Bentley’s new Bentayga could well be the best off-roader you can’t afford. Damien O’Carroll explains why.
For any number of reasons, it’s not every day you are invited to fly to Spain to drive a diesel-powered Bentley off road.
Firstly, why Spain? Secondly, a diesel-powered Bentley? And thirdly, a Bentley (regardless of what powers it) off road?
The first one is easy – why Spain? Because it is close to England and the rest of Europe, really. I may have been flying for several days to spend a day and a half on the ground, but getting a bunch of Bentley Bentaygas and a whole bunch of European journalists to Spain is a far easier option.
The second one is also pretty easy – Yes, a diesel-powered Bentley is now actually a thing for the first time in the company’s 98-year history.
But the new Bentley Bentayga diesel is no rattly old smoke-belching oil-burner – it packs the rather remarkable new 4.0-litre triple-charged V8 first seen in the Audi SQ7 that launched in New Zealand recently.
Developed for use in the Bentley and the Audi, the all-new and totally belligerent diesel V8 produces 320kW of power and a colossal 900Nm of torque.
The big diesel V8 uses a remarkable forced induction set up that includes a constantly running “active” turbo, a spool-up-on-demand “passive” turbo and a thoroughly mental electric turbine that uses a 48-volt electric motor to spin it up to 75,000rpm in a quarter of a second.
With this 48-volt power boost behind it, the electric turbo effectively eliminates traditional turbo lag and makes the engine’s full 900Nm available from under 1,000rpm.
The second turbo in the line-up is referred to by Bentley as the “active” turbo and is constantly spinning. This takes over things after the electric turbo has moved things off the line and by 2,200rpm the third turbo (or the “passive” turbo) has woken up and spun into life to provide additional power further up in the rev range.
What all this means is instant, turbine smooth acceleration literally anywhere in the Bentayga diesel’s rev range. Push the throttle and it simply piles on speed at a remarkable rate, regardless of how fast you were going in the first place.
So, yeah, it’s no ordinary diesel.
No ordinary SUV either
But that third thing – the going off road bit – that’s the really interesting one!
When the invitation first came through it was accompanied by the requirement that whoever attends had “off-road experience”, which instantly piqued my interest.
They wanted someone with off road experience? Does that mean we would be doing some serious rock climbing in this thing? After all, the last event I received that came with such a requirement was driving Jeep Wranglers through the Rubicon Trail…
And it’s not like the Bentley isn’t actually capable of going further off the sealed stuff than your average luxury SUV.
Further, in fact, than the one that shares its engine and basic platform – the Audi SQ7 – which is more or less just a really big hatchback when it comes to off-road ability.
While it may lack a traditional low ratio transmission, Bentley has developed all of the Bentayga’s off-road settings itself, with an adjustable ride height (lockable in the highest setting for off-road use) and four off-road modes.
The settings start off with the Snow/Wet Grass mode and the gravel mode for light off-roading, with the second two – Mud & Trail mode and Sand mode – being for more serious stuff.
The Bentayga diesel comes on all-terrain tyres and, at full height, boasts ground clearance of 245mm and a wading depth of 500mm. Not exactly enough to trouble a Range Rover, but way more than most owners will ever need. And enough to give me hope.
While the drive started predictably enough, with a convoy of big Bentaygas heading up into the hills inland of the Spanish beach resort town of Marbella. The roads here are narrow, winding and surprisingly smooth, which – apart from the ‘narrow’ part – suits the big Bentley nicely.
The power from the engine is instant and relentless, endowing the Bentayga with prodigious overtaking ability and a seemingly endless surge of power out of any corner.
While Audi uses artificial means to make the SQ7 sound angrier and more petrol-V8-like, the Bentley does not. This means everything you hear is the noise the Bentayga diesel naturally makes.
While the Audi is fruity, barrel-chested and bellowy, the Bentayga is, well, largely silent.
Refined V8 rumble
In fitting with being a Bentley, the relentless acceleration is accompanied by a distant, subdued and extremely refined V8 rumble that rises only slightly in volume as the revs rise.
On the outside, the Bentayga produces a subtle burble at idle that you really have to listen carefully to pick out ever-so-slight hints of diesel rumble.
While the Bentayga’s ride is generally impressive and as refined as the engine, it does occasionally betray a strange tendency to float a bit at the rear, while the steering in the sport setting is horribly artificial.
After a few hours of amusing the locals on the winding hill roads of rural southern Spain (a dozen fully-specced-up Bentaygas charging along narrow roads IS a sight) we finally get to the good stuff – the off-road section.
It starts off with a long climb up a defiantly knotty and rutted dirt track to a plateau where we would have that most important of things – a coffee stop.
Torque about power!
The track was narrow, and had a precarious drop down one side, but was largely unchallenging, as the Bentayga simply used its massive torque to roll relentlessly up it, without the need for anything approaching effort. Or a low ratio.
Once the caffeine and been absorbed, we were into the meat of the day. At least, hopefully we were.
Alas, it was not to be, as the off-road loop consisted of some fairly easy muddy rutted tracks and a bit of downhill stuff to show off the hill descent control system.
There was, however, one area that presented a challenge for the Bentayga, and this was a large rocky outcropping that we were allowed to crawl over.
While the rest of the loop presented little challenge for the Bentayga, the rocky section betrayed a few of its limitations, namely its lack of serious ground clearance (a few thumps on the underbody protection – yes, it does have that!) and its snatchy brakes that are fine on the road, but don’t have enough progression or delicacy for off-road use.
Bling it on!
Still, that’s not going to bother the vast majority of buyers, most of whom will be far more impressed with the 4.8 second 0 to 100km/h time, remarkable refinement and the uber-luxury interior.
Speaking of the interior, like all Bentleys, the Bentayga is incredibly highly equipped and beautifully made. It can be as restrained or wildly tasteless as you desire, but always beautifully made. As you would naturally expect from something costing $323,200.
Yep, that’s right – $323,200. The Bentayga diesel is, after all, first and foremost a luxury car.
It just happens to be one with supercar performance, diesel frugality and some actual off road ability.