Something caused me a pang of sadness during the Bentley Bentagya EWB launch. It wasn’t anything to do with the car itself, which, if you can keep a secret, is tremendous. It’s that Bentley sees the Bentayga EWB as taking the place of the Mulsanne - i.e. it’s now considered the pinnacle of the company’s range. Why my flash of dejection? Well, call me an old fuddy duddy and stuck in my ways, but making an SUV, not a large saloon, Crewe’s standard-bearer, seemed a bit skew-whiff.
Still, times change. SUVs, as we know, make or break car companies. They break if they don’t have one, basically, but if they do the profits swell, massively. Bentley’s have. It made £398m in the first half of this year, a big part of which was down to the Bentayga. So stretching the lineup, not just literally but metaphorically, was a no-brainer, really.
We’re in Vancouver for the car’s launch. The city’s famous in part for the invention of Botox, yet all the Bentayga’s creases have been left just as they were. There really isn’t anything new about the EWB’s styling, other than the 180mm growth spurt, and when you catch the car side-on, all that is very obviously in the rear door. It’s a very big door indeed. This is no hen-party Hummer, though; no simple cut and shut. Here are some facts detailing the work that’s gone into producing the EWB: 2,500 new parts, 2,000 weeks of testing; a completely new underbody and a nine-digit investment. They even had to modify the paint shop to get the body down the line.
It also comes with rear-wheel steering. That’s a first for the Bentayga and rather essential when you consider that the EWB is 5,305mm long. That’s only a fraction shorter than the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and longer than a long-wheelbase Range Rover. But with RWS the turning circle is 11.8m, while in the standard-wheelbase Bentayga it’s 12.4m. So it’s nimbler in town, and another absolute from the EWB’s concept stage was maintaining the Bentayga’s agility on open roads.
What about weight? Well, Bentley wouldn’t tell us that at first, which raised a few eyebrows. Then it changed tack and said it was 98kg heavier, which made me wonder why the initial secrecy. That’s not bad, considering, and means the V8 EWB weighs about the same as a standard-length W12. On which subject, there won’t be a W12 version of the EWB. That engine still goes down a storm in North America, but it’s not long for this world. The EWB is V8 only, for now. In time, expect to see a hybrid added to the list.
Right, the driving experience; or to begin with, the driven experience. I sat in the back to start with and was chauffeured north out of Vancouver. “This is a tough gig,” I thought, but my dedication to the cause is never less than absolute. And seen from the perspective of an owner who would choose to travel this way, it struck me I was wrong. Wrong to doubt that the best Bentley should be an SUV. Still, no point in having a mind if you never change it. As it turns out, an SUV works for back-seat lounging.
Most of the traditional limousines – S-Class, 7 Series and A8 – have a handsome amount of legroom but the headroom and the seating position aren’t always ideal. This is because, these days, electric rear seats are a given in such cars, and to get all those motors underneath means the seat is positioned quite high. Because I am tall, my head ends up close to the roof, and I’ve often found the seating position ranges from iffy to almost claustrophobic.
Not when you’re in an SUV, though. Sure, the seating position in the back of the EWB is still high, but so is the roof. So it works. And because the seat squab is high relative to the floor, the seating position feels completely natural, too. It’s comfortable, then. In fact, almost everything about the rear of the EWB is. Three seating configurations are available: five seats, a four-plus-one arrangement (with a folding centre armrest in the rear that divides the outer seats) and a dedicated four-seater. That’s what I was in, and it had what Bentley terms its Airline Seats.
For a start, they are very supportive and unusually well bolstered, so you’re unlikely to fall out if you’re late for a meeting and have your chap ‘step on it’. They’re also electrically adjustable in 22 different ways, massage you every which way and look after your wellbeing. I am not joking. The trim level of our car was ‘Azure’ and that’s all about comfort. The seats feature ‘auto climate technology’ that’s monitoring my temperature and the surface humidity of my skin, then decides whether to apply heat, ventilation or both, to optimise my ‘thermal wellbeing’.
It’s also measuring the pressure across the seat’s surface, and inflates and deflates six pressure zones accordingly. These micro-adjustments create tiny vertical and twisting movements to improve circulation and prevent numbness. I wouldn’t say I was conscious of the benefits, but I wasn’t numb and felt well. The only odd bit is the footrest. This lowers from the back of the front seat but is too high to make it comfortable to put my feet on. It was much better to stretch my legs into the enormous footwell – and no doubt about it, the EWB is so long you really can stretch out.
It's beautifully appointed as well. There are obvious features, such as power-close rear doors, and subtle ones like LEDs hidden behind sections of leather, which shine through perforations and set the inviting ambience. The materials feel superb, too, whether it’s the shiny metal organ stops, the stitching of the fine-grain leather, or the choice of veneers. The car I was in had a diamond-patterned, blued metal, but being the traditionalist I mentioned I was, I envied the spec of another car in our motorcade: a spruce green car with spruce green top roll and olive green hide, matched with polished, yew-coloured timber. Anyway, in the back of the EWB there’s a new centre console, with a digital screen that lets you operate the rear climate controls and massage functions etc. If you wish, you can also add screens to the back of the front seats.
After establishing that the back of the EWB is a fine place to be, I swapped positions and sat up front. Again, the trimming is exceptional and the driving position ideal, with everything you need to pilot the EWB either falling to hand easily or adjusted easily to do so. And before launching the thing down the road and marvelling at what 550hp and 568lb ft of V8 shove felt like, I thought I should spend some time seeing how easy it was to drive smoothly. After all, that’s an important attribute to get right in a car like this.
It turns out the EWB’s control weights are spot on if you want to keep your passenger happy – and presumably keep your job. The throttle response is just right to avoid any jerkiness. It’s much better than the P530 Range Rover, which lacks low-end torque and then becomes boosty when you instinctively try to compensate. The EWB has all the torque and driveability you need, and a fantastic eight-speed gearbox to manage it slickly. The brakes, too, come with some softness in the pedal but no dead zone. They work immediately and are easily modulated in traffic. Then there’s the steering. The car feels agile in town but once you’re out of the conurbations and hit flowing roads, it’s direct, precise and builds weight progressively. There’s no need to fret about your inputs. Because the EWB is a car you get in and gel with pretty much immediately, it’s easy to drive smoothly.
There are two criticisms. The first is some slight vibrations that buzzes lightly up the column, and the other is the ride. It’s a touch brittle over razor-edges, which is a shame. It’s nice to think of a high-end luxury car offering complete detachment, and here you’re reminded, every so often, of the grittiness of the road beneath. The Range Rover does the same thing, only with a little more wheel movement after the bump that exacerbates the situation. Otherwise, the Bentley’s ride is sublime. It has ‘give’ without feeling floaty, and that leads to a calm ride. There’s no sway in the tall body, either, as the 48-volt active roll bars do their thing. Nor is there much shake through the chassis. You might expect some, bearing in mind the extra length, but I was told that the redesigned floor pan offers near enough the same torsional stiffness as the standard-wheelbase car. It certainly feels like it does.
After a while, we ended up at the sight of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler. We went on a tour of the park, marvelling at the sight of the ski jump – you need balls to launch yourself off that – while at the same time looking for a grizzly. We didn’t see one of the estimated 300,000 bears in Canada, grizzly or black, but the Bentley proved its off-road worth along dirt tracks. None of these was particularly taxing, to be frank – when you do a Range Rover launch, you end up tackling terrain that’s more taxing for your brain than the car – but the point Bentley was trying to make is this will go off the beaten track, and it does.
Having established that the EWB is comfortable and spacious (both front and rear), easy to drive smoothly and capable, to an extent, off-road, the other facet it’s expected to deliver on is sportiness. Happily, the roads around the Blackcomb National Park produce the sort of scenery that makes you pinch yourself, hard - as well as providing a perfect test for the EWB’s on-road cross-country pace. The conclusion was: it’s at least as capable as the standard car and would leave a Range Rover Sport, let alone the ‘full fat’, for dead.
Through the flowing, higher-speed corners, there’s very little body roll, and the steering loads up to fill you with confidence. Through the tighter sections, the rear-wheel steering subtly aims to help get the thing turned, and even when the huge 285/45 21 tyres squeal as they struggle with the forces imposed upon them, there’s no sudden onset of understeer. It pushes a little, but that’s trimmed easily if you ease off the throttle.
It's not a performance SUV, in the manner of a Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT or Lamborghini Urus, but it’s definitely sporty and I doubt you’d have too much problem keeping up with one of those. Its ability to launch you from one corner to the next is impressive, too. The quiet-natured V8 wakes up with a boot full of throttle to become the thundering thing we know and love. Bentley says it’s reduced the dB levels in the EWB, but it’s still loud. And the torque: there’s so much available in the key range, between 2,000-4,500rpm, that you struggle to catch it off guard. There’s power at the top end, too - although, by that stage, you’re inevitably in breach of Canada’s often bizarrely restrictive speed limits.
So, it adds sportiness and speed to its broad list of credentials. Indeed, it’s hard to see where the Bentley Bentayga EWB lets the side down. Its nearest competitor in terms of luxury and speed feels like the Aston Martin DBX707, which matches the Bentayga’s fluency in corners but has even more power and performance. Yet the Bentley is a far nicer place to be. It’s more consistently well finished and has an infotainment system from this century that doesn’t frustrate.
That doesn't mean I don't have trouble thinking of the Bentley Bentayga EWB as the new Mulsanne – I do. The saloon I adored for being the archetypal Bentley: hand-built, imposing and utterly charming. The EWB is certainly imposing, but it isn’t hand-built in the traditional sense, and it perhaps lacks charm as a result. But my god it makes up for that in other ways. It’s just so utterly complete. Fast and agile; massive and massively comfortable; luxurious and sumptuously finished yet bristling with tech. And it does some off-road stuff, too. My heart might object to the idea, but my head knows that objectively it’s better than the Mulsanne. I'm not the target buyer, though. If you are, then it'll be on sale by the end of the year, priced at roughly £20,000 more than the standard model. Probably you can stretch to that.
Specification | Bentley Bentayga EWB
Engine: 3,996cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550 @ 6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 568 @ 2,000-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 180mph
Weight: 2,514kg (DIN)
MPG: Waiting type approval
CO2: Waiting type approval
Price: £185,000 (est.)
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