When Bentley first announced the Bentayga SUV a few years ago, it represented a seismic shift. Once known for being exclusively all about traditional cars, the company was preparing to enter a changing landscape and was looking to do it by creating something that could make a splash. The first generation Bentayga exceeded all expectations, and for a short while, was the definitive ultra-luxury SUV in the market. But the game has changed since then, and the Bentayga is swimming in a crowded pond with rivals such as the Aston Martin DBX, Lamborghini Urus, and even the Rolls Royce Cullinan (though Rolls execs won’t ever be caught publicly acknowledging the Bentayga as a true rival.) Bentley is not one to sit around and has unveiled the updated 2021 Bentayga. But can this updated Bentley fend off a growing list of rivals while still catering to the needs of brand loyalists at the same time?
Tweaked Exterior Styling Still Has Bentley Aura
Bentley stylists went far beyond what most mid-cycle refreshes are supposed to do and completely redid the Bentayga’s exterior styling. Every panel is all-new for 2021, and they all work together to give the Bentayga a meaner look. Our V8-equipped Magnetic hued example still exemplifies the broad-shouldered look that has defined many current Bentley models. Still, the front fascia now benefits from a bigger upright style grille and reworked LED headlights that borrow some of their design from the Continental coupe while also pushing them closer to the corners. The tweaked front bumper also tries to get in on the act with larger vents that enhance the illusion of much greater width. In reality, it’s all a trick of the eye, with the 2021 model being no wider than the outgoing 2020 version.
The side profile also benefits from some new curves, but it’s still largely a function-focused layout that highlights the roofline’s athletic design. The rear of the 2021 Bentayga is arguably the key area that has benefitted the most from the changes. The square-shaped taillights are gone and replaced with oval-shaped LED units that draw their inspiration from the Continental. A new clamshell-style liftgate also joins the party, and there’s even a tidy set of oval-shaped exhaust tips. Looking at it as a whole, the Bentayga looks less overdone, and the proportions actually do a much better job meshing with each other. While it might not be as wild-looking as its platform-mate the Lamborghini Urus, the 2021 Bentayga is still more athletic-looking than the Cullinan and is roughly on par with select flavors of Land Rover’s Range Rover SUV.
Reworked Interior Maximizes Visual Impact, Leaves Us Wanting More
Unlike the exterior, Bentley designers chose to take a less aggressive approach with the reworked interior and opted to make a bigger impact at a lower cost. A prominent example of this can be found in the dashboard, with the core foundation being largely unchanged from the old model. This allowed Bentley to avoid investing in new tooling, which gave them greater flexibility for updates. This includes the all-new 10.9-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which boasts more powerful software and enhances the Bentayga’s digital game with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities. The screen was easy to master, and we were impressed with the low lag times when navigating various menus. The few hard switches that remain are ergonomically placed and were easy to find. This old architecture also allowed Bentley to use the remaining existing spaces in the dashboard for the vents, including the traditional pull style controls and a new center vent design that adopts a winged shape. The front seats are very comfortable places to spend time in and have multiple massage settings and the ability to actually move the heat or cool zone to virtually where you want it in the upper or lower part of the seat.
Move to the second row, and you are greeted with a comfortable bench seat and Bentley’s removable TSR screen, which allows the rear-mounted screen to transform into a tablet-style remote. This is achieved with the help of specially designed magnets that lock the contraption in place but can be de-magnetized with the push of a button to allow it to function as a tablet. However, the driver will need to make sure that the parental locks are switched off. Otherwise, the screen will have limited functionality. The switches in question are on the driver door, but both screens don’t have a menu to tell you this, and we only found them ourselves after a brief search.
Bentley is also known for allowing customers to have a high degree of customization when tailoring the interior to best suit their needs. Our particular tester seemed to adopt a sportier theme with splashes of Hotspur red leather accents complemented by contrasting black elements. Buyers looking for a more traditional appearance can choose from different types of wood trim and other interior colors to help brighten things up.
The color combination our tester had helped create a striking atmosphere, but it also magnified some of the unique quirks and omissions that exist with the Bentayga. For example, the second row cannot be folded automatically, with owners having to do the process manually. While the muscle involved in this procedure is minimal, it’s a tough sell in a vehicle that costs over $200,000 and has Bentley’s pedigree. Some of the best passenger-focused features the Bentley has to offer cost extra, so careful examination of the options list is recommended to help isolate key items. It would have been welcome if some of the fore-mentioned features arrived as standard equipment, but hopefully, that’s in the cards for the future.
Bentayga Offers Potent Performance Even On Roadtrips
Buried in the layers of coddling and luxurious details is a wild side that allows Bentley offerings to be entertaining to drive while also serving as an echo to the brand’s racing exploits. In the case of the Bentayga, buyers get to choose from three different engines that offer very distinctively different flavors of performance. While the low end of the Bentayga range is covered by the Hybrid model powered by a 443 horsepower turbocharged V6 and eagerly embraces its fuel-saving mission, our tester arrived with the 4.0 liter twin-turbocharged V8, which will undoubtedly be the volume focused member of the family.
This mighty engine wields 542 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque enough to rocket the Bentayga to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 180 mph. That’s right in the ballpark with other ultra-luxury SUVs and will be more than enough performance for most buyers. The engine launches eagerly, especially in sport mode, but a noticeable period of turbo lag can give the Bentayga a rubber band-esque feel at times. But get it down right, and the Bentayga rewards the driver with spirited acceleration and a smooth surge of power that’s available all over the rev band. An eight-speed automatic is the lone transmission offering here. It does a good job working with the engine, especially when getting the right gear ready for freeway passing or waft about in urban commuting.
Thankfully the engine is more than just a straight line plaything and is a very smooth operator, with our tester having minimal engine vibration making its way to the well-isolated cabin. The exhaust delivers a welcome burble when it’s allowed to speak up, and our tester proved to be a very welcome companion in the rigors of the daily commute. The transmission also offers a wide range of drive modes, but we ultimately chose to leave it in “Bentley Mode.” This particular driving mode can be thought of as the perfect balance of both worlds and delivers both Sport and Comfort mode elements. Up to 38 percent of the engine’s power can be delivered to the front wheels (a trait it shares with Comfort mode), but it can still deliver solid acceleration when asked. Go all-in with Sport mode, and it sharpens various aspects of the SUV though the firmer suspension tune doesn’t resonate well with some of Michigan’s lunar-like roads. Range-topping Speed models come equipped with a 6.0 liter twin-turbocharged W12, but we recommend sticking with the V8 since it’s a better balance of performance and value.
How Does It Do On A Roadtrip?
A key reason why the Bentayga exists is to cater to well-heeled buyers that might need something to haul the family and their gear long distances. To find out how the Bentayga excelled in this role, we embarked on one of our famous road trips deep into the thumb area of Michigan to see a good friend of Emily’s as well as to sample a local restaurant in the area. The 75.1-mile journey would take us past some of Michigan’s best farmland and provide a glimpse into how the Bentayga measured up as a long hauler.
As the miles melted away along with the final snow of the season, the Bentayga impressed us both with its ride quality and handling, with the steering doing a good job of communicating what the front tires were doing with the road. Like other SUVs, there’s some mushiness evident on occasion, but it’s still a very accurate tiller. A brief stop at an artesian spring (a rarity in this part of Michigan) helped refresh these weary travelers and also gave the Bentley a well-deserved break from soaking up the miles. The spring itself has been in use by locals for a long time, and some area residents swear by its quality and flavor. We have even since collected jugs of it ourselves during subsequent excursions (it’s that good, folks.)
With our thirst quenched, we resumed our trip towards Caro, and the latter half of our journey also allowed us to fall in love with the base 12-speaker sound system. While it’s not quite as potent as the optional Naim sound system that can be equipped to it, our tester’s stereo still did a good job delivering crystal clear audio quality and earned high marks from Emily as well as her friend Sarah.
After having a tasty lunch at Club 24 Sports Bar and saying goodbye to Sarah, we decided to go a bit further up and entered the small city of Unionville. This lonely speck on the map is considered the unofficial gateway to the broader thumb area, and the surrounding farms are also home to the massive Cross Winds Energy Park. The sprawling wind farm was built by Consumers Energy and is split into three sections. All three help generate 111 megawatts of power, which not only powers Tuscola County but also helps provide green energy to other areas in Michigan.
A Green Future Is In Store For Bentley
Our visit to CWEP was also symbolic because of Bentley’s recent moves towards being an all-electrified brand moving forward. Part of the “Beyond 100” plan, this initiative will see Bentley gradually morph into an all-electric brand moving forward. The first step of the plan will see Bentley unleash two plug-in hybrid models during 2021. The Bentley Bentayga PHEV (one of the two) was recently launched, bu
t we get to wait a bit longer to see the other one. After that, PHEV models will emerge for all models along with an all-electric BEV car in 2025. The transformation is set to be completed in 2030, when Bentley will have pure electric models only.
The plan is, of course, subject to change ( the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic didn’t exist back when Bentley announced it), but we do look forward to seeing the physical fruits of the next few steps of the plan, especially in 2030 when Bentley ditches ICE powerplants for good.
Pricing for the 2021 Bentley Bentayga reflects the unique slice of the ultra-luxury market it occupies, with base models starting at $177,000. As you would expect, options, Mulliner sourced goodies, and other items can cause the price tag to rapidly eclipse that figure in short order. Our tester arrived with over $20,000 of optional extras, which helped push the final tally to an eye-watering $209,195. This pricing ladder also allows it to be within striking distance of rivals. For instance, there’s only a $1,000 or so difference between a base Bentayga and a DBX ($176,900). Yet, our opulent tester was a few grand less than a comparably equipped Aston Martin DBX that’s currently visiting the office.
This pricing is also noticeably less expensive than a Range Rover SVAutobiography model. The Range Rover does win out with an extra row of seats, but buyers will have to deal with a glitchier infotainment system and firmer leather thrones.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.