With the Bentley Bentayga over Finnish islands. To sea, once more unto the breach, dear friends! With a Bentley Bentayga over the sea. During two days of intensive island hopping among the archipelago’s 27,000 islands, we test surface tension in the Sea of Åland with the world’s first super-SUV. Text: Fredrik Huldt. Photography: Peter Gunnars.
WE ARE ON OUR WAY STRAIGHT OUT INTO THE ARCHIPELAGO WITH HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND’S NEW FAVOURITE CAR. UNDOUBTEDLY ONE OF THE YEAR’S MOST GRANDIOSE ESCAPADES.
Imagine James Cameron's classic film scene from the ocean liner RMS Titanic’s foredeck with all the grand romance and drama involved. That is exactly what we have. The only difference is that we are in the stern of the passenger ferry m/s Eckerö. And instead of a languorous sunset, a gale is whistling through the masts while the 6,500 tonner heaves in a white-bearded Sea of Åland like a plough going through an undulating potato field. An hour ago we left the Swedish mainland at Grisslehamn with our sights set on Turku. The plan is to drive to Finland via the Åland archipelago for a photo shoot ,and to get to know the British Medusa of German descent currently resting on the parking deck.
The Bentayga is not only a brand new car from Bentley. It is a car without parallel and which is said to define both the future of the market and an entirely new class of car, the ultra-luxurious super-SUVs. As far as ambition goes, the factory leaves no scope for misinterpretation.
"Bentayga - the fastest, most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world."
Difficult not be curious and a tad provoked by such an audacious gambit. Can it really live up to all that? Will we enter Finland with an aftertaste of foie gras and champagne? Or will some iceberg- like arguments show up that sink the image of the perfect car to the bottom of the sea?
Arriving in Eckerö, we roll off the ferry and follow the trail of returning islanders south towards the capital, Mariehamn. There awaits nourishment, a slight refurb and photography. Then we have a couple of hours’ rest before the blare of the alarm clock machine at 04.45. Two large mugs of coffee later, we step out into the foul weather armed with four large sandwiches and burning curiosity.
There are two navigable routes from the Åland Islands to the Finnish mainland. We have chosen the northern line and are aiming to take the 06.00 ferry from Hummelvik. To our surprise, we are not alone in the pitch-blackness at the ferry quay. On the contrary. We have landed right in the middle of the archipelago’s morning rush hour. A quick check with ÅSUB, Åland’s official statistics authority, shows that there are 21,500 passenger cars registered on the Åland Islands among the 28,666 inhabitants. 752 cars per 1,000 inhabitants. The Åland Islands have the most cars per capita in the Nordic region.
On the small archipelago ferry, the super-SUV’s proportions are immediately noticeable. At 5.14 metres long with 2.22 metres between unfolded door mirrors, it’s not difficult to understand why it got the nickname "Big Ben". Driving on board is a balancing act where the smallest deviation will trigger the factory’s insurance deductible of 5,000 euros. According to the data sheet, the Bentayga has a height of 174 centimetres, but during our impatient wait to roll on board the photographer has explored the car’s Drive Dynamics Controller. The controller selects the Bentayga’s eight different drive settings. Steering, ESP, engine characteristics and gearbox behaviour are all affected.
DDC also sets the air suspension’s damping and the car’s ride height. In off-road mode, with the highest available ground clearance, the Bentayga touches 1.8 MASL, which is the height for a lorry ticket on the ferries. A ticket that costs three times more than one for passenger cars. We realise what is happening and, in a magical moment of automobile limbo dancing, the Bentayga sinks down under the bar again. The production budget has been saved. At last we chug out among the archipelago’s 27,000 islands and the sunrise makes the frosty hills sparkle like diamonds in the water. The ferry sails in a north-easterly direction to Kumlinge, past Lapua and on over the open sea to Brandö. Here we can finally let the W12 take a deep breath.
We are dealing with the latest version of the group’s ultra-compact W12, at 6 litres with double twin-scroll turbo. Updated and honed down to the tiniest detail. It now has 608 hp, and I honestly don’t know how to describe the feeling when the accelerator hits the extra thick, Deep Pile Overmat carpet. When you go to an amusement park and sit belted into the scariest roller coaster ride you can imagine, you have a feeling what to expect when it pulls away. If, on the other hand, you are at home in your favourite armchair in front of the TV with a good book on your lap, you don’t expect the living room to suddenly take off from 0 to 100 in 4.1 seconds. Sweet Jesus.
900 Nm takes itself from the engine to the asphalt through a mellifluous eight-speed ZF gearbox and permanent four-wheel drive with Torsen centre diff. We sadly don’t manage to get too far up the speedometer before the island ends. Brandö is beautiful, but the Isle of Man would have been better for this. The Bentayga could have stretched out to its dizzying top speed of 301 km/h there. A speed that the factory test drivers are said to have maintained for “extended periods of time”. It must have been a magical moment at Volkswagen’s highspeed track when this big boy broke the 300 km/h dream barrier.
It is noticeable that cars play an important role out here. The archipelago has fantastic main roads where each combination of bends feels like a journey through an oil painting. Mile after mile of wild sea, frozen golden yellow reeds and seabirds struggling against gusts of wind right outside the window.
I find it a little difficult putting my finger on the driving experience the Bentayga delivers. When you close the driver’s door it feels like you set your senses free. Enclosed in an impermeable membrane in a bubble where the air is cleaner, where the climate is more pleasant. Where the light flooding in through the windows appears to photoshop the image of the views you pass. The car is so quiet that when you come to a junction the noise of the indicator light makes you jump. Every toilet break results in a shock when you open the door and are once again confronted by harsh reality.
A heavy car with a high centre of gravity that needs to deliver terrain qualities, race car performance and silky smooth comfort faces considerable challenges. Off-road driving requires high ground clearance, a responsive set-up and long suspension travel. In high-speed bends, a low centre of gravity, hard suspension and stable anti-roll bars are needed. Which in turn makes the car hopeless from a comfort point of view. Bentley’s solution is a combination of adaptive air suspension with four different ride heights and a unique 48 volt active anti-roll system. It provides extreme scope between the extremities in the car’s set-up and lightning fast reactions in the conversions. All, it would seem, without devastating compromises. In many ways the car feels like a big muscle that when tensed offers comprehensive dynamic capacity and roll stiffness when driving under load. When the muscle relaxes the Bentayga is transformed into a hovercraft which seems totally detached from the roughness of the ground. As long as you don’t brake hard, the car’s 2.44 tonnes is almost impossible to detect in the chassis movements.
We park by an abandoned boathouse at a small lagoon at the end of Jurmo. With views of Norrön and the Archipelago Sea, this is the furthest north in the outer archipelago that can be reached by car. A welcome snack break for rumbling stomachs and a chance to experience the aesthetic qualities of the car from the outside. The exterior has been created by the Korean Sang Yup Lee under the supervision of Bentley’s previous design manager Luc Donckerwolke. The Belgian behind Lamborghini’s reincarnation with the Murciélago and Gallardo in the beginning of the 2000s, when Audi took charge at Sant’Agata. He had a short stint at Seat before moving to Crewe. I see a car with substance and power in its contours, which distinctly carries the Bentley legacy from the Volkswagen era. Spectacular yet minimalist, ostentatious without being vulgar and awe-inspiring without being theatrical. Anyone looking at the car for a few seconds extra can find gorgeous details and themes. Like the rear wheel arches’ silhouettes on the rear doors and the headlights’ magnificent string of LEDs. As a whole, sadly I feel that it seems very predictable. Two qualities I don’t see at all are beauty and desire.
The ambivalent impression is further reinforced by the fact that our model has been varnished in Portofino colour. A babyblue metallic paint. If I had the chance to spec a Bentayga, I would go the other way. It would benefit from a big dose of an unashamedly masculine army feel. No big deal as Bentley offers eleven shades of green. Those knowledgeable of the brand’s history would choose Barnato. A solid and gutsy variant of British racing green named after the legendary Woolf Barnato, the Bentley Boys’ most significant figure, who won Le Mans three times in three attempts. In 1928 with Bernard Rubin (Bentley 4 ½ Litre), 1929 with “Tim” Birkin (Bentley Speed Six) and 1930 with Glen Kidston (Bentley Speed Six).
A fisherman in waders and Helly Hansen gear looks wideeyed in our direction from his vessel. Perhaps he sees that which should be clear for all to see. That we are not for real. Real Bentley people don’t stand in the mud beside their “Tayga” and eat home-made sausage sandwiches. Real Bentley people sit on the tailgate on their fold-out event seat, a patented picnic sofa, and eat hot food on specially made porcelain and drink cold wine from specially made glasses. Served from the car’s Linley Hamper by Mulliner. The picnic basket costs about as much as a Golf GTI. The wife says: – Darling, what time is it? The husband glances over the seat-back at the automatic rotating and self-winding Mulliner Tourbillon by Breitling watch (currently the most expensive car accessory with a price tag of 1.5 million SEK) and says: – My love, we have all the time in the world.
PG spits out a snus and puts in a new pouch, the fisherman returns to his nets and I note that it’s time to roll. We are booked on the 21.00 ferry from Turku back to Stockholm. To get there, we must first get the boat in time from Jurmo back to Bolmö and Åva to get the last boat to Osnäs and the Finnish mainland. I f we miss any of those, we will be sleeping under the stars.
The Bentayga is an SUV. A product of the industry's ongoing pursuit of new cultivable areas. At the same time it’s an unmistakeable Bentley. Full to the brim with all the qualities of the Crewe factory. Artisinal production with enormous care given to the details that carefully incorporate W.O,s legendary, almost 100 years’ manufacturing tradition in every fibre of its body. Pending cars like the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and the Mercedes-Maybach GLS, it’s hard to find anything to compare it with. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S? That would be like comparing business class on a Boeing 737 with a first-class ticket on an Airbus A380. Range Rover? At first glance they speak the same language. But not even its most luxurious version reaches up to the ankles of the Bentayga. Where the Range Rover is a sophisticated tractor, the Bentayga is a silk-encrusted iron fist with a far more multifaceted and sharp-edged arsenal at its disposal. A car which is both relaxing and exciting. Exceptionally comfortable while at the same time offering extraordinary explosiveness on those few choice occasions when its master orders full speed ahead.
We drive on board the M/S Viking Grace in Turku. It strikes me that the 218-metre long cruise ship is the only creature on our trip that has made the Bentayga feel small.
THE CAYENNE TURBO S PERFORMS THE SAME 0–100 TIME AS THE BENTAYGA, 4.1 SECONDS. BUT IN THE TOP-SPEED RACE IT’S CHANCELESS...
ONE LAST THING. THE BENTAYGA’S NAME IS NOT PRONOUNCED "BEN-TAH-GER". IF YOU WANT TO SOUND LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT, PRONOUNCE IT "BEN-TAY-GAH".
YOU QUICKLY REALISE THE MODEL’S EXCELLENCE. A GREAT PLATFORM TO BUILD COMFORT, POWER, ACCESSIBILITY, A WEALTH OF LUXURY AND TECHNICAL FEATURES ON. SUVS ARE IN LINE WITH THE TIMES. AN INDUSTRIAL BE THERE OR BE SQUARE. FOR THE CONSERVATIVE BENTLEY, THE DECISION PROBABLY GAVE RISE TO A FEW HEADACHES.
TECHNICAL DATA FACTS / 2017 BENTLEY BENTAYGA
Engine: W12, 5,950 cm3, TSI, twin-turbo
Max power 608 hp at 5,000 rpm
Max torque 900 Nm at 1,350–4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox (ZF 8HP). Four-wheel drive with Torsen center diff, open rear diff with electronic diff brake.
Chassis: Front axle with double wishbones, multi-link rear, active anti-roll bar front/rear. Ventilated steel discs all around (400 mm front, 380 mm rear) with 6-pistons front.
Dimensions and weight: Length/width/height 514/222/174 cm.
The Bentayga waits faithfully outside while we award ourselves a quick pit stop for a coffee refuel at Trixies Shop & Café in Gamla hälsogården on Brandö. "Big Ben" is 5,140 mm long with a wheel base of 2,995 mm. Kerb Weight is 2 440 kilos, percentually distributed 57.5 /42.5 between front and rear axles. The Bentayga rolls off the M/S Knipan at Torsholma. The Åland archipelago consists of 6,757 islands of at least 0,25 hectares. There are an additional 20,000 smaller islands and islets.
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