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 THE ‘FLYING 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 IS ‘TRIPLE-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 THEM – NEEDED 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.”