Monday, January 24, 2022

First drive: 2020 Bentley Bentayga prototype

The hard-worked prototype cars in South Africa were a long way from the gleaming models in the official images, wearing lumpy black cladding to disguise their shape (and with fake rear lights looking like those of the pre-facelift car.) The cabins had drop-down fabric screens to cover trim from the risk of passing spy photographers when the cars were stationary, although these could be rolled up when the cars were on the move. They also featured data-logging systems, with the engineering team recording even seemingly insignificant issues to help get the cars ready for launch.

Although some will miss the option of the 6.0-litre W12, the V8 has always felt like a considerably more sensible choice, losing little in terms of performance or character. As before, the 4.0-litre engine’s effortless muscularity remains its defining characteristic, with plentiful low-down torque and lag-free responses making it accomplished at the sort of low-intensity cruising Bentleys are often used for. But proper sound and fury is never far away if you want it, the engine pulling hard and cleanly to the 7000rpm limiter and still snarling nicely at the top end. It still has cylinder deactivation, which shuts down four of them on gentle use to modestly boost economy, but it remains near impossible to discern this happening.

A drive in what is now a ‘rest of world’ spec W12 mule confirmed that the V8 feels barely slower under all but the most enthusiastic use. To be honest, its loss isn’t a particularly great one. The eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox remains as impressive as ever, with the happy knack of almost always being in the right gear when left to its own devices while also providing snappy changes under manual control.

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The chassis revisions haven’t significantly altered the way the Bentayga V8 drives, although the engineers reckon the track increase has slightly reduced steering input. It certainly changes direction well for something of its size and mass, the prototype finding impressive grip from its monster 22in Pirelli P Zeros.

Bentley was first to offer a 48V electric anti-roll system and it still impresses, effectively cancelling out pitch at everyday loadings and only allowing a small amount back as speeds increase. The Bentayga will never feel as sharp as a Urus, but the comfort-orientated ride-handling compromise continues to be very well judged for this part of the market.


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