TEST DRIVE: 2020 Bentley Bentayga – Trailblazer refreshed

It manages to balance luxury and comfort on one side with a brutish feel and sporty demeanor

When Bentley initially announced their luxury SUV, the automotive fanatics had a classic, trademark reaction of repulsion towards this idea. It’s something we’ve seen before and it was a predictable development. However, the Crewe-based manufacturer was not only right to migrate into the SUV realm, but proved to be a trailblazer in its own way. Look at the landscape today and you’ll notice that they were actually the first of a long line of manufacturers to go down this road.

The Bentayga then came with very high expectations and it managed to rise up to them for the most part. It was the first ultra-luxurious SUV to be launched, from a brand that was traditionally known for offering incredible levels of comfort but in the shape of sedans and Coupes. Unlike others, such as Rolls-Royce for example, the Bentley brand has a different DNA too, being involved in all sorts of racing events ever since it was founded.

A Trailblazer

TEST DRIVE: 2020 Bentley Bentayga – Trailblazer refreshed
A refreshed design

Many compare Bentley to Rolls-Royce and to some extent that comparison stands. Heck, the two even shared headquarters for a long time but they do things in different ways. Whereas the sole purpose of Rolls-Royce cars is the utmost comfort and luxury, when it comes to Bentleys, cars wearing the flying spurs on their hoods could often be seen in racing competitions. Even to this day, the Bentley Continental can be seen racing in GT3 events around the world.

So it was natural that Bentayga will have some sort of speed-related extreme features offered to its prospective customers. The Brits didn’t miss a beat and when the original came it was the fastest SUV in the world, with a top speed over 300 km/h (186 mph), a feat that is hard to beat even to this day. But apart from that, there’s so much more that needs to be said about the Bentayga and what it offers.

Refreshed Luxury SUV

The SUV got a well-deserved refresh this year which will allow it to keep fighting with the ever-increasing competition it has to deal with. Whilst initially the Bentayga was basically in a league of its own, the ultra-rich now have a lot more choices at their disposal, provided their checkbooks can sustain their taste. From the Cullinan to the Urus and the Aston Martin DBX, things are getting increasingly difficult for the Bentley crew.

When the Bentayga was initially launched (and even to this day) it was criticized for using a shared platform with other Volkswagen Group products. Some pundits were claiming that the Bentayga is nothing more than a Touareg/Q7/Cayenne with a different finish. And they would be right, but there’s so much to be found in the details of a car! On top of that, we need to be aware of the fact that, without the help of VAG, the Bentley brand wouldn’t exist today and that the Bentayga as a product would never see the light of day. There is always a silver lining…

And even though underneath the sheet metal a lot of the underpinnings might be shared throughout the group, the exterior design is unmistakably Bentley. The front-end screams luxury with its mesh, huge grilles, the four round headlamps and, of course, the flying B logo. For 2020, the front bumper got a restyled design that makes it look sleeker, with less mesh on the side intakes. The headlamps were also slightly upgraded and our tester featured the brilliant crystal details inside. They may not make the light better at night but you could easily spend two hours lost in the intricate details they have. And those are just the headlights.

Round the back the changes are bigger this time round, and for the better. The tailgate has a different shape and the taillights are no longer split, with half of them stuck to the car’s body, while half move when opening the boot. The new, oval-shaped ones also feature a crystal-like design inside but, unlike at the other end of the car, in this case we’re not dealing with real crystals. Even so, they look a lot better now and fall in line with the current Bentley design language that has similar shapes on all models of the manufacturer.

TEST DRIVE: 2020 Bentley Bentayga – Trailblazer refreshed
A great stance

Richness On The Inside

Step inside and the familiar feeling a Bentley unquestionably offers its patrons is there. There’s a sense of richness in everything you touch with a clear-cut design that simply feels British to the core. The patterns everywhere are British, the materials used some of the best in the business and the fit and finish is hard to match. There’s a tactile allure that misses in cars like the Audi Q7 or even the Porsche Cayenne somehow. There’s ample space and almost everywhere you look or touch you’re met with leather, glass or metal. Sure, there are some plastic bits still to be found in the cabin, but you’ll rarely get to touch them anyway.

What I love about the Bentayga in this tech-infused age is the fact that it still has physical buttons inside. There’s also a touchscreen sitting atop the dashboard for those of you wanting something contemporary, but all the functions you want to access are available through buttons. And the knobs have such a great feel to them, it’s hard to explain. Every time I was changing the temperature inside the cabin, I felt like I was entering a safe combination.

The center console also has a switch that allows you to navigate through the various driving modes this car has on offer. The left side has different settings for the drivetrain and suspension, while the right side allows you to play with the all-wheel drive system, in the extraordinarily unlikely scenario you actually go off-road with this car.

There’s also ample room inside for people of any size. Up front you’ll notice the seats made in house at Crewe and are very, very comfortable. The leather is of the best quality as well, while the trims are made of real wood, if that’s what you choose when configuring the car. You have a wide variety of materials to choose from and you can even go with stone instead of wood for the trims throughout the cabin. Even the ashtrays are something to behold, made of real steel and weighing more than you’d expect when pulling them from their specific sockets up front and in the rear doors.

The rear seats can be configured either in a standard three-seat bench or a 2-seat setup for even more luxury. If you go for the four-seat setup you get a fixed console in the back and reclining massaging seats but you do lose the ability to fold the rear seatbacks for more room in the boot. Speaking of which, the boot can house up to as little as 431 liters, less than the pre-facelift model, because the rear seats were moved slightly backwards to offer occupants more room. According to Bentley, that’s not an issue as their customers will rarely use their cars for practical purposes anyway.

Getting back up front, from behind the wheel you’ll notice why the Bentley badge is so desirable. The driving position is high and offers a great view of the road ahead. The visibility is great and as soon as you set in motion you understand that this car has a certain pedigree it has to abide to.

Even Available As A Plug-In Hybrid

There are three powertrain choices available: the top-of-the-line W12 choice, the mid-range V8 and the eco-friendly V6 PHEV. Our tester was the V8 choice as that’s currently only one that can get delivered with the other two joining it soon in various markets.

What does a V8-powered Bentley feel like? It’s hard to describe accurately. The 4-liter mill is familiar to anyone who’s driven a V8-powered machine from the Volkswagen group in the last two years. It is basically the same engine you get on the Cayenne Turbo, the SQ8, Porsche Panamera Turbo, Audi RS6 and so on. It has ‘just’ 550 HP compared to other iterations of it and delivers 770 Nm of torque, plenty for any kind of situation. 0-62 mph is done in 4.5 seconds which is nothing to scoff at, for a car tipping the scales at 2.4 tons. However, the engine was tuned to make sure you feel like you’re in a Bentley, not anything else.

TEST DRIVE: 2020 Bentley Bentayga – Trailblazer refreshed
It can take on any road

What I mean by that is that as soon as you set off, the engine might sound rowdy but the entire experience is smooth like butter. On the standard driving mode, the car feels refined and not a lot different than what a 12-cylinder offers. The differences come into play once you start piling on speed.

At lower speeds, the Bentayga feels refined, quiet and nearly velvet-like on most surfaces. The air suspension takes in bumps easily and few jolts actually make it into the cabin which is very well sound insulated as well. The 8-speed gearbox is also silky smooth and does its job without letting you know what is happening inside it.

There are four main driving modes you end up using and they do make a difference in how the car feels: Comfort, Sport, Custom and Bentley. The latter is the default setup and offers a great mix between Comfort and Sport mode. However, in Comfort mode, the car feels a bit more relaxed, more comfortable and leans a bit more into corners. In Sport mode, the active anti-roll bars start chipping in and the car is flatter in the corners. The exhaust flaps also open up and the gearshifts are higher and more brutal.

This makes for a very interesting driving sensation. There’s a lot of competence infused in the chassis and drivetrain setup of the Bentayga. Up to about 8 tenths it feels flat and grippy but go over that and you end up feeling a bit of understeer and how the front axle struggles to keep in control, mainly because of the weight of the car pushing towards the exterior. It’s pretty obvious a lot of effort was put into making it feel flat through the bends but there’s just nothing you can do when it comes to pure physics. Nonetheless, that’s what separates the Bentayga from the Cullinan, and makes the Bentley a bit unique.

Many compared the Bentayga to the Cullinan when it came out but the two cars feel different in so many ways and arguably with a different customer base. Both are luxurious, big and deceivingly fast in a straight line but whereas the Cullinan focuses solely on comfort, the Bentayga can also be fun to drive, sporty and a lot more agile.

Admittedly, it’s lighter and smaller overall, but it is also a lot more fun in any given day. And this is the V8 model, the one you should get if you want to have fun behind the wheel. Don’t get me wrong, the top-of-the-line W12 model with its 6-liter motor and superior performance figures is faster but it doesn’t feel as engaging as the V8. Whereas the W12 under hard acceleration will feel like a superfast yacht in a straight line, with seemingly never-ending torque pushing you ahead, the V8 feels raw, brutish and I think has more character infused in it.

A Great Balance Between Luxury And Comfort

TEST DRIVE: 2020 Bentley Bentayga – Trailblazer refreshed
A an improved recipe

Where does that leave us? Well, until I get to drive the only proper rival the Bentayga has, in my book (the Aston Martin DBX), this car plays in a league of its own. It manages to balance luxury and comfort on one side with a brutish feel and sporty demeanor. It does so by losing only a degree of ride quality over the most comfortable SUV out there (the Cullinan) but it offers a bit more pure driving enjoyment.