2020 Bentley Bentayga Speed road test

Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan puts the 2020 Bentley Bentayga Speed through its paces.

Spare a thought for the 2020 Bentley Bentayga Speed owner. As we speak they too are under lockdown, feeling cooped up and not being able to get out. It gets worse. When buying, they bypassed the base £130,500 Bentayga and chose the vastly more expensive £182,200 (in the UK) Bentley Bentayga Speed: the world’s fastest SUV.

They paid a whole £51,700 more for that particular privilege to cruise about with a W12 petrol engine humming with 626 bhp and 900 Nm of power that’s just itching to be prodded.

“Do not think the Bentayga in any guise is nothing short of an engineering triumph. It is”

Now these same owners have to come to terms with the fact that some Italian outfit called Lamborghini has almost equalled that 190 mph (306km/h) top speed with their less expensive Urus at £159,925. It does this by maxing the 4.0 litre V8 to reach 100km/h in 3.6 seconds while still carrying a portly 2,199 kerb weight and is 0.2 seconds quicker to 100km that the British W12 unit.

Warp speeds

It’s not all doom and gloom. As tremendous as the Lamborghini is, the buyer of the Bentley would never choose a car that wears its performance cufflinks so loudly on the outside. For one, the Lamborghini Urus looks not entirely unlike an Audi Q8.

That is another car that shares the same platform as the Urus and the Bentley. It will also demand concentration at those heady speeds. Not so the Bentayga Speed. To achieve these warp speeds on an unrestricted road in a vehicle so tall with 2,440 kerb weight is a masterful piece of engineering. Here’s proof: the original Lamborghini Countach poster car from the 1970s barely cracked a white-knuckled 170mph (274km/h) before running out of steam and got to 100km/h in a yawning 5.6 seconds.

Bentley has added tweaks to the exhaust while making it slightly lighter and tightened up the suspension system. My lasting memory of driving the Bentayga Speed from Belfast to Dublin was how utterly smooth but unrelenting it was in its surge from 30km/h to 120km/h.

The W12 engine at full bore acceleration doesn’t wail – it simply pulls and pulls with the impression that you’re only ever scratching at the Speed’s potential.

It’s not that silent surge you get in a high powered electric vehicle that makes you queasy after the second or third go but the sensation of immense thrust that never matches what the eyes see as the next bend fills the windscreen far too quickly. Good reactions are necessary to rein it back in.

The W12 feels thunderously fast and while rivals are set up for more aggressive and uncompromising driving each of them make you sweat for your speed.

In the Bentley you wallop past slow moving cars without so much as an eyebrow raised. You just look at the gap in front of the car you want to pass, accelerate and you’re there. If you have a bucket list of automotive things to tick you must drive a Bentley with a W12 engine.

I was curious how well the adaptive air suspension coped with one of my favourite roads harbouring uneven surfaces.

There was only one thing for it: Wellington Road in Dublin’s affluent 4. You may have your own favourite but Wellington Road never fails to unimpress. It’s a potted surface of patchwork repairs that puts the smuggest new car to the test.

Do well here and you’ll probably do well anywhere. Cruising up and down Wellington Road the Bentayga Speed dismissed the ruts and imperfections that frequently shake lesser cars to their chassis.

Bentley offers a choice of suspension modes – Comfort, Custom, Sport and Bentley mode. As the Bentley mode is the one recommended by Crewe I tried that setting first but as it adds a degree of firmness I ended up finding the optimum setting in Comfort.

You can provoke the Bentayga Speed but you will be made aware of how high the central point of inertia lies and how distance will be needed to dissipate the momentum if you overcook it.

Unlike a Porsche Cayenne there is measurable disconnection from the road surfaces, and this translates to a lack of feedback leaving the committed driver looking for more.

Be aware that the £182,200 price in the UK translates to a lot more expenditure when Irish taxes and import duties are applied. The bills for repairs will match this performance – a mixture of wide-eye disbelief and shock.

One question nagged me after the brief test. Does the Bentley Bentayga Speed offer that extraordinary Bentley sense of occasion? I have tested the Continental GT, previous generation Flying Spur and the glorious Mulsanne. If you dismiss the challenges of the high price each are a delightful experience that stays with you for some time. All the best cars do this. I became a bit stuck with the Bentayga Speed. Unfailingly every Bentley is a marvellous departure from the everyday grind.

But in the Bentayga Speed it eluded me. Everything was there – the impeccable luxury and a cocooning cabin that is more impressive than a tall Dubai hotel. You’ll always find the true Bentley magic in the saloons and coupes.

All offer unparalleled kerb side showmanship. Do not think the Bentayga in any guise is nothing short of an engineering triumph. It is.

The challenge it faces is the necessary swimming in a sea of similar looking luxury SUVs and that robs it of its last degree of exclusiveness: which is the actual point of buying an ultra luxury vehicle in the first place, isn’t it? Though, if you want the best, most powerful and luxurious SUV then the Bentayga in Speed specification is your high watermark. A few come close but nothing matches it.

You’ll like: Staggering W12 performance. Gorgeous interior, fittings, aromas, switches. The ultra-luxury SUV high watermark.

You’ll grumble: Price. Anonymous luxury. Try the V8 before you buy the W12.