This is an unusual pairing: one is a brand-new luxury SUV with a Bentley badge on it, the other is a twenty year old Land Rover that smells of wet dogs. One is priced at over £200,000, the other is priceless. So whilst the following is far from a buyer’s guide, it is at least interesting to compare two vehicles whose very different backgrounds have set them each on a course that has brought them to the same muddy yard.
You may have seen James May driving the Bentayga through a series of German towns with unmentionable names on The Grand Tour. I was of course horribly rude about his choice of vehicle in that film and only partially because it was his choice and I am honour-bound to dismiss such as idiocy on every occasion. Fact is, whichever way you look at it – and I’ve tried every angle – the big Bentley Bentayga is far from pretty. Very far indeed. But let’s get over that.
Anyone with over two hundred grand to spend on an SUV (list price starts at £160k but put any kit on it - and buyers will - and it soon passes £200k and doesn’t let up) will probably not be raiding their savings to do it and can always buy something pretty to park next to it. This is about luxury and comfort and knowing that yes, you’re in a big 4x4 just like your mate’s Range Rover but yours says Bentley on it and his doesn’t.
My old Land Rover 110 Station Wagon, by contrast, is not a £200k luxo-barge. It’s old and smelly (see earlier post re teenage vomit incident), it leaks oil out and lets water in and where the Bentley is powered by a 600bhp, 6-litre W12, the Landie is propelled by a venerable 111bhp 300tdi and sounds like a canal boat. It is, however, priceless.
I’ve owned it twice. It was the first family car Mindy and I bought and it featured at our wedding. Our first daughter christened it Wallycar and I never tired of hearing her mangled attempts at shouting his name gleefully as we approached him, parked on the Promenade in Cheltenham. A three-year old sometimes slurs and misses syllables and consonants and the highlight of Saturday shopping trips was, for me, watching bystanders faces as the pretty little girl bellowed ‘Wanker’ at the top of her tiny lungs and hopped up and down pointing at the old blue truck.
A year or three later and a difference of opinion between me and the bank over who owned all my things meant Wallycar had to go. Driving him out of the yard and off to the dealer felt as bad as driving the family dog to the vet for the last time. And I’ve done both.
Ten years later, whilst watching Izzy knock a hockey ball around at a nearby school, I was accosted by a pupil who told me that his maths teacher owned our old car. He confirmed this by calling him ‘Wallycar’ – pronouncing the name properly, which was a disappointment.
I told him to let the teacher in question know that if ever he wanted to sell it, I would be interested and then ten or maybe fifteen seconds later the teacher stood in front of me and I got my cheque book out. Wallycar, blessed from birth with twelve seats and a commensurate number of seatbelts, had been pressed into service transporting kids around Europe on Outward Bound type trips away. Laden with canoes and boots and schoolchildren, he had covered just shy of a quarter of a million miles and was, to put no gloss on it, shagged out.
As it came back to us. Believe it or not we were pleased to see the return of this shagged out, smelly old rust bucket
I had him rebuilt, draped a couple of white ribbons over him and in the only romantic gesture I have ever made, presented him to Mindy on our wedding anniversary. Mindy cried. Probably because she knew my romanticism had peaked and would never surface again. Since then he has been used to haul us and friends and families of friends all over the UK and across Europe.
The advantage of having one designated driver amongst twelve people has not gone un-exploited and many a lengthy Sunday lunch has opened with confused pub staff wondering how many more people are going to climb out of the back of the old Landrover and head for the bar.
Accommodation is basic in the Landie, very basic, but there are perches and belts for 12 and if you can ignore the smell, it’s a fun place to be.
On the subject of seating, whilst the Bentley is a sumptuous feast of quilted leather and shiny chrome bits, they seem to have nipped out for a cig break when it came to laying out and equipping the rear accommodation. The standard back seat is just a bench for three. You can slide it, manually, a few inches backwards and forwards on runners and the backrest can be reclined – again, manually – by a few degrees. The centre portion of the middle seat folds down to reveal a rather stingy armrest with two plastic cupholders sunk into it. You can specify a much more luxurious two-seat arrangement for the back, giving rear passengers the same electric adjustment as the sumptuous front seats. But for today I’m rather pleased with the old-school bench arrangement; it suggests that maybe the Bentayga does belong on the farm next to the Landie.
The boot is not all that huge but does include a sliding bar for securing the load. No Bentley, I didn’t put the dog in it. Or the barrel.
I didn’t romp off to fire the Bentayga around the Land Rover proving grounds down the road at Eastnor Castle: I didn’t have permission either from Eastnor or, more importantly perhaps, Bentley. But I did trundle about the fields and pretend the Bentayga was a Defender and I was a (very wealthy) farmer and at no point did the 2400Kg Bentley feel like it was flustered or out of its comfort zone. Although it did feel odd staring at a muddy field from the luxuriously quilted driving seat behind a Bentley-badged steering wheel.
It doesn’t have a low range gearbox, but that W12 engine pumps out enough torque for it not to need one. It doesn’t have locking diffs either; stability control is carried out by the brakes nipping up a wheel here and there as it feels the need. And from the pictures I’ve seen of them clambering about over rocks in the Moab Desert, it works. It certainly didn’t appear to notice muddy slopes and wet grass. And let’s not forget that back on the road, the Bentayga can be at 60mph from a standstill in 3.5 seconds. Which is fast enough to trouble a sheep in the back if you’ve been foolish enough to put one in it. Which, Bentley, I did not.
The Land Rover is in its element here. Yes, they can battle through rainforests and deserts and mountains, they can and have saved climbers, explorers and voluntary workers but nothing on this earth feels more at home, more 'right' than an old Landie rattling across a muddy field in front of some sheep. There are no complicated electronics at work, no stability or traction control, hill descent or terrain settings. The Landie is about simple mechanical grip, ground clearance and gentle, torquey power. It was and still is a masterpiece and there is, even today, even in a rattly, old, 3-generations-out-of-date version, a sense of being in control of a thoroughbred.
To round off this pointless but ultimately enjoyable exercise in comparing two radically different 4x4s, it’s worth noting that despite being down on power, performance, style, comfort and image, the Landie does win big in one department: A new Bentayga will depreciate. A lot. The usual websites and services predicting rates of depreciation haven’t yet included it because it’s still new, but we can assume that the first owner of one will kiss goodbye to many, many, many tens of thousands in the first year. The humble Landie, by contrast, can be relied on not only to let water in through the sunroof (feature of the model sir they all do that) but also to appreciate year on year. It won’t do so quickly – it doesn’t do anything quickly – but the rarity of any vehicle other than a minibus that can seat 12, Landrover’s termination of the model and the subsequent stratospheric prices achieved for last and significant versions of Defender mean that the value will climb at least faster than the chassis rusts. Possibly. Which is immensely comforting and secures old Wallycar’s future in my stable, if nothing else.