s almost impossible to feel the cylinder deactivation happening.

The W-12 remains slightly quicker, although the extra performance from its 626 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque doesn’t bring any increase in character over the better-sounding V-8. However, the novelty of being able to generate such unlikely longitudinal g-forces in a car so large and stately remains considerable. Bentley admits that the W-12’s days are numbered, and even though it’s an illogical choice, we shall miss it when it’s gone.

The modest increase in rear track is meant to improve the linearity of the Bentayga’s steering responses, but we couldn’t sense any obvious difference in the way it drove. The V-8 model turns impressively well for something so tall and heavy, finding plenty of grip from its 22-inch Pirelli P Zero tires. The greater mass of the W-12’s engine can be felt in tighter turns—it is definitely the less dynamic companion—but it can still be hustled at an impressive pace. The Bentayga was the first large SUV to use 48-volt active anti-roll bars, and that system allows both versions to stay impressively flat under hard-cornering loads.

Although the cabins in both prototypes were disguised by fabric panels, those could be rolled up when on the move, allowing a chance to both see the modest tally of changes—redesigned central air vents and the arrival of a new 10.9-inch dashboard touchscreen. This looks much crisper than the first Bentayga’s system and is backed up by much more potent hardware, now supporting wireless Apple CarPlay capability. The cars in South Africa also had a detachable rear tablet that can control infotainment and climate functions. Cole says that connectivity is one of the areas the development team worked hardest on, and where customers have the highest expectations. “We can’t really justify not offering something you can get in a Golf,” he said. As before, the Bentayga will be available with either a rear bench seat (and option of a folding third row) or with a pair of more luxurious individual seats in back. A revised rear seat frame increases knee room by a minimum of 1.2 inches and up to 3.9 inches in the four-seat car with its seats in full recline.

Bentley has delivered a targeted overhaul to the Bentayga, making significant changes to its styling and level of connectivity while doing little to alter the way it drives. Given our experience with the prior iteration—and its considerable sales success, representing nearly half of the brand’s global production—that feels like a smart play.

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