Bentley Bentayga: the Ultra-Luxury Brand’s First SUV

Heritage. It’s word that has much significance amongst today’s car manufacturers. For a brand such as Bentley this means many things, not least of which incorporating design cues that are in tune with the brand, showcasing its identity through the product. But what happens when the carmaker enters into an all-new segment in which it has no products?

The Bentayga is the first SUV for Bentley, but that doesn’t mean it has no baggage. “It had to be unmistakably Bentley, but with a modern, contemporary touch, not trendy,” says head of exterior design Sang Yup Lee, who concedes that the US market was a top priority for the ultra-luxury car.

Just as the EXP 10 Speed 6 Concept, the Bentayga was inspired by the legendary Bentley Speed Six (aka Blue Train), a car that famously completed a run from Cannes to London six minutes faster than it took the actual Blue Train to travel from Cannes to Calais — still on the French side of the channel — in 1928.

The Speed Six is part of the reason why the Bentayga looks the way it does. Lee cites the Blue Train as inspiration for the project, stating: “It is a very SUV-like car; we wanted to reinterpret it in a contemporary way.” The Speed Six’s epic trip so embodies Bentley’s values — a marque steeped in racing history and luxury — that the current Bentley Boys still admire the vehicle that is now owned by Washington collector Bruce McCaw.

Previewed in concept form more than three years ago as the EXP 9F, the Bentayga was entirely reworked. It rides on the VW Group’s MLB platform, which it shares with the Audi Q7. As such, the Bentayga has the same wheelbase as the Q7 but is 150mm longer, with most of the added length in the rear overhang.

As has become typical with the Volkswagen Group, the design phase included early contributions from the Group’s California design studio and Italdesign as well as Bentley’s own design proposals in Crewe. At least three full-size models were built, each with subtle differences. The final selected design came from the Crew-based team.

Lee defines the Bentayga as more of an ultra-luxury crossover than a two-box SUV. “We want to highlight all of the elements of [Bentley] sedans,” he says.

As such, the DLO is longer than the long wheelbase Range Rover from front glass to rear glass; a thick body side and high beltline accompanies the stretched profile and fast backlight, which has a 50 percent rake rather than a sharp dropoff as on other SUVs; and the short decklid, strong C-post, and prominent rear haunch — all defining aesthetic elements for Bentley — were design cues that had to feature on the Bentayga as well.

“These proportions are a statement we want to make,” says Lee, citing the brand’s timeless design cues that were fused with progressive craftsmanship techniques to create a new approach to modern British luxury. “We wanted to make it long, stretched, but usability had to be emphasized in the trunk space.”

The front end is “100 percent Bentley”, with the four lamps that standout as brand identifiers. The fenders are made entirely from superformed aluminum, a cutting edge technology that heats up the material before it is slowly stamped into shape. The technique enables the aluminum – which is very thin – to retain its lightweight characteristics while also rendering it very strong.

The entire front fender is one single element, one of the largest single pieces ever created by the VW Group. But besides being technically avant-garde, the superform technique also enabled designers to create more intricate shapes to control the reflections of light on the car and remove unsightly shutlines from the bodyside.

“[The] big surfaces and bold volumes were only achievable with this technique,” says Lee.

The Bentayga has no visible bumper and no cutline in the surface from fender to front air dam. A hole was later punched into the fender to create an aperture for the LED Matrix headlamps, which sit completely flush with the surrounding panel and feature ‘jewelry’ exclusive to Bentley – the 3D quality of this detailing is superb.

“Great proportions were the most important for the design,” says Lee, “Then when you get closer, the level of perfection has to be exquisite to differentiate ourselves.”

This differentiation was achieved through high attention to detail. There is a 5mm radii on the shoulderline/haunch and a 2mm radii on the front fender, which captures light in different ways. The negative and positive surfacing on the either side of the central spline on the hood, on the shoulderline and on the top of the front fender enable an interesting play of light over the car when viewed from different angles.

The goal was to make a very strong, timeless design where different elements present themselves upon the second and third read. “[It’s] a journey of discovery,” says Lee. “You don’t see it immediately, you see the beauty of the surfaces later.”

The overall form is one that’s quite interesting; it’s at once a tough, rugged design, which also has subtle detailing that lends it a sense of power and sophistication. This is evidenced in the design of the secondary light unit at the front. It not only houses the DRL and indicator lamp, but also integrates the headlamp washer nozzle at its center. It is completely hidden from view, which helped designers avoid the need to add an additional cutline into the fender form.

“Bentley is more about British elegance and unseen elements,” says Lee, “It’s not just tech for the sake of it. Everyone is trying to do tech, we interpret this with sophistication.”

The sculptural power vent on the fender is an inverted B, communicating the brand’s identity. The graphic is repeated in the two-piece LED taillamp design, further reinforcing the identity in the car’s DRG, which can be seen either day or night. And the 3D aesthetic of the headlamp design draws attention to the quality and precision of the technology within.

The chunky wheel designs — offered in three different sizes ranging from 20- to 22-inches in diameter – fill the wheelarches rather well, detracting visual weight from the design in side view. The sharp feature lines on the bodyside are similar to the single element on the Continental GT, and also serve to break up the surface for a sportier look and feel.

At the rear there is an integrated event seat, where well-heeled clientele can sit as they enjoy the contents of the optional Linley hamper. Comprising of three bespoke cases trimmed in matching quilted hide, the central box contains crockery and cutlery with a flying B bottle stopper positioned on vehicle centerline. A fridge is also available to discerning customers should they wish to keep their strawberries and cream and their champagne chilled.

“The big rear trunk is all about usability towards lifestyle,” Lee says of the neoprene-lined stowage area. “This utility is necessary for owners.”

The interior, led by Darren Day, was also inspired by heritage. Authentic materials permeate the cabin, with real metal and wood being used to create a luxurious atmosphere that is as cosseting as it is contemporary. But the designers also had to translate forms from other Bentley products into the design as well.

The centerpiece is the waveform IP, which was decided upon early on in the process. “The interior of the new SUV started with a simple concept; the iconic Bentley ‘wings’,” says Day. “For many years Bentley interiors have been defined by this graphic, symmetrical and pure, sitting in front of the occupants.”

The wing theme has evolved from other models in the Bentley range, positioning the interior between the sportier interpretation seen in the Continental and the elegant, formal interpretation of the Mulsanne. In the Bentayga it is defined as a double wing motif, which flows from door to door, emphasizing the width of the cabin. And though the wing form appears perfectly symmetrical, the driver’s side is slightly higher to highlight the driver-focus intent of the cabin.

“The double wing architecture brings multiple aspects to the SUV interior; its balance and symmetry provides a perception of calm and relaxation whilst its vertical aspect emphasizes the driver focused ‘command drive’ nature of the vehicle,” says Day.

The Bentayga’s levels of luxury and attention to detail are indeed comparable to those of the range topping Mulsanne, a Maybach or Rolls-Royce sedan. The team from Crewe will also need to go up against the BMW owned ultra-luxury brand in due course, and Maserati will also be joining the SUV fold soon enough. So what makes it stand out?

Leather trimmed and swathed in wood and metal – materials that were seen as essential in denoting high quality authenticity — the interior uses 14 hides of leather, which have a touch and feel unique to Bentley. Even the scent of the hides is specific to the luxury brand.

As with the exterior design, the detail execution in the interior is remarkable. Thin chrome bezels sit next to deeply lacquered veneers; the stitch alignment mimics the perfection of a tailored suit; and there are hidden delights within the cabin as well, most notably the knurled pattern on the steering wheel shift knobs and the perforated-metal mesh that serves as a cover for the Bang and Olufsen speakers. The interplay between old world craftsmanship and the precision of new materials exudes quality.

In tune with the lifestyle orientation of the new offering, the Bentayga is available in 75 different color combinations, a significant addition to the current palette of 25. The seat belts themselves are available in five colors and the shutlines can be trimmed out to whatever color the customer specifies. This goes a long way towards creating the personalized, bespoke product that a discerning luxury clientele is seeking.

The underlying theme of the interior is one of precision – all of the elements are assembled to ensure no gap is larger than .3mm. This level of detail execution is simply unmatched by any competitor to date, ensuring that the British brand will stand out from the burgeoning luxury SUV pack. And if that wasn’t enough, the Bentayga is also claimed to be the fastest SUV as well, faster even than Porsche’s Cayenne Turbo S.

Along with the plethora of variations available in materials and colors, the HMI’s software and hardware is also specific to the Bentayga. “Technology is something you cannot ignore,” says Lee.

The Bentayga therefore features a completely updated HMI to accommodate both an analogue and digital combination to suit customers’ ever increasing, cutting edge technological cravings. It also caters to drivers through the five different driving modes available, including a fully manual mode.

“It’s like a butler to help you,” Lee says of these different ‘characters’. “He only shows up when you need him, it’s up to you to decide what kind of butler you want to have.”

With Bentley stretching its wings (pun intended) — evidenced not only by the Bentayga but also the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept — it is clear that the Crewe based company is looking to broaden the range with new products, pushing forward with new concepts and into new segments. A new, smaller CUV is mooted to join the lineup in the next few years, as is an electric vehicle offering.

“Bentley won’t be small anymore,” says Lee, “The designs will continue to interpret the DNA codes of the brand in a contemporary way.”

And so the history and lineage of the Bentley brand continues.


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