Bentley is the type of luxury car you might normally associate with a stately drive to see the bank manager rather than an all-terrain bush bash, but on this gnarly hillside, the noble marque is going through the kind of axle-twisting contortions you would expect from a Range Rover. The vehicle stops intermittently on the near vertical rocky inclines as if it’s hunting for an even more difficult route. Having located just the right challenge, the Bentley mounts what seems to be a boulder with ease.

This, of course, is no ordinary Bentley. The Bentayga is one of the fastest, most exclusive and most luxurious SUVs in the world, and Bentley is having trouble keeping pace with demand. “The Bentayga has been mindblowing—personally it’s overwhelmed me,” says a breathless Adam Hannaford, the brand manager for one of Bentley’s five Australian branches. “In terms of numbers, Bentley was going to produce just 3,000 of these vehicles a year, but I’ve recently heard that it will be increased to more than 5,000. As for us [in Sydney], we’ve already exhausted this year’s allocation. We have a waiting list beyond anything I could have ever imagined.”

For a car not due to roll into dealerships until May, it seems word has travelled fast— and that’sunderstandable. The Bentayga, in terms of performance and luxury, is quite simply the final word in SUVs. With a 12-cylinder engine that delivers 600bhp and 900Nm of torque, you barely have to touch the accelerator for the SUV to laugh those rock faces to scorn.

Its 12 cylinders can morph into a six-cylinder highway ride to provide the best combination of power, economy and torque in its class. But perhaps its most startling performance spec is that it can achieve the 0–100km/h dash in just 4.1 seconds, a feat that puts it on a par with Tesla’s electric sports car. The Bentayga’s top speed is an astonishing 301km/h.

Technologically, the Bentayga leads the field with adaptive, flat-cornering suspension based on the Bentley Dynamic Ride system, a game changer that reviewers have described as “a form of witchcraft.” In essence, the innovative system can decouple the left- and right-hand roll bars on the front and rear, thanks to an electric motor that sits at the car’s centre of gravity. Even the most energetic cornering barely transmits to the cabin; certainly there’s no SUV that provides so much comfort on the inside while absorbing so much punishment on the outside.

Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon dashboard clock by Breitling

The rear-seat entertainment system includes music, movies and maps

Safety features such as blind-spot assist and reverse camera come standard

Indulgent optional extras include a Mulliner picnic hamper that houses chilled champagne 

The 12-cylinder engine delivers 600bhp and 900Nm of torque, and can morph into a six-cylinder highway ride

“We’ve even had a long-term Rolls-Royce nd Bentley owner at our Power on Ice vent in Finland describe the Bentayga as the most phenomenal driving experience he’d ver had,” says Hannaford. “Coming from omeone who’s used to Bentleys, it’s high raise indeed.”

But for an SUV that, fully specced, can cost US$750,000 (the basic model starts at about US$230,000), Bentley understands there are few owners who will take it down anything more challenging than a muddy country lane on the way to the polo. With this in mind, the Bentayga has a battery of innovative technologies that puts city and highway driving into the hands of what has been described as a digital chauffeur.

Alongside now standard features such as The 12-cylinder engine delivers 600bhp and 900Nm of torque, and can morph into a six-cylinder highway ride blind-spot assist, high-beam assist and reverse camera, the Bentayga features sensors that tell you when it’s safe to get out of the car. If you attempt to alight from the parked car while another car or cyclist is approaching, the door handles flash rapidly to warn you. Similarly, sensors will tell you when it’s safe to reverse out of a blind driveway into a busy street and will automatically jerk the brakes on as a final warning.

Other city touches include keyless entry for the rear door. One arm full of shopping and the other arm full of kids? All you have to do is wave your foot under the tailgate to pop the boot, saving you from putting the load on the ground and rummaging around for your keys.

For those who prefer the touring specifications, the Bentayga’s optional packages include lane assist and adaptive cruise control with a stop-and-go function for traffic jams. Its coolest feature is the optional night-vision package. An infrared camera monitors the road 300 metres ahead—well beyond the range of the headlights—to detect animals and pedestrians that may be lurking ahead. The system even judges the level of threat: if it’s a rabbit or other small mammal, it’s highlighted in yellow on the driver’s head-up display; if it’s a moose, the warning is highlighted in red.

As you’d expect from Bentley, there’s an almost infinite variety of interior customisations to consider, from crossstitched leather seats to painstakingly handcrafted veneers. For the final word in luxury, however, buyers can opt for the optional Mulliner hamper, which will set you back close to US$40,000. A pricey champagne cooler perhaps, but an optional extra that clients have been only too willing to add.

While Bentley will accommodate off-list customisations, the basic lines of the car must still recognisably conform to the marque. “So far, we haven’t had too many requests for James Bond-style rocket launchers,” Hannaford says.

(Text by Peter Shadbolt) 

Tags: Cars, Bentley, Test Track