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Bentley Bentayga Speed | Driven

The new Speed variant of Bentley's heavyweight SUV gets 635hp - and a Β£30k premium

By Dan Prosser / Thursday, May 30, 2019

It never makes sense. Not even when the enormous carbon ceramic brakes haul you down to speed after you've all but out-braked yourself, or when the car rotates on the way into a corner with the rear end sweeping around gently, or when the four-wheel drive system overloads the rear axle away from the apex and the car powerslides fractionally through the exit. Even in light of all that, driving a Bentley Bentayga Speed on a race track always feels completely brainless. It's indescribably dumb.

On Anglesey circuit - for me the UK's prettiest race track - the baddest Bentayga actually feels quite game. It weighs about as much as the mountains you glimpse across the way in Snowdonia as you come through the cresting right hander at Peel. And it's just about as tall, too. But the brakes are phenomenal, the steering is remarkably accurate (which means you can position the car exactly where you want it), there's decent turn-in grip, a definite agility as the car pivots into the bend, enough roll control that you never fear you'll be deposited out of a window and, when you get back on the power, bundles of traction and a frankly ludicrous amount of torque.

There are hot hatches that feel more flat-footed on circuit than this. In fact, the Bentley handles on track very much like a tall and opulent four-wheel drive hot hatchback, like an Audi RS3 on PEDs. But it's ultimately limited by its Pirelli P Zero tyres, because they can only contain such elemental forces to a point before they let go and howl in pain. To make the Bentayga Speed any more eager on circuit you'd have to swap those Pirellis for something far more track-focused, and that would be too stupid for words.

I haven't driven this new model on the road but I can confidently say it'll be no less comfortable or cosseting on the highway than the existing Bentayga W12, despite its newfound keenness on circuit. That's because Bentley has only made any changes to the chassis in the Sport driving mode (the damping in that setting has been firmed up by as much as 15 per cent in bump and rebound for tauter control) and the active anti-roll bar system, which has been reconfigured to keep the body as level as possible. Everything else is the same, so in theory the Bentayga Speed should ride and handle exactly like the Bentayga W12 in any other driving mode.

I believe it, too, because I've tried the Speed on circuit in Comfort, and the difference in that mode compared to Sport is vast. It feels less like a different setting and more like a different car altogether (that sort of distinction between the modes is exactly what can be achieved with very high-volume three-chamber air springs and the 48-volt anti-roll bar decoupling system that its maker calls Bentley Dynamic Ride).

This new model exists for a couple of reasons. The first is that Bentley recognises the need to introduce new derivatives as often as it can to keep its various models in the headlines. Most manufacturers do this because if they didn't, the market would very quickly forget about their cars altogether. We're easily distracted, and we need to be reminded. The second reason is that following the launch of the Bentayga V8 - which from the W12's point of view was actually too good, with its far lighter powertrain and still very potent 550hp engine - the range-topping model was made to look a little foolish. By moving the W12 up market, giving it more power and inflating the asking price, Bentley should be able to put some clear air between it and the V8. To give it a purpose again. Here in the UK, the Bentayga Speed replaces the Bentayga W12; they will not coexist.

Apart from those subtle but effective chassis tweaks, the Speed also gets an additional 30hp, lifting peak output to 635hp, while its unchanged 664lb ft of torque is available across a wider rev band than before. That uplift in power now means that with a top speed of 190mph, the Bentayga reclaims its title of world's fastest SUV from the Lamborghini Urus (by 0.5mph).

There's also some new Alcantara interior trim and a unique bodykit as well, which incorporates what must be the biggest rear spoiler ever fitted to a road-bound Bentley. The vast carbon ceramic brakes are optional and cost close to £12,000. The asking price is £182,200, some £30,000 more than the previous Bentayga W12 and £52,000 more than you'll pay for a Bentayga V8.

In fact, there is a third reason this car exists. Without it, the small number of buyers who wouldn't dare be seen driving a measly eight-cylinder car, or one that costs less than 150 grand, might go elsewhere. And hooray for them, because without those folk Bentley would simply cull its twin-turbocharged W12 powerhouse altogether, and that really would be a pity. It isn't just poo-yourself strong, but characterful too. The car as a whole is characterful, in fact. If you're in desperate need of a huge SUV that'll keep pace with most supercars, look no further. Just don't do trackdays in it.

5,950cc, W12, twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power 635hp @ 5,000rpm
Torque 664lb ft @ 1,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph 3.9 secs
Top speed 190mph
Weight 2,491kg
MPG 17.9
CO2 308g/km
Price £182,200

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