Bentley’s ‘driver-focussed’ V8-powered Bentayga S is sharper and sweeter than the W12 Speed – but is this luxury SUV really worth $450,000?
Promising to be a driver’s delight – and Crewe’s answer to the Aston Martin DBX – the S enters the Bentayga range with a tauter chassis, blacked-out exterior styling and enough racy Alcantara interior trim to make a 911 GT3 RS blush.
And the V8 model makes the Bentayga W12 Speed feel front-heavy – and as if powered by a noisy V6.
Like the Speed, the S is much the same googly-eyed Bentayga we’ve known since 2015 (facelifted since then), built on the Volkswagen Group MLB Evo architecture that also underpins Audi Q7, Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg.
Whereas the Speed gets the big-hammer 6.0-litre W12, the S has the 4.0-litre, direct-injected, ‘hot-vee’ twin-turbo V8 used widely within the VW empire.
The eight-cylinder produces 404kW (541 hp)and 770Nm in Bentayga S tune. It’s paired with an eight-speed ZF torque converter automatic, all-wheel-drive and a Torsen centre diff. Impacting the S’s cred with proper drivers, there is no sportier limited slip rear differential.
There’s no extra power, either, which is a bit disappointing – the S having the same grunt as milder Bentaygas with the same engine. This is presumably not to encroach on the halo 467kW W12 Speed.
The S is no colour-and-trim special, however, with the engineers breathing on the chassis lightly to improve its cornering smarts (or at least give the marketers something meaty to say in the brochure).
Bentley says the air suspension is 15 percent stiffer in Sport mode, while the various softwares for the ESC and brake torque vectoring are tweaked to appeal to more experienced drivers. Active 48-volt anti-roll bars are fitted to the S as standard, as is a newly tuned sports exhaust.
Identifying the S, exterior chrome ‘bright-work’ is blackened-off, while there are black side mirror covers, and headlights and tail-lights have a smoked effect with black bezels. There’s a unique 22-inch wheel design while a large rear spoiler almost makes this Bentayga look like a giant hot hatch.
The hot hatch effect is amplified further when you drop the S to its lowest air suspension setting while parked – and you will want to, as it looks tough.
The tough look doesn’t come cheap, however, the Bentayga S costing $450,200 before on-roads in Australia. Our test car, painted in the shade of dragon red II, was $535,514 as-tested, meaning it packed more than $85,000 of options.
As Bentley says on its website, one “commissions” a Bentayga rather than simply ordering one.
Chasing Cars drove the Bentayga S at The Bend Motorsport Park in South Australia and on the roads surrounding.
The Bentayga S enters the pantheon of performance SUVs that are surprisingly capable and fun to drive – even if it’s no special case among them. A Porsche Cayenne Turbo would still be nimbler; a Lamborghini Urus wilder.
And without driving it back-to-back with another V8 Bentayga, it’s going to be difficult to notice the chassis tweaks on their own.
That’s not to say the Bentayga S isn’t a driver’s delight, because it is – insofar as a 2.4-tonne luxury SUV could hope to be.
Jumping into the snug, highly-perched Alcantara-trimmed bucket seats, we blasted out of pit-lane at The Bend Motorsport Park and were immediately bewitched by a snarling V8 exhaust note that scratches the itch so well, you’ll almost be involuntarily thumping your right leg.
With plenty of power, the Bentayga hammers through its gears quickly and smoothly – with plenty of traction. Only the earliest and greediest of throttle applicants will notice the lack of a rear limited slip diff. Bentley claims 0-100km/h takes 4.5 seconds, on to a 290km/h top speed.
The brake pedal feels strong, the steering through the Alcantara-trimmed wheel is sharp and accurate, and body-roll is kept to an almost eerie, unnatural minimum thanks to the active anti-roll bars. The recalibrated ESC puts a good amount of trust in you, too.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, around The Bend Motorsport Park the Bentayga S’s brakes and front tyres quickly got hot and flustered and needed to cool down, prematurely halting the fun. One of our colleagues effectively melted the brakes completely.
You can option carbon-ceramics for $35,206, which upgrades the hardware from 400mm front discs with six-piston calipers, to 440mm discs – almost big enough to ring Saturn – with massive 10-piston calipers.
Curiously the rear disc size shrinks from 380mm to 370mm when upgrading from steel discs to carbons.
It’s still a big, heavy car at the end of the day, but as silly as it sounds, we reckon a Bentayga S would relish stickier rubber like Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s – which is a big compliment to the chassis engineering.
We didn’t get to uncork the burly Bentayga S anywhere but The Bend, but we reckon you wouldn’t have to upgrade the brakes or tyres for a blast up a winding road where it would be very capable.
Wind things back a few notches, and what is probably a correct judgement, the Bentayga S hasn’t gone too far compromising the comfort for performance.
Select the comfort drive program after sport, and the chassis almost exhales as it enters relaxation mode. And the Bentayga S loves to relax.
At urban speeds, it’s a lovely and effortless drive – especially with the exhaust letting in just the right amount of V8 burble. Curiously, our test car was commissioned with a sports exhaust delete – we’d love to hear what it sounds like with that normally standard feature in place.
The ride quality is cloud-like, while insulation from exterior noise almost puts you to sleep when stopped at traffic lights.
That said, not even a Bentley could completely defeat the roaring road noise that comes when driving a classic, coarse-chip 100km/h Australian country road – the type which encircles The Bend. But the Bentayga came close.
It’s one of those cars that you can cover 1000km and get out at the other end feeling fresh. And it’s got enough driver’s appeal that you’ll be tempted to sell the beach holiday house and buy one high in the mountains instead.
Best pop a few sick bags in the glovebox for passengers if that’s the case.
Sadly, or luckily, we didn’t get to test the Bentayga S off-road but with its 22-inch wheels and road tyres, we wouldn’t want to venture much further than a dusty dirt road. Bentley says it has a 500mm wading depth, while there are four terrain modes – snow/wet grass, dirt/gravel, mud/trail, and sand.
Our Bentayga S test car was a full-on place to sit. As you opened the driver’s door, a strong smell of leather escaped almost with a hiss.
While the nostrils delighted, the eyeballs watered (ours, anyway) at the offensive red and black, carbon-fibre and Alcantara trim. But you might like it. If you’ve got no taste.
The driver and front passenger are enveloped by Bentley’s trademark ‘double flying buttress’ dash design – while digital displays for the infotainment and instruments add a high-tech vibe.
The biggest compliment we can give the Bentayga S’s interior is that it’s a lovely place to have a nap (when parked, obviously).
Alcantara is unusual for a Bentley, yet in the Bentayga S it’s everywhere. Even the steering wheel, which we actually don’t love. Alcantara is weirdly slippery. Leather is much nicer. You can have your Bentayga S with a leather steering wheel if you want, and we say do it.
Curiously, the Bentayga S can be configured with four, five or seven seats. The back seat is plenty comfortable with its own little touchscreen to control the rear air vents, but the front seat is still the place to be.
If we can level one criticism at the Bentley’s interior, it’s that it’s not “mind-blowing” like you might expect from a $500,000 SUV. Yes, it’s very nice, but it’s not twice as nice as, say, an Audi RSQ8 which costs half as much.
The Bentayga also misses out on technology available in other luxury VAG SUVs such as the latest semi-autonomous cruise control, although we guess some owners would be proud to own a vehicle that asks a little bit more of the driver – no matter the situation.
That’s not to say the Bentayga is not high-tech: partly the reason it weighs 2416kg is it’s swollen with equipment. Our test car’s optional touring specification meant it had a heads-up display (HUD), night vision and adaptive cruise control. Of course, there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both wireless).
We also love that the Bentayga’s interior remains a temple to the humble button and dial. The migration of minor controls to touchscreens in other luxury vehicles misses an opportunity – to delight occupants with something like a temperature control knob that clicks with surgical, satisfying precision.
The Bentayga ticks this box well – even if a lot of the underlying switchgear is shared with Audi.
Audio lovers should also spec the optional Naim 1780-watt, 20-speaker system. Sadly it wasn’t on our test car, but we would be too tempted to tick the box.
When you’re half a million bucks in, what’s another $17,989? (The standard system is 590 watts and 12 speakers – still probably more than enough for most people.)
As far as practicalities go, the five-seater we tested has a boot space of 484-litres though sadly no accompanying spare wheel so buyers will have to make do with a puncture repair kit.
As you’d expect, running a Bentayga S would be devastating to a small Pacific island nation.
Bentley claims 13.0L/100km on the combined WLTP cycle, with consumption as high as 20.9L/100km and as low as 10.9L/100km.
That’s a lot of fuel, and a brick-like drag coefficient of 0.34Cd would not help, either. The Bentayga S uses a large 85-litre fuel tank to maximise range despite its predilection for premium unleaded.
The Bentayga S has no hybrid technology whatsoever – not even a mild hybrid system – but it does have cylinder deactivation, meaning it will turn itself into a V4 on light throttle loads.
Bentley’s warranty is sub-standard for such an expensive product – it’s one of the few brands still only offering three years (with unlimited kilometres).
Helpfully, from 2023 Bentley will include five years’ of servicing in the vehicle’s cost. The service intervals are 12 months or 16,000km, whatever occurs first.
Depreciation must be considered and with a Bentley, it’s best to try not to think about it, lest you weep. Don’t expect to sell your $450,000 Bentayga S for anywhere near its new price after four or five years.
The S is the ultimate driver’s Bentayga – even if it isn’t the ultimate driver’s SUV. It hasn’t given up too much comfort or luxury for additional performance, focusing instead of enhancing the sound and style.
If you love driving, we think it’s a better purchase than the Bentayga W12 Speed. The S – while slower – is better balanced, sweeter and makes the Speed feel front-heavy. It also sounds a lot better; the W12 makes a noise almost like a V6. It’s hard to beat a good V8.
While most people buy a Bentley with the heart over the head – they’re treating themselves – it’d be remiss of us to point out that there are (much) cheaper alternatives in the performance-luxury SUV space.
The Audi RSQ8, for example, is on the same platform and has the same engine – but in a higher state of tune, 441kW/800Nm. It also comes with a very long list of standard equipment, is luxuriously appointed inside, and is $213,900 before on-road costs – more than half the price.
The Cayenne Turbo is also built on the same platform and has ostensibly the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, with the same 404kW/770Nm as the Bentayga S. It weighs 241kg less and is the (much better) driver’s SUV. It’s also $262,300 before on-roads and options – nearly $200K cheaper than the Bentayga S.
Then, of course, if you want to burn the driver’s SUV house properly down, there’s the Lamborghini Urus – the deranged cousin of the Volkswagen Group MLB Evo SUV 4.0-litre V8 family.
It’s the highest state of performance tune for this chassis-engine combination, with 490kW and 850Nm from the latest S model. It will cost around $410K when it arrives in Australia next year.
Outside the VW family there is the reason the Bentayga S exists, the Aston Martin DBX. Its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 from AMG produces 405kW and 700Nm and it costs about $356,000 before on-roads and any options. A comparison between Bentayga S and DBX would be fascinating.
For a great many Bentayga buyers, however, nothing short of the Bentley badge will do – even if it comes at a cost. A big one.
Key specs (as tested)
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