A day with the GOAT: Muddy test drives the Bentley Bentayga
Gorgeous to look at, aspirational yet practical - but enough about me, let's talk the Bentayga, the SUV redefining the possibilities of a family car.
As my many fans will attest, I’m a humble woman – and my wagon of choice is a humble Mini, what else? The market for these dinky motors is overwhelmingly female. It seems us girls love a challenge, and don’t I know it as I attempt to cram Mudlets, associated Mudlet-detritus and all my essentials into a car the size of a box of cooks’ matches.
Helpfully, Harwoods, the independent Sussex dealership, wants us all to think a bit bigger. A lot bigger, actually, because they reckon busy working mums like you and I would benefit from contemplating Bentley’s gasp-inducing SUV, the Bentayga, and they’ve loaned me one for the day to demonstrate exactly why.
Let’s address the elephant in the room straight-up, this car is worth nearly as much as my house. The model I’m test-driving checks in at a cool £200K and the ‘basic’ Bentayga starts at around £149k. Finance makes it more affordable, with monthly payments not massively over £1,200, but again, that’s basically my mortgage. When I think about it however, I probably spend as much time in the car as I do in my house, between the school run, after-school clubs, more after-school clubs, playdates with friends, visits to the grandparents and weekends out enjoying our beautiful Sussex – and that’s all on top of my day-job driving around the county on Muddy business. Put that way, an investment of this level suddenly feels a whole lot more valid and unlike my mortgage, it won’t take me 25 years to pay off.
But look, nobody contemplates a Bentley for affordability. This car is all about the wow, not really a word you’d usually associate with a family SUV, but Bentley has more than a hundred years of heritage based on exceeding expectations, and reader, with the Bentayga, they’ve done it again.
If you’re not a little bit intimidated rocking up to collect a Bentley, you and I can’t be friends. Fortunately, despite my shaking hands, the process couldn’t have been smoother and more comforting.
I rolled up with two over-excited Mudlets in tow, who insisted upon exploring every inch of the showroom, asking eight billion questions and ascertaining, for the thousandth time, that the car we were collecting was, in fact, blue. I was ready to sink into the floor, but the staff were charming, suggesting that perhaps things have moved on since the good old days of feeling patronised if one dared to be female in a motoring environment. I was particularly tickled to see a sign advising that Fido too is welcome in Harwoods’ spotless showroom, with a thoughtful addendum that should an accident occur (the shame) the staff would be happy to help. Literally everything is set up to make customers feel welcome and valued.
The Bentayga isn’t just the price of my house, it’s practically the size of it too. Oh, the joy of slinging the crap – sorry – toys and accessories my children insist upon dragging around with us into the enormous boot and seeing it barely touch the sides! We could holiday with this car, we could holiday IN this car, it’s got that much space.
And oh lordy, is it beautiful. Our model is the most intense sapphire blue, sparkling like a gigantic, evocative jewel perched atop gleaming wheels that look like the motoring equivalent of a centrefold. The front grille is pure Bentley, the distinctive logo clearly visible, and the lines and design are bold and commanding. I wouldn’t mess with anybody driving this car. OMG, I’ve got to drive it.
Inside, it’s next-level luxe. This model has a sleek, sporty carbon-fibre trim (instead of the more traditional oak or walnut) and leather seats comfier than my sofa. Joy abounds when I discover a massage button – that’s right, the car will give me a back massage while I drive along. I’m never getting out.
Everything is customisable and adjustable, from the chairs to the steering column, and so intuitive – it’s like the whole car just wants to make itself as useful and enjoyable as humanly possible. The Mudlets squeal and lounge around in the cavernous back, and quickly discover a touch-screen that keeps them amused for the hour or so it takes me to acclimatise to actually driving the beast. I’ve got my own touch-screen up front and fully digital display telling me all the usual info (how much petrol I’ve got to the mile etc) and more than I could possibly ever use.
With a purring four-litre, V8 engine at its disposal, the Bentayga can manage 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. I, on the other hand, can’t, because I drive like a granny and I’m not sorry, but I do appreciate the unbelievable turn of speed when it comes to the regular Sussex pastime of overtaking bicycles, tractors, horseboxes and actual grannies who are, somehow, even slower than me. In all seriousness I want to be on the opposite side of the road for as little time as possible, and the Bentayga helps me achieve that, er, shall we say, emphatically.
I’m more interested in enjoying the drive, and I’ve never driven anything like this. The smoothness, the responsiveness, the raw power that’s somehow so understated. The car doesn’t goad you to go faster (I once drove a Subaru Impreza, so I know very well how that feels), instead it cushions you. You can’t help but be amazed at the feel of the vehicle you’re controlling and its willingness to respond to you – basically, the car makes you feel like a billion dollars. It’s also got several off-road modes meaning you can safely drive it through just about anything – snow, dirt, gravel, wet grass and, far more terrifying, a mud-slathered, leaf-littered, pothole-strewn Sussex lane in November.
I can’t deny that it took a good hour for me to settle down into enjoying it though, mainly because I was so wildly intimidated. I mean, it’s a Bentley. My ‘oh-god-what-if-I-prang-it?’ anxiety was at an all-time high. But I quickly realised that this car is 100% here to make you look and feel like the absolute boss, and it takes care of all the thorny details by bleeping at you if you stray too close to any form of prang-hazard in any way, and through driver assistance it’ll slow down, speed up and correct your course where necessary – it’s so intuitive it’s almost spooky. The engine turns itself off when you stop at traffic lights (top eco points) and then restarts effortlessly just a split-second before you do. I don’t know what this wizardry is, but it’s phenomenally accurate and just another way this car makes life a tiny, pleasurable bit easier.
Look, I could wax lyrical all day about spec and features but that’s what the Harwoods website is for (plus, I totally couldn’t). What’s important here is the experience of the Bentayga, the emotions it provokes, the way it made us feel. The car makes life a huge adventure. That tiny country road we’ve trundled down eight billion times before? Magical. That lovely view over the Downs I never tire of? Somehow elevated, and not just by my lofty seating position. Everything came into sharp focus, everything felt special. I felt special. The whole of Sussex felt like our playground, heck, the whole of the UK, the whole world – I’d drive this car anywhere, for however long, given the chance.
Wherever we took the Bentayga (yes, even Tesco) we drew admiring looks and questions from excited onlookers. In the car park of our local pub, it had the landlord and half his staff outside, wanting to know all about it. There’s so much to talk about and share. The whole operation of the car was keyless (I didn’t actually know where to put the fob I was handed, so I kept it in my pocket ) and the car locked and unlocked itself, and started at the touch of a button. We took it to see my parents and loaded them up for a trip to their favourite local, the Bat & Ball in Wisborough Green, and the sheer specialness made it a memory that will last forever. That’s what this car does, it creates memories, it spreads joy, it steals your heart.
I’m left with the middle-class problem of my children wailing, ‘Mummy, I miss the Bentley!’ and a hole in my side from where I’ve whipped out a kidney to sell, because I miss it too, and when you’ve spent a day with the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time, obvs), little else is ever going to match up.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: This is literally the perfect family car. Spacious, ultra-practical and supremely comfortable, with enough welly under the bonnet to please the lead-footed types who find your average SUV a bit snooze-worthy.
Not for: Well, it’s no economy buy. The eco-conscious may want to hold out for the hybrid model.