The Bentayga, Bentley’s sole SUV, has certainly made waves since first being unveiled as a concept car 10 years ago – and has risen to become the marque’s best seller. Stuart Newman assesses the award-winning car’s impact, both within Crewe’s model portfolio and the wider SUV sector. images: Courtesy of Bentley Motors, Wayne Bruce, and Martin Mills
It’s arguable whether any new Bentley model has created such a hoo-ha, and such strong feelings, as the Bentayga.
When the production model made its global debut under the glare of lights and camera flashes at the high-profile Frankfurt Motor Show in 2015, you could almost hear the audible gasps around the globe. Just three years after being unveiled to the world at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show as a concept car, tagged EXP 9 F, this most quintessential of British marques was finally taking the wraps off… an SUV. The very first SUV in Bentley’s armoury, the naysayers and traditionalists were quick in voicing their disquiet: “It’s not a proper Bentley!” But that was then. And this is now. Seven years on, and a full decade after EXP 9 F hinted at the future, the 2.4-tonne, four-wheel drive Bentayga is, whisper it, the best-selling model across Bentley’s entire portfolio and its fastest-selling ever. More folk bought the Bentayga in 2021 than they did a Continental.
Or any other model for that matter. Bentley sold more Bentaygas last year than ever before, retaining its position as the marque’s number one model with a mighty 40 percent share, and establishing itself as arguably the world’s most successful SUV. “The Bentayga has been a fantastic success since customer deliveries began in early 2016,” declared Mike Sayer, Bentley Motors Head of Product Communications. According to Top Gear magazine, the Bentayga is, to Crewe, a “deeply important car”, given that 70 percent of its buyers are new to the marque and most likely younger than the typical Bentley owner. Of the Bentaygas sold in 2021, significantly one in five were of the petrol/electric-powered Hybrid, leading Bentley Chairman and CEO `Adrian Hallmark to comment: “The reaction to the market introduction of the Hybrid demonstrates the (electrification) path on which the luxury sector is heading – and we are positioned firmly at the front.” So, it would appear that Bentley’s dream a decade ago, to stretch its own comfort zone and engineer an SUV that would mix the marque’s renowned luxury with performance and off-road capabilities all in one, has successfully been realised.
The company has Wolfgang Durheimer to thank for seeing this vision; Bentley’s then-CEO saw how an SUV could transform the bottom line of a manufacturer not normally given to producing 4x4s (citing Porsche and its Cayenne as an example) – and so the EXP 9 F was born… Mike Sayer explained further how the Bentayga came into being: “It was the result of a combination of Bentley’s assessment of the market and customer feedback. It was clear that the SUV segment was growing rapidly, and we saw an opportunity to delineate a new part of it by defining the pinnacle SUV in terms of both luxury and performance.” When the first-ever Bentayga, the W12, broke cover, it had few, if any, rivals in the luxury SUV sector to compare itself against. Autocar trumpeted Crewe’s decision to tread the SUV road: “It adds greater capability and usability to Bentley’s arm than the firm has hitherto offered.” The Bentayga has direct competition now, of course – from the likes of BMW (X5 and X7), Audi (Q7 and Q8), Land Rover (Discovery), Range Rover (Sport), Volvo (XC90), Rolls-Royce (Cullinan), Mercedes (GLE), Porsche (Cayenne), Lamborghini (Urus), Aston Martin (DBX) and even Tesla (X). And while some still have their misgivings about Bentley’s offering, many now consider it the best of the lot. Since the inaugural Bentayga rolled off the Crewe production line, it has undergone various revisions, with the second-generation version (incorporating some 1,000 modifications) introduced at the start.
BIGGER BENTAYGA UNVEILED
Bentley Motors has launched the Bentayga Extended Wheelbase – a new grand touring SUV that extends the latest product range to five models. Deliveries will commence later this year. The new four-litre V8 – some 180mm longer than the original Bentayga – is the result of a nine-figure investment by Bentley to create a new model that provides the best rear cabin experience since a Mulsanne, whilst retaining the Bentley hallmarks of effortless performance and exquisite handcraftsmanship. The Extended Wheelbase places a new focus on ‘wellness’, with integrated world-first seat technology at the heart of its three seating configurations: Airline Seat Specification includes auto climate sensing and advanced postural adjustment systems. The new model also showcases the first application of Bentley Diamond Illumination, which delivers cabin lighting through handcrafted leather, while some 24 billion different trim combinations are available.
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