Veteran car journalist Shaun Summerfield brings the new Bentley Bentayga down to the Bay for a weekend test drive.

WORDS SHAUN SUMMERFIELD / PHOTOS GRAEME MURRAY

When Ettore Bugat­ti described the 1924 Le-Mans-win­ning Bent­ley 3-litre as ‘the world’s fastest lor­ry’, he was try­ing to insult its win­ning dura­bil­i­ty. If only he knew what was in store near­ly a cen­tu­ry lat­er. Dri­ving the Ben­tay­ga down to Mount Maun­ganui from Auck­land, there was noth­ing remote­ly lor­ry or truck-like about Bentley’s for­ay into the SUV mar­ket.

NEITHER SIGNORE BUGATTI NOR W.O. BENTLEY, I SUSPECT, WOULD EVER HAVE IMAGINED THEFLYING B’ ADORNING A DIESEL-POWERED SUV. Still, had they seen the num­bers, they would have been impressed. My favourite is 48 – as in the 48-volt elec­tri­cal sys­tem that pro­vides the spark for two of the Ben­tay­ga Diesel’s most impres­sive fea­tures.

THE FIRST ISTRIPLE-CHARGING’. THIS MEANS THE TWO MECHANICAL, TWIN-SCROLL TURBOCHARGERS ARE BOOSTED BY A THIRD, ELECTRICALLY DRIVEN UNIT. THIS HIGHLY CHARGED TRIUMVERATE EFFECTIVELY BANISHES TURBO LAG, MEANING A GOBSMACKING 900 NM OF TORQUE IS DELIVERED FROM JUST 1,000 RPM. That means being able to vir­tu­al­ly idle up the boat ramp at Sul­phur Point, even haul­ing a Ray­glass 2350 out of the water.

I NEVER THOUGHT I’D BE DESCRIBING A BENTLEY AS A GREAT TOWING CAR. BUT THE AUTOMOTIVE WORLD IS CHANGING FAST, AND BENTLEY ARE CHANGING WITH IT. Despite the sight of the nev­er-seen-before-on-a-Bent­ley warn­ing stick­er on the filler cap, the Ben­tay­ga is as Bent­ley as any oth­er auto­mo­bile to come out of the Crewe fac­to­ry.

IT’S THE FASTEST AND MOST REFINED DIESEL EVER BUILT, WITH A TOP SPEED OF 270 KPH. And most ‘Bentleyesque’ of all is the accel­er­a­tion; despite weigh­ing 2511 kg, the Ben­tay­ga dis­patch­es 0 – 100 kph in 4.8 sec­onds.

THAT SHOULD TAKE CARE OF THE DIESEL-PERFUMED ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, EXCEPT TO MENTION THE OTHER OBVIOUS UPSIDE: ECONOMY. This oil-burn­ing Bentayga’s offi­cial con­sump­tion fig­ure is only 8 litres per 100 km.

ONE OF THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGES FOR THIS SUV IS COMBINING A MAGIC-CARPET RIDE WITH SPORTY HANDLING. That’s achieved with the sec­ond of those impres­sive Ben­tay­ga fea­tures – the Bent­ley Dynam­ic Ride (BDR) sys­tem.

LIKE THE TURBO CHARGING, THIS SYSTEM BENEFITS FROM THE 48-VOLT LITHIUM-ION ELECTRICS. Even more than the engine boost, BDR is the Bentayga’s key to repro­duc­ing pro­gress from the Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT in this SUV. Work­ing togeth­er with the adjustable damp­en­er sys­tem and air sus­pen­sion, BDR con­trols the Bentayga’s roll bars, cour­tesy of elec­tric motors that each pro­duce 30% more grunt than the diesel engine (yes, real­ly), help­ing the vehi­cle defy a few laws of physics and elim­i­nate body roll.

ALL THIS TECHNOLOGY OPERATES IN THE BACKGROUND, ALMOST SILENTLY, LEAVING PASSENGERS TO ENJOY THE REFINED OPULENCE THAT DEFINES THE BRAND. Bent­ley go to extra­or­di­nary lengths for their car inte­ri­ors. There is sim­ply noth­ing to fault inside this car. The most per­fect­ly grained wal­nut comes from the root balls of old trees from Cal­i­for­nia. The result is a wood grain you can’t stop look­ing at.

ONLY BULLS FROM NORTHERN EUROPE ARE DEEMED WORTHY ENOUGH TO SUPPLY THE HIDES – 14 OF THEMNEEDED TO TRIM THE BENTAYGA’S INTERIOR, AS THEY HAVEN’T BEEN SCARRED BY BARBED WIRE. (It has to be bulls, not cows, so there are no stretch marks.) And the dia­mond-pat­terned seats take near­ly a week of care­ful cross-stitch­ing. You park your behind very gen­tly indeed as you get in.

There is plen­ty of tech­nol­o­gy at hand, but it’s the trade­mark organ stops, used to con­trol the car’s ven­ti­la­tion, that sum up the Bentayga’s inte­ri­or. They oper­ate with a just-so lev­el of resis­tance: all very old school, yet com­fort­ably at home in Bentley’s ‘down-with-the-kids’ SUV.

LIKE EVERY BENTLEY, THE BENTAYGA HAS A RATHER MAGNIFICENT PRESENCE. But it’s also a bona fide off-road­er, and it’s more capa­ble than just about any oth­er pre­mi­um lux­u­ry car. The sus­pen­sion ris­es to offer 285 mm of ground clear­ance, with an offi­cial wad­ing depth of 500 mm.

Who’ll be the first down that boat ramp at Sul­phur Point to test it out? That plea­sure will be yours, Team UNO.

SHAUN SUMMERFIELD is a prop­er boy. He spent 17 years as a jour­nal­ist, cov­er­ing world cups and epic motor races across the world for New­shub. After a job of adren­a­line-fuelled dead­li­nes, Shaun is now the gen­er­al man­ager of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Giltrap Group. It’s a role the suave petrol­head describes as, “Close to per­fect: sur­round­ed by some of the best cars on the plan­et and work­ing for a fam­i­ly-owned com­pa­ny.”