A Rolls-Royce is to be driven in, whereas a Bentley is for driving. So goes the old adage, verging on the hackneyed – so it is used here with apologies, but with good reason.That’s because this Bentley has been specifically designed to be driven in.
This is the Bentayga EWB – or Extended Wheelbase. As its name suggests, it is a Bentayga with a few more inches of metal added between the front and rear wheels and, consequently, a few more inches of space added for its rear occupants’ legs. It exists for two reasons. The first is because long-wheelbase SUVs are de rigueur in some parts of the world, China in particular, where a subtle stretch is a signifier of social status.
The second is that Bentley hasn’t had a range-topping luxury limousine since the departure of the Mulsanne in 2020. Rumours abound that a new, electric Mulsanne is likely but until then the Bentayga EWB aims to satisfy Bentley’s hyper-luxury buyers – those that may choose to be driven, as well as to drive themselves.
Brilliant from the rear seats
As luxurious as you’d hope
Breathtakingly expensive for what it is
Not quite as supple as you’d hope
Can feel a bit top-heavy
Long story short
There’s only one engine available – the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8; the plug-in hybrid powerplant you can get in the standard-wheelbase car isn’t available for now, and Bentley won’t say yet whether it’ll be offered in the EWB in future (though neither does it rule it out).
As standard, the EWB has all the trappings you’d expect of a £180,000-odd Bentley: glossy walnut veneer, a choice of sumptuous hides, air suspension, electric everything, speech recognition, LED lights all round and so on.
Or upgrade to the Azure, as per the specification of our test car, which for a shade over £211,000 includes larger alloy wheels, power-close rear doors, diamond quilting to the seats and door panels, mood lighting, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display and night vision.
To either of these specifications, you can add your choice of packages and personalisation options, allowing you to create the Bentayga your heart desires (as long, of course, as your wallet will allow).
Most interesting among these, arguably, are the rear seat options. As standard the EWB has what Bentley calls 4+1 seating – four full-size seats, with the fifth taking the form of a small, occasional seat between the rear two. If you want a proper fifth seat, however, you can opt for the five-seat layout, which gives you a more conventional rear bench.
Alternatively, for £8,395, you can go for the Airline Seat package fitted to our test car. This removes the vestigial fifth seat from the 4+1 package, turning it into a four-seater. Crucially, though, it also adds the ability for the passenger-side front seat to fold forward and convert to a footrest which, with the rear reclined, allows ultimate relaxation.
That’s not all the Airline Seats do, though. In fact, they adjust 22 ways to allow you to set them to your body shape. If you can’t do that yourself, the car will do it for you, sensing your posture and fine-tuning the adjustment to maximise your comfort. They also have automatic heating and cooling (or you can set the controls yourself), plus a range of massage options.
Room to spare
Even with the front seats in their standard positions, the amount of leg room in the back is positively chasmic. Shorter passengers could conceivably stretch their legs to their maximum extent and still only just touch the back of the front seat; taller passengers, meanwhile, will find they can fit extra baggage between their knees and the seat backs, so generous is the space on offer.
They might have to; while the five-seat Bentayga provides 484 litres of luggage space, that drops to 380 with the 4+1 seats and 392 with the Airline option – barely any more than a Volkswagen Golf family hatchback. The boot floor is rather high, too, so if you plan to carry any dog of Labrador size or larger they’ll have to stoop their heads to fit once the boot lid is closed.
Yet once they’re installed and you’re on the move, they should be pretty happy. As a recent study showed, dogs can be sensitive to noise and vibration in cars and as you’d expect, the Bentayga deals in very little of either.
From the driver’s seat, in fact, it’s a delight. The V8 engine delivers just the right amount of noise – enough of a mellifluous grumble to remind you of its presence without ever becoming overly intrusive. Wind noise is notable only by its absence.
The ride is delightful, too, especially on a motorway where the Bentayga skims along utterly unruffled by the surface and with nary a sound to dint the sense of splendid isolation. As you’d expect, then, this is a tremendous way to cover huge distances.
There are a couple of flies in the ointment, however, and they’re to do with the sheer size of the Bentayga’s wheels. The 22-inch rims are shod with very low-profile tyres (with narrow sidewalls, which means the air suspension isn’t quite responsive enough to disguise the slight clang they induce over sharper, smaller imperfections at lower speeds – expansion joints, pothole edges and the like.
And at speed on undulating country roads, the suspension’s waft can result in a slightly queasy float; it dies when you dial back the pace, but it’s something you can’t help but feel wouldn’t be there were the suspension not trying to keep such vast bulk and such a high centre of gravity under control.
Such large tyre contact patches create a smidgeon too much road noise over some surfaces, too, which can intrude on the Bentayga’s otherwise unimpeachable sense of calm.
But for the most part, while it might be designed to appease those in the rear seats, the Bentayga’s still pretty lush for those in the front. Cocooned within lashings of hide and timber, you look out across that vast expanse of bonnet and, sitting somehow higher than even those in other SUVs, your view is imperious.
Lower your gaze, and you’ll note the lashings of chrome. There’s a big, knurled gear selector on the central console that’s a joy to hold and to use; behind it sits another big, glossy rotary controller – turn it to switch driving modes, or to engage the car’s terrain response system, or press the middle to start and stop the engine.
But some of the plastics used for the buttons feel a touch plebeian, while the angular indicator stalks cribbed from sister company Audi have had splodges of faux chrome added to their buttons, which look half-hearted at best and rather gauche at worst. At least there are “proper” buttons though rather than touchpads or, worse, a minimalist slab of glass with everything operated via the touchscreen.
The touchscreen itself is a pretty decent affair; mounted within relatively easy reach, and given it runs a reskinned version of Volkswagen’s old entertainment system, rather than its glitchy new one, it runs smoothly and is laid out intuitively. There are a lot of functions buried within those menus, though, so it’s worth your while taking some time to familiarise yourself.
Is there much enjoyment to be had while driving your Bentley instead of being driven in it, to take the long way home? Well, yes and no.
The engine is magnificent, delivering a huge, thumping wallop of torque from the very instant the gearbox kicks down, and warbling through the rev range without any let-up in sheer, raw pace. The Bentayga is monstrously fast; better still, it feels it, the whole thing tipping back onto its soft rear suspension and lunging toward the horizon relentlessly, as though drawn by a vast electromagnet attached to the moon.
It is actually surprisingly decent fun, although not in a conventional sense. You get Bentley’s Dynamic Ride system as standard here, which incorporates the Volkswagen Group’s 48-volt anti-roll system, but there’s still a lot of softness in the suspension – indeed, Bentley’s chassis engineers admit to having softened the Bentayga’s damping rates in order to make it even plusher for rear-seat passengers.
Combine this with all that weight and it is quite prone to body lean despite the fancy anti-roll bars; that can mean if you tip it into a bend and floor the accelerator pedal, it can be surprisingly unwilling to go around, pausing as though it wants to lift its inside front wheel in the air and plough on ahead before the electronics reassert control, wrestle with the laws of physics and find you a way round regardless.
This is disconcerting at first, as indeed is the car’s sheer size – hustling the Bentayga along a back lane is nigh-on impossible as you’re always conscious of what might be coming the other way. But if you get the space and the sight lines to open it up – and keep in mind that you need to grab an armful of steering lock each time you turn it in, and feed in the power more subtly on the way out – the Bentayga reveals it’s actually quite game for being hustled along.
It’s a bit like watching a member of the landed gentry take off their tweed blazer and challenge you to a sprint race, only to find they ran for the Birchfield Harriers 20 years previously – perhaps not as athletic as the best, but more so than you’d have expected.
So is this a suitable replacement for the Mulsanne? Well, objectively, yes. It is as imperious as Bentley’s big land yacht; perhaps even more so. It is every bit as luxurious, too.
SUVs, however, simply aren’t quite as classy as large saloons. Where the Mulsanne had a refined discretion, the Bentayga – especially in the wrong combination of colour and trim choice – can come across as a little gauche. And while the stretch is well integrated – you might even say it improves the Bentayga’s looks – it still can’t quite pull off the distinguished elegance of a big Bentley saloon.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that climate change is knocking on our door. While the Bentayga’s newer, more efficient engine makes it in fact marginally more palatable in terms of resource consumption than the Mulsanne was, a vast SUV with a thumping great petrol engine like this one does feel at odds with the zeitgeist.
The Telegraph verdict
However, that fact will probably be of as little concern to the type of people who’ll want to be driven in the Bentayga EWB as will the price of a pint of milk.
And, to be fair, they’ll love it, because the EWB fulfils its brief pretty well – more lavish than a Range Rover, more spacious than a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, more prestigious than a Maybach – and every bit as special inside, if not more so, than any of these.
This is not a car without caveat, however. It’s big, thirsty and really very expensive for something which shares its basic platform with a Volkswagen Touareg. It also doesn’t ride quite as unctuously over urban bumps as you might expect a Bentley to. And it feels vast and very heavy on open roads.
Despite all this, though, it’s hard not to come away from this car with a sense of having driven (or ridden in) something rather special. It won’t quite fill the shoes of the Mulsanne, then – but the Bentayga EWB will still be much loved by those lucky enough to be in the market for one.
Telegraph rating: Four stars out of five
On test: Bentley Bentayga EWB Azure
Body style: five-door SUV
On sale: now
How much? £211,300 on the road (EWB range from £186,900)
How fast? 180mph, 0-62mph in 4.6sec
How economical? 21.7mpg (WLTP Combined)
Engine & gearbox: 3,996cc eight-cylinder twin-turbo petrol engine, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive
Electric powertrain: N/A
Maximum power/torque: 542bhp/568lb ft
CO2 emissions: 294g/km (WLTP Combined)
VED: £2,365 first year, £560 next five years, then £165
Warranty: 3 years / unlimited miles
Spare wheel as standard: No (optional extra)
Land Rover Range Rover SV P530 LWB
523bhp, 24.1mpg, £181,720 on the road
Yes, we live in an era in which the Range Rover is a direct rival to a Bentley – but this is quite some Range Rover. For less money, you get more toys, better fuel economy, and similar performance – though you don’t get quite as much room, and nor do you get the sort of finish you’d expect from a Bentley. But be in no doubt: this new Range Rover is a class act, and it doesn’t embarrass itself in this company.
Mercedes-Maybach GLS600 First Class
549bhp, 21.1mpg, £177,505 on the road
It’s hard to imagine a world in which a Maybach GLS looks cheap, but it does here – and not just in terms of its price. Acres of chrome contribute to a rather gauche look on the outside, and inside the GLS feels more tech-heavy and less elegant than the Bentayga. Yes, it’ll cost you the least of any rival here, but it’s also the second-thirstiest – despite having a mild hybrid powertrain.
568bhp, 18.8mpg, £279,220 on the road
One can’t argue that Rolls-Royce has built what its buyers wanted here, but the Cullinan is a hard car to fall in love with. Mind you, there’s no doubt it is everything you’d expect a Rolls-Royce SUV to be – and while it is even more expensive to buy than the Bentayga, it feels it, with a bespoke quality the Bentley, with its Audi switchgear, struggles to match.