Best not speak it too loudly, but there's an argument to say that the original Bentayga didn't need a great deal of updating. For a first effort at a luxury SUV, Bentley didn't so much hit the brief for six as score its maiden test century and take half a dozen wickets along the way. It was really, really good, the consummate Bentley all-rounder, combining the prerequisite luxury and performance with genuine prowess off and on-road, too.
Customers certainly bought into the idea. The Bentayga now accounts for 45 per cent of Bentley sales and even enjoyed an 18 per cent growth in sales during its last year in dealerships. So, if buyers can't get enough, why change it? The advancement of the opposition, predictably. At the end of 2015 the idea of a luxury SUV didn't really extend any further than a Range Rover with some dubious and expensive options; a few years later there are rivals from Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini and Aston Martin vying for the attention of the world's wealthy. The Bentayga is no longer in a class of one - so it needs to step up.
Bentley says that more than 1,000 changes have been incorporated into this facelift, of which more details are available here. The significant news is an interior overhaul, revised styling and additional technology, the stated aim to create "the ultimate in power, luxury and usability." You'd expect nothing less from Bentley, right?
We must begin with the Bentayga's styling; a hotly contested point since launch, it seems likely to continue that way following this facelift. The objective was a "strikingly dynamic look", the front getting a wider, more upright grille, new matrix LED lights and a redesigned bumper. You'll judge it for yourselves, but broadly speaking it works.
As for the back... well, look, the last people who should be giving out style tips are journalists who, thanks to the constraints of the past few months, currently all resemble Tom Hanks in Castaway. But it's also part of our job to proffer some sort of professional opinion. And although the move to align the Bentayga more closely with the Continental GT and Flying Spur is a laudable one, to these eyes the oval rear lights don't sit as comfortably at the back of the Bentayga as they do on the Continental. Despite their size in real life, they just seem a little dainty for such a vast vehicle. It's easy to understand the desire to update the old design, which was arguably a little too generic, though this new look doesn't necessarily have you thinking 'oh look - a taller GT'. Spots on a Great Dane don't make it a Dalmatian.
It's far easier to bestow praise on the updated interior. From the second you climb up and aboard, it feels a tangible improvement on what came before. And like somewhere you'd never want to leave. When the changes have reached so far as removing stitches from the steering wheel to make the grip more comfortable, it's clear this is a little more than just a couple of bigger screens and a fancy new clock (which, it should be said, is also very nice). New seats are somehow comfier and more supportive than the excellent ones that went before, the digital driver displays are crisp and clear, the new infotainment intuitive and intelligent. If there were a couple of irks inside a Bentayga cabin before, they've been vanquished - it really is fabulous up there. Having a responsive touchscreen and buttons makes the infotainment simple to navigate, the graphics are contemporary, the design is sleeker yet somehow more luxurious because of the decluttering... it's a great cabin, in much the same way as the Continental's is. This is now an interior entirely befitting of the car's remit and RRP, a statement that would typically have to be caveated beforehand.
From launch, the facelifted Bentayga will only be offered with the 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8, with the Hybrid to follow in due course. As it was previously, the engine feels such a perfectly tailored fit for the Bentayga experience that it's a wonder this isn't a bespoke Bentley unit. Like the most dutiful of hired help it ensures two and a half tonnes never wants for anything, be that power, torque or an appropriate level of V8 rumble. It's as comfortable dawdling at revs barely above idle as it is charging belligerently towards 6,500rpm, and is thus pretty hard to fault, especially when so expertly marshalled by the eight-speed automatic. Some will still covet the W12 that the UK won't get this time around - and it's hard to deny the appeal of its towering omnipotence - though it's difficult to imagine a great many feeling short changed by the V8.
Like the Continental GT and Flying Spur, the Bentayga defaults to a 'Bentley' driving mode on start-up, marked by a 'B' on the selector dial. And, similarly to those cars, you'll only leave 'Bentley' to discover that the other settings aren't quite as perfectly suited to Bentayga driving. Comfort feels a tad too marshmallowy on the air suspension, focusing a little too much attention on the cruise liner kerbweight; Sport then feels a tad too tense, reminding all aboard that they really are 22-inch wheels nestled in the arches - even if they look like 19s. On the other hand, B mode is very tricky to fault, offering a dynamic compromise that's both plush and cosseting as well as measured and precise. That doesn't just apply to the suspension, either, but the throttle response, gearbox mapping, steering - the whole experience as a perfectly balanced, cohesive whole. It feels - and this is intended entirely as a compliment - that the vast majority of development time was spent on making 'B' the ideal default, with the other modes added in because they were required. That aim has been achieved; the journey could be a country pub somewhere near Aylesbury (as ours was) or an overnight slog to Aberdeen, and there'd never be any occasion where 'B' wouldn't suit.
In fact, it's easy to go further and say there's simply not a journey that the Bentayga wouldn't suit. Because there remains, in addition to everything listed above, a poise and panache about the Bentayga's handling that it's hard to credit something so enormous with. The Dynamic Ride active anti-roll ensures a calm to proceedings, though it's not simply a façade for an undercooked chassis. As far as is reasonable and acceptable, the Bentayga is game, grippy and alert and admirably resistant to understeer as well. As with the Continental and Spur, there's considerable ability resident in the chassis, bolstered but not dominated by the technology and wholly pleasant to interact and engage with. It likely won't entertain in quite the manner that a DBX will, in much the same way a Continental isn't quite the dynamic equal of a DB11 - though it's arguably of even less relevance here than in the GTs. Those that can afford this much for an SUV will have spare for a weekend Elise, surely. The point is that even with several other ostensibly more exciting options in the garage, the Bentayga owner is unlikely to take issue with the way their Bentley SUV dissects a road.
Some will always take issue - perhaps even umbrage - with the need for a vehicle this large, this luxurious and this expensive, but the fact remains that the market's demand hasn't been anywhere near satisfied. Far be it from anyone to deny Bentley a slice of that pie, especially as it could be argued that the Bentayga occupies a place in the line-up more comfortably than, say, an Urus does. With the Mulsanne having now departed, all of the Crewe products are 21st century creations, influenced by VW ownership and brimmed with contemporary luxury. All are brilliant, too.
Therefore, even those who might disagree with the Bentley 4x4 on principle will find it exceptionally hard to fault on an objective basis. Styling aside - and that's a hugely subjective matter anyway - this updated Bentayga has emphatically addressed the few issues that did exist in the product before, and in doing so created a formidably accomplished and - perhaps more crucially - undeniably likeable luxury SUV in the process. The Bentayga may no longer be in a class of one, but it's more than good enough to take on all comers, no matter who currently occupies the segment now - or cares to take it on next.
SPECIFICATION - BENTLEY BENTAYGA V8
Engine: 3,996cc, V8 twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 568@1,960-4,500rpm
Top speed: 180mph
Weight: 2,416kg (EU, with driver)
Price: £146,700 (as standard; price as tested £194,705 comprised of All Terrain Specification (Drive Dynamics Control with Responsive Off-road Settings, Luggage Management System and Underfloor protection) for £3,610, Sunshine Specification (Double sunvisor, Electrically operated blinds for rear side windows) for £1,685, First Edition Specification (Bentley Dynamic Ride, Deep pile overmats, First Edition stitching, emblems, badges, Front Seat Comfort Specification, Illuminated treadplates, LED welcome lamps by Mulliner, Mood lighting, Mulliner Driving Specification, 'Naim for Bentley' premium audio system) for £31,280, Bentayga Blackline Specification (black paint for side window surrounds, wing vents, lower door bright-ware, rear bumper bright-ware, radiator shell matrix, surround and centre bar, door handles and rear lamp bezels) for £5,380 and Four Seat Comfort Specification (Ventilated front and rear comfort seats with massage function, Comfort headrests to rear outer seats, short centre console with twin front armrests to rear) for £5,510)
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