If you want an SUV that actively engages with the road, adjusts to your driving style with tight handling, and behaves as nimbly as Mikhail Baryshnikov, buy the exceptional Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. Or get a sports car.
But if you want a vehicle that drives as smooth as silk, is silent as a library, and is 600-horsepower strong, take a look at the 2018 Bentley Bentayga. With a starting price of $195,000 and easily cresting $245,000 for most versions, the latest entry in the luxury SUV market may feel overpriced. But for those who desire the best of British engineering in an SUV form, it’s the obvious choice.
This is a 5,379-pound, eight-speed, AWD, beautiful beast. Torque is 664 pound-feet. Top speed is 187 miles per hour. Zero to 60 mph takes four seconds. Even taking into account Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio-set track record at the Nurburgringin Germany, this is the world’s fastest SUV.
Bentley Motors Ltd. debuted the Bentayga — its first-ever SUV — in 2015 after four years of development on the “EXP 9 F Concept” predecessor. The concept was roundly criticized for nebulous body styling and squishy handling, but this newest version is markedly better on all fronts.
It’s an SUV that embodies British heritage by pairing reserved styling and a hand-crafted interior with a massive W12 engine so smooth and powerful it makes 80 mph feel like 45. (I should know, because I got a speeding ticket while testing it on the road.) So much for “Rule Britannia.”
The brakes can lack the initial bite we have come to expect from the sportier SUVs, from BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG line. The Bentayga is not efficient: Official numbers have the car listed at 20 miles per gallon on the highway, though my readings were closer to 14 mpg.
But drive it, as we did from Manhattan to Woodstock, and the Bentayga becomes your gilded, leather-throne processional through the Hudson Valley’s autumnal leaves. As we turned down Highway 209 to Hasbrouck Housein Stone Ridge, N.Y., seats wrapped in flawless Spanish cowhide beneath a sunroof that spans the entire ceiling indicated the genius of the Bentayga.
The SUV looks as regal as it drives — from the front, at least. The gigantic matrix grille flanked by four round headlights, trimmed by brilliant LEDs, might as well be sourced from the Crown Jewels. It’s a stunning effect that anyone will recognize, and that’s what you want when you pay this much for an SUV, right? Street cred.
The side body of the Bentayga is a different story, despite the crisp lines that flank the haunches like something from Zaha Hadid. They look chiseled, rather than brawny. I love them. But minus the flying B badges, especially from some angles along the side and rear, Bentagya could be mistaken for any number of big, luxury SUVs.