What is it?
You’re looking at the sportiest Bentayga you can buy – in the UK, at least. Badged the ’S’, Bentley is hoping this version will go some way to fill the gap left by the appropriately named ‘Speed’ – the 6.0-litre W12-engined monster that’s been killed off in most of the world in the name of emissions regulations.
To help ease the pain, this is what Bentley has conjured up: a racier-looking and handling version of the existing Bentayga V8, which – let’s be honest – was never exactly a layabout in terms of performance anyway.
But have these tweaks done enough to differentiate the S from the standard Bentayga – and can it take the fight to more obviously performance-focused SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne?
On the Bentayga range as a whole, it’s been evolution, not revolution since the model first appeared in 2016. We’ve had a range of tweaks and new engine options and in 2020 a relatively subtle facelift – the most obvious feature of which being a new rear end.
With the S over the standard Bentayga V8, you get an assortment of sporty-looking bits and pieces like new 22-inch alloys, gloss black side skirts and rear splitter, and of course the obligatory ’S’ badges dotted here and there.
What’s under the bonnet?
As you’ve probably gathered, the S borrows a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine from the standard Bentayga range – though phrasing it as that does rather do it a disservice. It’s a brute of an engine, developing 542bhp and 770Nm of torque – colossal figures even in a two-and-a-half-ton Bentayga.
The result of that is a hamlet-sized SUV that manages 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, and goes on to a top speed of 180mph – more than enough to both thrill and terrify passengers in equal measure.
From inside the Bentayga, it feels more luxuriant than outright brutish, with the eight-speed automatic gearbox stretching out the 770Nm of torque at lower revs to save disturbing the peace and quiet in the cabin.
What’s it like to drive?
Drive the Bentayga S in isolation and you’ll be blown away by what a car of this size and weight can achieve. The 48v anti-roll bars make light work of – as the name suggests – stopping the Bentley from falling over in vigorous cornering, and the ride and handling is far more sports car-like than something like a full-size Range Rover.
Power delivery is effortless, and the Bentayga encourages you into relaxed progress more than outright aggressive speed. But, plant your right foot to the carpet and it’s more than happy to play along: surging forward with a far more snarly soundtrack than you might expect, brought to you by an S-specific exhaust system.
There are a few problems, though. For starters, that firmer ride feels at odds with Bentley’s quilted-leather ethos. The 22-inch wheels crash into bumps and ruts, and even in standard ‘Bentley’ mode (somewhere between comfort and sport) the suspension never feels as subtle as it perhaps should for a luxury 4×4.
At the opposite end of the scale, we’d like to have seen more tweaks to the steering, which seems to be the same slightly lazy-feeling setup as the standard Bentayga. Absolutely fine for a the standard car, but we’d hope for a quicker steering ratio in something (supposedly) set up to be hustled around bends.
How does it look?
The way Bentley has adorned the S with look-at-me side skirts and enlarged spoilers is likely to divide opinion, but that is sort of the point of it – the standard V8 Bentayga still exists as the more subtle option, after all.
Styling tweaks of the S aside though, the Bentayga is a relatively handsome-looking thing – if a little slab-like compared to the curvaceous styling of the Aston Martin DBX. To our eyes, the Bentayga’s biggest styling crime is looking a bit too close to the proportions of the Audi Q7 on which it’s based. Not that the Q7 is an unattractive car, but a bit more separation might be helpful – particularly when the casual car bore decides to lecture you about your new ‘Audi’ Bentayga…
What’s it like inside?
While we’re on the subject of the Q7, quite a few items from Audi’s parts bin make themselves known in Bentayga’s interior, too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if you’re going to borrow switchgear, you could do much worse than borrowing Audi’s – but it’s a bit galling to find plasticky indicator stalks and steering wheel buttons carried over wholesale from a £20,000 Audi A1.
Those blemishes aside though, the interior is typically Bentley: almost needlessly lavish, with fabulous materials and styling flourishes seemingly thrown in for the sake of it. Thankfully underneath all that there’s a sensibly laid-out cabin with logically-placed switchgear and plenty of physical controls for climate, infotainment and vehicle dynamics settings. Compared to something like a Porsche Cayenne, the Bentley takes much less getting used to, and less eyes off the road time too.
There’s no faulting the space available too: the S is just as enormous inside as any other Bentayga. Five large adults can travel in comfort, four can travel in absolute luxury, and if you tick the seven seater option box you can even squeeze two children in behind. Boot space is a bit disappointing, with rivals like the Aston Martin DBX offering more, but there’s still plenty of space for a few large suitcases.
What’s the spec like?
As you’d expect on a car at this price point, there’s plenty of kit on offer – albeit not necessarily as standard. A 10.9-inch touchscreen controls all things infotainment, which naturally includes sat nav, CarPlay, Android Auto and so on, while there is – of course – the option of a rear seat entertainment package too, and a 20 speaker Naim audio system.
It’s in the level of interior customisation that Bentley really pushes the boat out, though: how grandiose you decide to be with the design is entirely up to you, but you’ll find mind-boggling levels of customisation options. There are eight different finishes for the dashboard, 11 choices of leather colour, 23 different choices of contrast stitching… the list goes on.
Externally there’s seven standard colours, 56 ‘extended’ range options, and of course the possibility of a bespoke choice beyond that – provided Bentley can make it work.
The S is the raciest Bentayga on offer in the UK, and really it exists in order to tempt in customers who think the standard car doesn’t have looks to match its performance. In that regard, it’s more than fulfilled its brief: the Bentayga S is every bit as quick as its appearances would suggest, and if your vibe is a little more Premier League than premier cru, the S is probably for you.
For us though, it sits in an odd void between a luxurious, mile-munching SUV and one focussed on outright performance and dynamics – all the while not really excelling at either. We’d go for the standard Bentayga V8: all the same performance in a subtler package, but still available with the clever anti-roll tech as an option.
Model: Bentley Bentayga
Base price: £182,300
Model as tested: Bentley Bentayga S
Engine: 4.0-litre petrol
Max speed: 180mph
0-60mph: 4.4 seconds
Emissions: 294g/km CO2