Does it seem incongruous that one of the largest and heaviest SUVs on the planet – the Bentley Bentayga S – has benefited from a raft of dynamic tweaks for the 2023 model year?
No matter it seems, because that’s what we’ve got for the latest iteration of this upper luxury offering – and the tweaks are noticeable. The only catch is you’ll need more than 500 large to drive away in one.
It’s big bucks, but then the Bentley Bentayga is a colossal vehicle stretching more than 5.14 metres in length (there’s a longer extended wheelbase (EWB) version about to drop), while tipping the scales at a hefty 2415kg.
There’s nothing untoward about doing more to keep the big Bentley SUV flat through corners, either. Bentley has been doing exactly that for more than 100 years – that is to say, making race winners out of its big, beautiful grand tourers.
It’s the very essence of the brand itself.
From its earliest days, the marque’s ethos was set in stone by founder W.O. Bentley, who said: “The policy was a simple one – we were going to make a fast car, a good car, the best in class”.
Let’s not forget the marque’s daring six outright wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans between 1929 and 2003, victorious over some of the world’s most iconic sports car manufacturers. That counts for plenty, even if its last triumph was more than a few years ago – it’s the heritage that matters most here.
Bentley has always been the quintessential British luxury brand that best fused bespoke luxury with high-speed performance attributes, and the Bentayga S is just the latest embodiment of that tried and true formula from Crewe.
Mind, the new Bentayga S is not to be confused with the W12-powered ‘Speed’, which remains perched atop the Bentayga line-up, with Bentayga S sitting directly below in the pecking order.
While some might be vexed to learn the ‘S’ gets no additional muscle to propel this fine chariot at an increased velocity, we reckon the 4.0-litre (3956cc), twin-turbo V8 under Bentayga’s vast bonnet is more than adequate for the kind of high-speed touring befitting the high-riding Bentley.
But then that’s not really the remit of the S, is it. Bentley says it’s about, ‘bringing extra sporting agility to the Bentayga family’ with a dynamic tuning program engineered to deliver more hustle ability through the bends.
Ensuring maximum tyre contact for the 2.5-tonne Bentley is by far the most important measure of this more specialised Bentayga. And it’s got the collective weaponry underneath to get the job done, no matter what the loads might be in the most demanding of twisties.
Bentley Dynamic Ride with active anti-roll control is standard fitment on Bentayga S, along with a more focused Sports chassis mode. Not only is there a 15 per cent increase in damping of the triple-chamber air suspension that stiffens the chassis, there’s also a unique ESC tune to match its superior handling.
Tuck into a corner with a decent degree of lock wound on, and the anti-roll system is capable of applying up to 1300Nm of torque in less than 0.3 seconds. It’s supposed to counter any unwanted body roll and improve steering feedback and response.
There’s a bit more noise too, courtesy of a newly-installed, free-flowing sports exhaust with a split-oval design in black that matches the Bentley’s ‘black pack’ – dubbed ‘Blackline Specification’.
All the key exterior elements, including grille with lower bumper intakes, side sills, larger rear spoiler and door mirror caps are gloss black for a more aggressive road presence all round. Befitting the sportier Bentayga are also dark-tinted headlights and tail lights that more or less complete the makeover, except for wheels.
Designed to have the Scythe-like spokes pointing in the same forward direction on both sides, the new-look 22-inch wheels are available in three different finishes.
Our Bentayga S tester was fitted with the optional ‘black and bright polished’ wheel for considerably more effect. It’s a highly labour-intensive finish, where the rim is ceramic polished, before various spokes are masked off to allow the gloss black paint to be applied and a final hand polish.
Then, there’s the Bentley paint job. In this case it’s Dragon Red 11 that marries up well to Bentayga S’s dynamic brief. But there are other less overt finishes, like the truly spectacular ultra-dark Cumbrian Green, which at some angles seems closer to metallic black.
Nobody does posh cabins quite so well as Bentley, only in Bentayga S it’s all a bit more brash and exclusive at the same time, thanks to a new colour split and what seems like acres of Alcantara and unique 3D carbon-fibre weave trim bits.
It seems Bentley craftspeople really do go to extraordinary lengths to ensure a level of exclusivity above most other luxury marques, even with its SUV.
Take the leather upholstery. It’s hand-picked from herds which graze the fields at high altitudes in Northern Europe. Naturally, they’re free of the insect bites that can leave spots in the hide.
The minimum entry point into the Bentley Bentayga S will cost you $450,200 plus on-road costs and any optional extras you choose.
Luxury press cars are often ordered with a host of options that best present the vehicle for content purposes, as well as to entice prospective buyers who more often that not choose to personalise their vehicle.
Our tester is testament to that scenario with no less than 15 options added to features inventory.
Options (as tested):
- Extended range paint: $12,333.75
- Contrast stitching and seat piping: $7164.30
- LED welcome lamps: $2195.05
- Touring specification: $16,981.25
- Front seat comfort specification: $7693.40
- Heated, acoustic, IR front screen: $1072.50
- Rear privacy glass: $2566.85
- Heated, duo-tone, three-spoke Alcantara steering wheel: $1179.75
- Luggage management: $922.35
- Mood lighting: $1008.15
- Black and polished S directional wheel: $15,379.65
- Carbon-fibre fascia, centre console and door waistrails: $8086.65
- S colour specification $5376.80
- Paint protection: $8243.95
- Standard brakes with red painted calipers: $3535.35
The above inclusions lifted the price of our Bentayga S tester to an eye-watering $543,757.75 – before on-roads.
Rivals models include the larger Rolls-Royce Cullinan (from $692,150), while the sportier Cullinan Black Badge wears a stratospheric $791,900 sticker.
Aston Martin has the DBX707 which starts from $428,400, but it’s more performance-biased though with no less ride comfort over the rough stuff.
Land Rover has the new Range Rover SV with the comparable 4.4-litre V8 from $358,337 for the SWB version, while the SV LWB is priced from $403,554 plus on-road costs.
2023 Bentley Bentayga pricing:
- Bentley Bentayga V8: $378,600
- Bentley Bentayga S: $450,200
- Bentley Bentayga Speed (W12): $514,400
Prices exclude on-road costs
Not sure about the Hotspur and Beluga colour-split upholstery – it’s a bit too G-Wagon compared with the more divine combination of Newmarket Tan and Beluga – but make no mistake, this is a still a place of bespoke craftsmanship.
If you’ve ever had the privilege of visiting the wood shop at Bentley’s factory in Crewe, United Kingdom, and seen the endless veneers from dozens of exotic tree varieties, you’ll be an instant convert to a natural finish in your Bentley.
But with the Bentayga S and its extra sporty pretences, it’s the high-gloss carbon-fibre with an optic resin process that gives the weave a 3D appearance which looks the part here. And it’s everywhere; from the carbon-fibre fascia, centre console, instrument display and door trim.
The polished chrome brightwork is simply exquisite, but I’m partial to the signature Bentley clock and trademark bulls-eye air vents that have been part of the mix for as long as I can remember.
Bentley seats are some of the best in the business for their delicate mix of unadulterated comfort and support, though, they feel a touch firmer in the S – or perhaps it’s the less forgiving Alcantara.
We would have expected the rear seats to have more bolster built in, though our test car was specified with the more practical three-seat rear bench, instead of the four-seat interior with individual rear seats.
Rear legroom is good, though, not cavernous – you’ll need to choose the extended wheelbase (EWB) version of Bentayga if you extra space back there.
The centre armrest isn’t much chop either – a simple thing with two cupholders and not much else.
Second row passengers will need to lean forward and use the touchscreen to adjust seat heating and air temperature rather than the media centre that some rival makes offer.
In an age where multiple screens have already replaced entire banks of buttons and dials, Bentley continues with an equal measure of both. Not just any dials, mind, but beautifully knurled versions with a jewel-like quality to them.
The metalwork extends to the chunky metal shifter with a ceramic-like head, but even then, the inner circle is nicely knurled for effect.
While a pair of Tod’s luxury loafers would surely be a perfect match for those behind the wheel of the Bentayga S, the plush pile and even thicker floor mats are best met with bare feet in my view.
Plastic bits are few and far between in Bentayga S, except for the instrument stalks which look to be from the Volkswagen parts bin, albeit at the premium end of the range.
No complaints when it comes to storage, though, with plenty of nooks and crannies, as well as decent door pockets all round.
Boot space behind the second row of seats looks bigger than its 484 litres, but once folded you’ve got up to 1774 litres of load capacity.
For the Bentayga S, there’s no additional power over the regular Bentayga V8, which makes 404kW of power at 6000rpm and 770Nm of torque from 1960rpm-4500rpm.
Bentley has clearly prioritised handling, refinement and efficiency over outright straight-line performance, given the Lamborghini makes a stratospheric 478kW and 850Nm from the same basic motor.
Even the Audi RSQ8 produces 441kW and 800Nm from the same engine, while the Porsche Cayenne Turbo develops identical outputs to Bentayga S.
The Bentley also misses out on Audi’s 48-volt mild-hybrid technology, but gets a cylinder deactivation system that can shut down half the engine’s cylinders for improved fuel economy.
Drive is sent to all-four wheels through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, mated to a Torsen centre differential and an open rear diff with electronic lock.
Bentley claim Bentayga S will launch from standstill to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds, with a top speed of 290km/h regardless of four, five or seven-seat configurations.
The Bentayga is equipped with an 85-litre fuel tank amid a claimed range of 654km per tank, with CO2 emissions of 294 g/km.
It may not have quite the same ballistic straight-line performance as its Lamborghini or Porsche cousins, but the moment you hit the bejewelled starter button and the V8 lets out a deep, but slightly muffled bark, you’re under no illusion of the vast reserves of power that lurks beneath the bonnet.
Nevertheless, there’s a real tendency to simply waft around in Comfort mode and enjoy the absolute opulence (and serenity) the Bentayga S affords those privileged enough to be lounging in its cabin.
Either way, forward motion is truly effortless, if not rapid, as the twin-turbos spool up and the motor dishes out its full complement of 770Nm from just 1960 revolutions. Even so, there’s still a bit of low-down lag when exiting a roundabout or pulling out of a junction, for example.
It’s less so in the default Bentley mode, which is actually quite sporty, and pretty much the sweet spot for general day-to-day duties in the Bentayga. At the same time, the air suspension firms up and you’re ready to tackle a few chosen bends.
Naturally, you’ll want to dial up the new and improved Sport setting for those who want have a proper crack in their Bentayga S, and you won’t be disappointed.
It’s hard to fathom how more than 2.4 tonnes of fast-moving metal can be tossed into an off-camber, downhill bend, in precisely the same way as you would scald a hardcore hot hatch and yet with little or no discernible lean.
In fact, once you get into it proper, you’ll find yourself actually enjoying what might seem like a ridiculous scenario to most, but it’s testament to the engineering onboard – both mechanical and technological.
That aforementioned newly-calibrated Sport mode definitely sharpens steering feel and turn-in response, while tightening up the chassis and controlling lean, but it also stiffens up ride compliance with the air suspension.
It’s a little bit confusing. Larger speed bumps are mostly dispensed in the most luxurious fashion and barely registered inside the cabin, while smaller bumps are often felt – to the point of being a bit busy under wheel.
The issue is, it’s not always consistent, even in Comfort, but that could also be the lousy roads in Sydney, too.
You’ll keep coming back to Bentley mode for the optimum ride/handling balance, but once you hit the twisties, you’ll crave the in-check body control that Sport affords, regardless of the harsher ride and high-revving gearshifts.
Never mind stopping the Bentayga, either, that’s just not an issue.
Braking power from the monster-size front rotors (401mm), is hugely confidence inspiring, so much so you tend to late-brake this behemoth without so much as a flinch when you’re having some fun.
For those Bentley owners bent on hauling a horse float or a quintessential 22ft Airstream caravan, the Bentayga S has a braked towing capacity of 3500kg.
Bentayga S highlights:
- 4-zone climate control
- Air suspension
- Matrix LED headlights
- Cooled glovebox
- Powered hands-free tailgate
- Power-fold side mirrors with heating, dipping
- Soft-close front doors
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Power steering column with memory
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Panoramic sunroof
- Illuminated ‘S’ treadplates
- Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Wireless phone charging
- 10-speaker Signature sound system
- Wi-Fi hotspot
- 22-inch alloy wheels
- Heated steering wheel
- Acoustic glass
- Remote lift system from cargo area
- 12.3-inch virtual driver’s instruments
- 10.9-inch touchscreen infotainment
- Bentley-branded analogue clock
- Bentley welcome lights
- Easy access system with driver’s seat
- 4-seat configuration (5- and 7-seat interiors also available)
The Bentley Bentayga hasn’t been crash tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but its platform mates – the Audi Q7/Q8, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg – have all been awarded five-star safety ratings by one or both organisations (the Porsche only carries a Euro NCAP rating).
Nevertheless, the Bentayga includes Bentley’s ‘City Specification’ as standard, which includes the following active safety equipment:
- City Safeguard (low-speed AEB)
- Pedestrian and cyclist warning
- Blind-spot assist
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Park assist (semi-autonomous parking aid)
- Traffic sign recognition
- 360-degree camera system
Our Bentayga S press car was also fitted with the higher-end Touring Specification, which is quoted as a $16,981 option.
This package adds:
- Adaptive cruise control
- Bentley Safeguard Plus (high-speed AEB)
- Head-up display
- Lane assist
- Night vision cameras
- Traffic assist (stop/go function)
Given most of the Bentayga’s siblings feature much of the Touring Specification standard, it’s disappointing it’s a pricey option for what is a high-end family hauler.
The Bentayga also comes fitted with a suite of airbags, including dual front, curtain, and side airbags for both rows of seating.
Like the wider Bentley range, the Bentayga is covered by the marque’s three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assistance for the same period.
Some might think it’s a bit of a cop out to warranty high-priced vehicles like Bentayga for what is a relatively short period, given most car makers these days provide at least five years, but it’s actually quite normal for cars at this price point – for example, Aston Martin provide the same length warranty period for the DBX.
As for servicing, Bentley offers three-and-five-year service plans in Australia, priced at $3950 and $7695 respectively for the Bentayga S.
Bentley claims the Bentayga will use 13.3L/100km, with 98 RON premium unleaded required as a minimum, but we saw average fuel consumption closer to 18L/100km during our drive program.
It’s no surprise that the Bentayga has been Bentley’s best-selling model every year since its 2016 debut, and the introduction of a sharper handling version is virtually guaranteed to boost the numbers yet again.
Compared with the standard V8, the Bentayga S not only delivers more adept handling – albeit with a slightly firmer ride – but it also gives owners more of that all-important exclusivity with its blacked-out look.
For those that want the ultimate Bentayga, though, they’ll choose the W12-powered Bentayga Speed, but for those well-to-do folks that value space above all else, Bentley now have the Bentayga Extended Wheelbase – coming soon.
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