Will cut his teeth as a designer on Evo magazine, before slinging a U-ey and writing for them instead. So if it has four wheels and an engine then there's a chance he's drifted it in front of a camera and then written about it. When he's not writing he can be found trying to stop Wagtails defecating on his old Range Rover.
I haven’t received a bump on the head, I’m sure of it. Maybe I’ve eaten something dodgy… perhaps one person shouldn’t consume that much brandy butter. Whatever it is, something funny has happened, because I don’t mind the way the Bentley Bentayga looks anymore.
Do you remember just how ugly Bentley’s SUV seemed when it was launched? Overwrought, over-styled and oversized. Draping and stretching Bentley signatures over an SUV silhouette did not produce a well-balanced and beautiful car. Far from it.
To be fair to Bentley, it’s not a tactic that has worked for many. Shoehorning a brand style onto an off-roader didn’t work when BMW initially did it with X5, or Porsche with the Cayenne. But, while it took a few generations for me to become accustomed to the Porsche – I’d even go as far to say the latest Cayenne (specifically the Coupe) is a good looking car – the Bentley has grown handsome without even a facelift. Or vast quantities of alcoholic festive condiments have skewed my judgement – you decide.
Cheapest, most affordable, entry-level. None of those terms seem quite appropriate to describe the Bentley Bentayga Hybrid, but that’s the role it occupies. Not just for the brand’s SUVs, but for Bentley’s entire range. It costs £130,500 – I told you ‘cheapest’ didn’t seem like the right word – and comes with a turbocharged 3-litre petrol V6, an electric motor that acts on the engine’s flywheel and a battery pack stashed under the boot floor.
It’s a hybrid of the plug-in variety and can travel 30 miles on pure electric mode. With both the petrol and electric motor in use the Hybrid has 449bhp and 516lb ft of torque, it can accelerate from 0 to 62mph in 5.5sec and reach 158mph. Top speed in pure electric mode is 84mph.
It’s inside where a Bentley needs to shine, though, and with the Bentayga, initial signs are not good. There isn’t the absolute bespoke feeling that other Bentleys ooze. Yes, the Bentayga isn’t as expensive or as luxurious as the Mulsanne, but even compared to the Continental GT, and its rotating Toblerone dash, it doesn’t feel as special.
There’s a whiff of Rover 75 about it. Not literally, it doesn't smell of Werther's Originals and musty corduroys. It's the way the interior looks; all wood and fuss. All the buttons are made from a matte black plastic that seems inappropriate in a Bentley. Even the ring of chrome that surrounds each them doesn’t quite elevate them enough.
If said Rover had been new enough to have a touchscreen satnav, this is how I would have expected it to look, too. Tricky-to-read fonts more suitable in print than on a screen, a reliance on gradients and far too much information crammed into too small a space. What’s worse is that the VW Touareg, a car that shares the same platform as the Bentayga, has a wonderfully sleek, modern and usable satnav. And, as if to rub salt into the wound, the most expensive Touareg is less than half the price of this, the entry-level Bentayga. An update for the Bentley’s interior cannot come soon enough.
Any hint of 90s Rover saloon, however, vanishes when you begin to feel the interior. Any disappointment the plain buttons and dated graphics might have generated is counteracted by the quality of the materials used and the solidity of its structure. My favourite element is the knurled backs of the gear-change paddles. It feels like a miniature version of the quilted leather and is so satisfying to stroke with the tips of your fingers.
Like the back of the paddles that you can’t see, the Hybrid’s other hidden aspects have been well thought out too. It might be the ‘cheapest’ Bentley and it might not have a traditional drivetrain, but it possesses so many attributes that pair well with Bentley’s hyper luxurious image.
It’s smooth, prompt and effortless. The instant torque of the electric motors can be felt frequently, and the whole car surges forward with brisk intent whenever you ask it to. The V6 is noticeable when it's running, but it’s far from intrusive and feels suitable in a Bentley.
A few driving modes allow you to choose what form of propulsion you want, be it pure electric, exclusively petrol or a combo of the two. But set the satnav and the car will decide when it’s best to use each motor, it might decide to save up the electric energy for when you’re close to your destination if it's in an urban environment, say. No matter what mode it’s in, though, you can always activate the V6 by pressing the throttle further, beyond a perceptible step, and the engine will fire.
While the Hybrid’s acceleration is usually consistent, there are occasions when the drivetrain’s air of decorum slips slightly. Stamp on the throttle hard from very low speeds and forward progress isn’t perfectly seamless. The initial hit of acceleration is then paused as the engine takes over from the electric motor, then there’s another halt as it decides to change down gear or two.
The batteries and electric paraphernalia make the Hybrid 2626kg, 186kg heavier than the W12-engined Speed. But that’s only around seven-or-so per cent heavier, and in reality, you can’t feel it. Yes, it’s not as fast as the Speed, it doesn’t try and tear up the road and annihilate the atmosphere directly ahead of it as the W12 version does, but you wouldn’t expect it too. It still rides with absolute dignity and rough ground doesn’t even phase it. It resists roll and excessive body movements as well as its performance needs it to, too.
The cheapest Bentley is not a sub-par Bentley. Ok, so the interior isn’t the most stylish, but the whole car feels and behaves like a Bentley. If you still don’t think it looks enough like a Bentley, try replacing butter with the brandy variety. I think it worked for me.
Still looking for Christmas pressie ideas?
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