Luxury is a relative and fluid concept. Your idea of luxury is another person’s idea of basic, and that person’s idea of luxury is another person’s bare minimum. The process goes on and on until things reach heights so mind-boggling that many of us can’t comprehend, let alone relate. But whether your idea of a good dinner involves a box of Hamburger Helper or a table at Nobu, you inherently know a Bentley is two things: luxurious and expensive. Fittingly, that’s the best way to describe the 2021 Bentley Bentayga.
Luxurious and expensive things, however, aren’t exactly known for being practical or everyday-friendly. Think of a leather-sole Gucci loafer over a rubber-sole Rockport. Or a plastic Casio over a diamond-studded Rolex. While all four of these things are great, only two of them are what you’d call, “easy to live with.”
Furthermore, how do these concepts of luxury, expensiveness, and exclusivity translate into something that’s utilitarian by nature, such as an SUV? Last I checked, SUV still stands for Sport Utility Vehicle (emphasis on utility). Is it possible to create something truly luxurious, expensive, and exclusive that’s also utilitarian? Or does the fact that it is utilitarian inadvertently water down how special it’s supposed to be?
These are the questions that ran through my mind as I ventured into a weeklong test of the 2021 Bentley Bentayga, the British marque’s only SUV. While most of the 2021 Bentayga’s updates aim to improve its overall livability, my mission was to uncover if Crewe’s newest creation was a true, everyday SUV—albeit an ultra-luxury one—or still more of a Gucci loafer and diamond-studded Rolex.
2021 Bentley Bentayga V8, By the Numbers
- 2022 base price (2021 as tested): $190,325 ($212,495)
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 542 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 568 @ 1,960 rpm to 4,500 rpm
- Curb weight: 5,324 pounds
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 17.1 cubic feet
- 0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds (est.)
- Top speed: 180 mph (est.)
- EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city | 24 mpg highway | 18 mpg combined
- Quick take: The V8 Bentayga may be fancy and it may be expensive, but it’s also downright functional.
Intended to be the “world’s first true luxury SUV,” the first-generation Bentayga truly raised the bar in more ways than one, despite the fact that expensive SUVs weren’t a rarity in 2015. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and the usual suspects had already been selling luxurious and pricey units for years, but as I mentioned at the beginning, luxury is a relative and fluid concept.
See, when you cruise by in a Benz or a BMW, normal people know it could be a fancy $100,000 car, but they also know it could be a fancy-looking $50,000 car. When you cruise in a Bentley, however, everyone knows it’s some EX-PEN-SIVE stuff. Why? Because there ain’t no cheap Bentleys. There’s a reason why Bentley can stamp its product literature with the Royal Warrant of Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. The Queen doesn’t do cheap, y’know?
Despite its accolades, the original Benayga left a lot to wish for in several areas. The design always seemed a bit incoherent, with a sleek front end but frumpy and squared-off rear. The interior was more Old-World Opulence than it should’ve ever been, considering its target demographic—families—and frankly, it just had way too much cheap-looking plastic throughout.
Now in its second generation, the Bentayga welcomes an all-new exterior design that resembles the Flying Spur, with its large, chrome grille and round, quad-headlights up front, while the wider rear features the Continental GT‘s squinty taillights.
The cabin has been completely revamped over the outgoing model to include a new center-stack design, larger infotainment screen, door panels, and more sculpted front seats. The back seat also boasts nearly four inches of added legroom and new goodies; and most notably a wireless tablet that gives rear occupants control over most aspects of the Bentayga’s cabin.
The Bentayga V8 is positioned as Bentley’s mass-appeal Bentayga, as the W12 engine is now reserved for the super-fast and super-expensive Bentayga Speed. At the bottom of the Bentayga hierarchy sit the plug-in Hybrid model (arriving in 2023) and the V8 model, followed by the sporty S model, and lastly, the 626-horsepower Speed model. The V8 starts at $190,325, while the S and Speed will set you back $222,525 and $257,525 respectively, with everything including a $2,725 destination charge. Regardless of trim, all Bentaygas sit on the Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo platform, which is shared with the Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q8, and Audi Q7.
This new generation sets out to address the OG’s shortcomings. It’s much hipper and down with the times. So much so, in fact, that it gained prime placement on the chorus of Cardi B’s “Up.” Regardless of how you feel about her or the song, we can all agree it will now be stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
On the Road
While the redesigned cabin certainly plays a role in the overall enjoyment of the Bentayga, most of the credit should go to the phenomenal 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine, eight-speed transmission, and computer-controlled suspension. Combined, the trio provides a refined driving experience that can only be matched—and surpassed—by Bentley’s archnemesis: Rolls-Royce.
Producing 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque, the Bentayga V8 is no slouch on the road and possesses the ability to smoothly and quietly get up to triple-digit speeds without breaking a sweat. Oftentimes, I’d find myself cruising down a road I’m used to traversing a dozen times a week only to realize I was doing nearly double the speed limit. A 35-mph zone could easily turn into 70 mph and a 65-mph zone could effortlessly dip into license-revoking speeds.
Having this much horsepower does that to you. But even more than outright power, it was the Bentayga’s silent cabin that proved to be a dangerous trait. Soft-close the hefty door and you’ll feel almost disconnected from the outside world. Even my wife made a comment about how a road near our home seemed so much louder than usual. I told her the road noise wasn’t any louder; she had just rolled her window down after cruising in a near-silent cabin, making the road appear louder. In normal cars, the noise level difference between windows up or down isn’t as extreme, simply because the cabins aren’t as well-insulated.
Unlike the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, in which I once lived while parked at a beach for a couple of days, you don’t always have to cruise around quietly in the Bentayga. The push-button start on the lower center console is surrounded by four programmable driving modes: Sport, “B,” Comfort, and Custom.
The default mode is B—for Bentley—and it’s probably the best all-around driving mode for running errands around town. It’s definitely the one I used the majority of the time. In this setting, the Bentayga feels mostly neutral, not too sporty or too relaxed. It returns light and super comfortable steering, slightly delayed pedal response, and just a hint of exhaust note. You know the car is alive but it’s just sort of in the background. It’s a British car, after all. Not an Italian one.
Sport mode, however, changes things drastically, though still without going overboard. The highlight of Sport mode is definitely a much louder exhaust note, which really lets you appreciate the bruteness of the V8. Pedal response also sharpens considerably, as do shift points for the transmission, turning the Bentayga into a 5,324-pound British brawler whose driving dynamics and exhaust theatrics rival those of a Mercedes-AMG GLS 63.
Whether navigating busy city streets or bombing down the interstate, visibility out of the Bentayga is excellent and I always felt aware of what was going on around me, despite being isolated in a British cocoon of luxury and safety. One thing that stood out to me was Bentley’s clever design of the blind-spot monitoring system. Rather than embedding the blinking orange light into the wing mirrors, as everyone else does, it added it to the inside of the mirror housings. This makes it easier to notice the warning light during the day and for your peripheral vision to catch the large LED lighting up if another vehicle pulls up in your blind spot while you’re driving.
Listen, if you thought that I was going to be dazzled by the Bentayga because of its badge and price tag, you thought wrong. An SUV must be practical, even if it is a Bentley.
I’m happy to report after doing a 400-mile road trip, shuttling my kid to school and several extracurricular activities, going to Ikea, and even shoving a bike, tent, chairs, and other camping gear into its trunk, I can confirm the new-gen Bentayga is, indeed, practical.
The rear seat in the version I had for testing was a bench that could be split and folded down 60/40 to fit larger items into the trunk, though individual captain’s chairs are also offered. Surprisingly, folding these requires pulling a lever rather than pushing a button, but not sure I’d call that a demerit in a two-row SUV. The rear seats are mostly standard-grade in the sense they were leather, heated, and could also recline a decent amount for extra comfort during longer hauls.
The aforementioned wireless tablet for the rear can manage features such as climate control, seat heating or cooling, overhead and window blinds, and interior mood lighting. It also features a dashboard of sorts that displays the car’s current speed, time and distance since start, outside temperature, and other navigational/trip information. It’s a pretty neat feature also found in executive vehicles like the Audi A8 and Lexus LS 500. Much like it did in those other rides, it allowed my daughter to change the color of the mood lighting about 83 times per car ride, make the cabin extremely warm or cold, and close or open the blinds for no apparent reason. My guess is the average Bentley owner is much more responsible with this controller, or so I hope.
As it’s to be expected in a vehicle such as this, the front seats were otherworldly. These specific ones featured heating, ventilation, and massaging on top of color and piping customization to the tune of $7,485. More than twice, I found myself staying in the car for 20 to 30 minutes after arriving home, simply reclining the seats, turning on the massage feature, and cranking up the volume. This was especially cool at night when the swanky mood lighting made the cabin feel like a posh Knightsbridge nightclub.
When it comes to in-car tech, the Bentayga’s infotainment is relatively easy to use, though I don’t necessarily like the combination of buttons-plus-touchscreen to perform a command. For example, to activate the seat warmers, you have to tap the button on the dash, but then select if you want heating or cooling and at what level via a touchscreen prompt. I get it: It’s one way to cut back on buttons while still offering a quick, physical shortcut, but it turns a split-second action into one that takes at least three or four seconds. Not exactly practical or safe while driving, and this process is the same for most HVAC-related actions.
That being said, operating the radio, navigation, or paired phone via the steering wheel buttons or touchscreen is easy breezy. Plus, if you really want to make things extra smooth, wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are there to help. There’s also a wireless charger to make sure your phone is getting the necessary juice to keep up with its many duties. Additionally, there are two more USB-C chargers up front, two more in the rear, and one 12-volt power outlet in the rear, too.
It’s really quite difficult—and probably not realistic—to compare or cross-shop the Bentayga to other SUVs once you get to this caliber of vehicle. Doing so will only make you scratch your head and wonder why people buy mega-expensive cars.
But despite its $200,000-plus price tag, the Bentayga Bentley loaned me lacked features you get on cars a mere fraction of its price. For example, it didn’t have smart cruise control or a head-up display. It also didn’t have a most ridiculous feature that I love so much: heated armrests. (Listen, my wife is always freezing and she appreciates a heated armrest.) I’ve driven cheaper Benzes with heated armrests and even heated door panels, but Bentley only offers that in its Flying Spur sedan.
It’d be easy to get upset and lose your mind over a Bentley not having smart cruise control, a feature found in even a sub-$20,000 Nissan, but that’d be silly. To the average Bentley client—you know, those actually buying a Bentayga rather than being loaned one for a week—paying an extra $2,000, $8,000 or $15,000 for a feature or two simply isn’t a big deal. In fact, they don’t even ask how much things cost, they just say they want this color or that function, or that kind of leather interior to match their leather luggage. It’s just not a concern to most of them.
On the other hand, what the Bentley Bentayga does possess is class, presence, and an extremely refined driving experience; things that no matter the price tag, most other cars in the entire world can’t offer. Furthermore, the Bentayga is pretty much in a class of its own, with not much real competition in sight.
Below it, you have the outrageous AMGs, opulent Maybachs, and dizzying Alpinas in the roughly $150,000 range, and above it sits the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, which is hands-down the pinnacle of the luxury SUV segment. Those bragging rights, however, will set you back at least $400,000. So, in a way, the Bentayga sits pretty in the middle, bridging the gap between the ultra-rich and the merely rich.
But unlike the Cullinan, I found the Bentley to be way more practical, way more daily driver material, and way more family-friendly. Its doors open the right way and it’s actually exciting to drive. Unlike the Benzes and BMWs, it has a lavish persona that makes itself known from even two blocks away. It’s got panache.
Like most of the finer things in life—and I went to school for gemology, so I know plenty about expensive little things—buying a Bentayga isn’t about bang for the buck or making financial sense. It’s simply about buying yourself something nice. Luckily, the latest-gen Bentayga isn’t only really nice, but it’s also a true SUV.
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