When Bentley’s first-ever SUV arrives this summer, it won’t be just another six-figure truck. Instead, the Bentley Bentayga heralds the rise of a brand new automotive segment: the ultra-luxury sport utility vehicle.
Bentley’s model is an early arrival to a new movement of uber-posh, extremely expensive vehicles – made possible by an improving economy – that can scale sand dunes as capably as they collect the kids from soccer practice. Starting at $229,100, the Bentayga is nearly four times more expensive than a base model Porsche Cayenne. At top speeds of 187 m.p.h., the Bentayga will clock in as the fastest SUV in the world – at least until offerings from Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini arrive in 2018. Don’t forget about the forthcoming Maserati Levante and Jaguar F-PACE, either.
The Bentayga will likely appeal not only to current Bentley owners but also Cayenne and Land Rover drivers itching to spend more, said Robert Ross, automotive consultant for Robb Report. The new crop of SUVs will supplant Land Rover’s $150,000 Range Rover Autobiography as the rugged must-have vehicle for the elite, he said.
“The Rover has set the stage and done all of the heavy lifting,” Ross said. “It has been the benchmark by which all others are judged.”
With an all-new W12 powertrain, the 600-horsepower Bentayga can go from 0 to 60 in four seconds. It can also dominate sand dunes, scale boulders, and hold its own on the racetrack (I experienced all of this for myself on a trip to Palm Springs, Calif. earlier this month.) It takes 130 hours to make by hand at Bentley’s factory in Crewe, England and comes with an option for a removable, leather-trimmed picnic basket for tailgates.
Bentley plans to sell more than 5,000 Bentaygas worldwide in 2016. In contrast, carmaker sold just over 10,000 cars last year. Lamborghini also said it expects its SUV to be a volume seller, building close to 3,000 SUVs worldwide each year. The Italian luxury carmaker sold 3,245 cars last year.
But Bentley’s first mover advantage in the new ultra-luxury SUV segment is far from cemented.
“It can be advantageous to be a first mover if the product is truly breakthrough, defines a segment, and is measurably better than others who immediately follow it,” said Ed Kim, vice president at consulting firm AutoPacific. That includes the 1984 Chrysler minivans, 1991 Ford Explorer and 1999 Lexus RX, which defined the luxury crossover segment for years. But when it comes to luxury products, the advantage belongs to the newest model with the latest and greatest technology, he said.
My time with the Bentayga certainly put it to the test. Outside of Palm Springs, I drove the quarter-of-a-million-dollar SUV up rocks and across narrow bridges made of logs. I caroused in the rolling Glamis Dunes, gleefully cresting imposing hills of sand at 30% inclines. To top it off, I took a few spins around the track at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. If the Bentayga can be that much fun, I can’t wait to drive the others.