2023 Bentley Bentayga EWB Review: A chariot awaits
You’re entitled to wonder about the purpose of the Bentley Bentayga, beyond bringing long-elusive profitability to a storied British luxury brand by hacking into the popular SUV market. After all, if you’re buying an SUV it’s mainly to cart around kids and dogs and Home Depot stuff, and in that case $100,000 should be tops for a car that will be barfed on, shed in, and slobbered upon as it shuttles between schools, doggy salons, and malls. But here is the Bentayga, which starts just shy of $200K and can easily zap closer to $300K with some options.
Yet as we all know, SUVs have largely replaced a host of other sleds—Mercedes sedans with little flags on the fenders, Cadillac limos with boomerang antennas—as the luxury mount of the elite. And with raging popularity comes proliferating choice. Now, for example, Bentley has expanded the Bentayga range beyond the standard model first launched for 2016. To produce the $229,175 Bentayga EWB, Bentley dropped another seven inches into the wheelbase. (Thus the suffix that stands for “extended wheelbase.”) And unlike most SUVs that are stretched to accommodate a third seat row, the Bentayga EWB is (at least, for now) about deeding more of the baronial estate to the rear-seat passengers to stretch their legs.
A tempting way to take advantage of the extra room is an $11,195 option called “Airline Seat Specification,” which in concert with the “Four Seat Comfort Specification” (another $3720) replaces the standard rear bench with two articulating thrones that have a claimed 22 separate adjustments. (We didn’t actually count them.) Despite the many ways the seat can tilt, recline, massage, warm, cool, and coddle your body in sumptuous perfumed leather backed up by a featherbed-like stuffing, it somehow never managed to achieve a position of perfect comfort for us. The seat bottoms are a little short, the seatback shape a little too convex to feel like you’re fully sitting in them rather than on them. If you raise the motorized leg rest, your feet dangle. At all times you feel like you’re riding a little high in the cabin.
Granted, for short hauls it’s quite pleasant, suggesting that designers had in mind a quick executive shuttle to waiting Gulfstreams and Dassault Falcons. For long stints, however, these seats might get tiresome. Perhaps that’s why they called them “airline” seats, an association that for many is not necessarily positive. It no doubt sounded better than “Fractional Jet Ownership Seat Specification.”
The base Bentayga shares its bones with the Audi Q7 down to the 117.9-inch wheelbase, and the EWB’s is probably closer to—if not exactly the same as—the forthcoming Audi Q9. The VW Group’s family 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 is the only engine choice in the EWB, rated at 542 horsepower in the Bentley, which is plenty. Despite a very soft throttle calibration, which slow-rolls the Bentayga off the line unless you really mash it, the big Bentley can make a solid head of steam when needed. The claim is 4.5 seconds to 60 mph for an all-wheel-drive, air-sprung machine that weighs well above 5000 pounds. It also hacks through a corner with car-like grip and restrained body motions that belie its girth. It’s extremely quiet inside, as well, which is really where your big bucks are going. All that near-silence makes for a perfect setting in which to soak in the Naim stereo, which delivers the symphony (or cacophony) of your choice with impressive clarity.
Effectively, the Bentayga EWB replaces the lately lamented Mulsanne sedan, which ended production in 2020 as the last truly hand-made outlier in a lineup that otherwise heavily leverages the VW Group’s mass-production body plants and drivetrain parts bins to hold down costs. Also going away soon is the W-12 engine that is optional on the standard-wheelbase Bentayga—a victim of ever-tightening emissions standards. Bentley expects its new hybrid powertrain (which we drove in the Flying Spur) to be the Bentayga’s best seller. Alas, it’s getting harder and harder to be exclusive in this world of increasing economization. What’s an oligarch to do?
That’s not to say that the Bentayga feels cheap in any way; everywhere an eyeball or a finger lands on the exterior or interior, a heavily fussed-over surface awaits to convey opulence. But step back and the similarities to Audi products, from the overall proportions to the control layout to the telematic screens, are hard to disguise. On the other hand, few people outside of the industry would notice. Even fewer would care. And in the end, sitting in a Bentayga’s “Airline Seat” is better than sitting in an actual airline seat going just about anywhere today.
2023 Bentley Bentayga EWB
Price: $229,175 / $263,500 (base / as-tested)
Highs: Superb NVH isolation. Thumping Naim stereo. Impressive body control for a vehicle this massive.
Lows: “Airline” rear bucket seats never feel quite right. Similarities to VW Group siblings diminish Bentley’s air of exclusivity.
Takeaway: With always-welcome additional legroom, the Bentayga EWB is a cosseting, competent shuttle to your waiting Gulfstream.
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