I experienced the fastest and most luxurious SUV on earth (sorry tar) in its ancestral homeland. Meet the phenomenal Bentley Bentayga and some of his siblings.
Photos by Jonathan Jacob & Dieter Losskarn
Every third Bentley customer has an SUV in the garage. Once upon a time this was a Range Rover, occasionally a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S or even a Mercedes GLE 63 AMG. Not anymore.
Bentley is the first top luxury brand to produce an SUV. No surprise here, that the Bentayga turned out to be a palace on wheels. It’s completely excessive and unnecessary in every sense. But that’s exactly what makes it so fascinating. With the Bentayga Bentley defines a whole new vehicle segment. Soon to be following in those tracks are the Lamborghini Urus and the Rolls Royce Cullinan.
If you have any doubts about the sense of this upper class monster, just have a look at the order books. The original plan of building 3600 units in 2016 was quickly upped to 5000. For that the factory had to be extended for several million Euros. In 2016 Bentley produced more cars than ever. Thanks to the Bentayga. The planned production for 2017 stands at 5500 units at the moment.
A tour through the factory in Crewe, U.K., where Bentleys are being hand-crafted since 1919, shows how many Bentaygas are rolling off the production line. And where they are going to. Mainly to the US, the Gulf states and China. The Bentayga will do for Bentley, what the Cayenne did for Porsche. Totally uplifting the brand.
And the factory tour reveals something else. Each and every Bentley is in fact truly hand-crafted. Experts examine more than 80 hides a day. They use wax crayons to mark up any blemishes, which are then removed to ensure the hides are perfect when installed in a Bentley.
The leather is sourced from Northern European bulls that graze at high altitudes. The more temperate climate results in fewer parasites being present. Together with the lack of barbed wire the leather is naturally blemish free.
Every leaf of veneer in a Bentley can be traced to the tree from which it came. It takes two days for a Bentley expert to check every centimeter of around 25 000 m² of veneer, in its raw form, to ensure it is of the highest quality.
When producing a single Mulsanne (the opulent flagship Bentley) steering wheel, one craftsperson uses 3 meters of thread to create 620 stitches. Each hole the thread passes through to hold the leather in place is spaced using a well-worn fork and is punched by hand. The entire process takes more than five hours to complete.
It takes a skilled seamstress about 25 hours to cross-stitch the standard areas of a Bentley Continental.
Enough facts. There is a brand-new Bentayga waiting outside in the parking lot. Climbing in, I am entering a different world. No other current SUV is more sophisticated. It smells and feels like an ancient gentlemen’s club. Deep gloss lacquer, thick leather, smoothly polished metal surfaces and perfectly placed seams. I just need a cigar and a single malt now. 58 craftsmen and –women are manufacturing the interior alone.
But not only traditionally, also electronically the Bentayga is state of the art. Touch screens in front, two removable tablets in the rear. The digital instrument is flanked by two technically unnecessary analogue displays. They add more style, explains Bentley.
Leaning back in the huge throne-like seat I feel provoked by serenity. The base of this self-confidence is a new, low-rumbling W12 engine with which Bentley wants to secure its position as the world’s leading manufacturer of 12 cylinder power plants. It is ten percent more ‘economical’ and 30 kg lighter than its predecessor. 447kW and 900Nm of torque are accelerating the 2.5-ton car in an astonishing 4.1 seconds from 0 to 100km/h. With a ridiculous top speed of 301km/h the Bentayga is officially the fastest SUV on earth. I mean tar. Bentley even brought it to the Nurburgring, where it clocked an impressive lap time of 8:20min.
And it handles surprisingly well. Thanks to the new active roll-control technology. It uses electric motors, which made it necessary to boost the electrical system to 48 volts. Enough power to react lightning fast against any form of body roll. In fact it is three times faster than any hydraulic system.
I am therefore cornering those narrow country road bends in Southern Wales in a sports-car like manner. Paired with the enormous power of the engine, this is a rather exhilarating ride.
Unfortunately there was no chance of me taking the Bentayga off the beaten track. But what I have seen in videos and heard from collegues about steep mountain tracks and sand dunes sounds rather impressive. Four off-road modes turn the dynamic dandy into a dirty swine in no time.
The Bentayga is based on a family member, the Audi Q7. But still a car on its own. Especially the previously mentioned interior reduces the elegant Q7 to Shoprite level. One Bentayga takes 130 hours to build. In the same time period ten Q7s are being produced.
The option’s list is obviously endless. 90 different body paints and 15 leather colors. And for the first time ever there is a tow bar available as an official Bentley extra. The bespoke Mulliner picknick hamper in the rear will set you back at least R300 000. Compared to that, the event seats in the back are a bargain at R30 000.
Cruising in a Bentayga is an otherworldly experience. To be honest, it is one of the best cars I have ever driven. You just have to keep your guilty conscience for after you embarked to fully enjoy the ride.
Engine 6.0-l. W12, paired with an 8-speed auto
Power 447kW and 900Nm
Top Speed 301 km/h
0-100km/h 4.1 seconds
Price from R3 987 000
Four more engine variants are available:
V8 turbo (373kW)
V8 TDI (320kW)
V 6 plug-in hybrid (298kW)
W12 Speed (485kW)
Bentley model line-up:
New home of Bentley
Welcome to South Africa
In July 2014 Toby Venter made international news by saving Kyalami race track from a bunch of greedy investors, who wanted to build yet another awful shopping mall. Now it is once again a world-class racetrack. He is also the man behind LSM distributors, SA’s Porsche retail and dealer network. Being a keen race driver himself, he was always fascinated by the racing heritage, passion and craftmanship of Bentley. Now, he is a Bentley boy himself. After some half-hearted attempts to successfully import the iconic British brand, it is finally in the right hands. Helped by the fact that Volkswagen restructured the family. One of the pillars is now Porsche, responsible for the ‘sub-brands’ Bentley, Bugatti and Ducati.
Bentley’s new South African home can be found in Johannesburg at Melrose Arch, corner Corlett Drive and Melrose Boulevard. Solvent connoisseurs can look forward to an upcoming Bentley flagship store and Blower Café. As well as Bentley dealerships in both Cape Town and Durban.
Pimp my Bentley
For the requirements of the most discerning Bentley customers there is Mulliner. Changes are often applied in the production line. So the factory floor guys frown, when the Mulliner boys arrive. As there will be disruptions. Albeit of a beautiful kind. From monogrammed upholstery to entire body modifications. Best example for latter is the mighty Mulsanne Grand Limousine.
Mulliner is a traditional coach builder after all. Dating back to the 1500s, with almost five centuries of craftsmanship experience and heritage. Mulliner used to build the most luxurious horsedrawn carriages. Nothing has changed in the horseless carriages of today’s times.
Their first encounter happened in 1923, when Mulliner showed a two-seater 3.0-l. Bentley at the Olympia show in London. Only four years after the company was founded. In 1952 Mulliner built one of the most iconic Bentleys ever, the R-type Continental. Inspiring the design of today’s Continental GT. And in 1957 the Continental Flying Spur Speed was designed by Mulliner, a special four-door saloon.
Mulliner became an official part of Bentley Motors in 1959. And is now based with the mothership in Crewe. Recent famous Mulliner creations are the Bentayga Fly Fishing, the Mulsanne Grand Limousine and the Breitling Jet Team Series Continental GT.
Pankhurst Barber Sho
A haven of masculinity just off Carnaby Street in London’s CBD. Relax in a red, bespoke Bentley leather barber chair, a glass of single malt in your hand and indulge in the GQ award winning grooming products of Pankhurst. Enjoy a shave and trim in London’s best barber shop. It will set you back 50£ for the hair cut, another 50£ for the classic wet shave and 18£ for a small can of ‘The Pomade Pankhurst’. Check it out on: www.pankhurstlondon.com