When someone from my Missouri hometown heard about the $300,000 Bentley Bentayga I was driving, they remarked, “It better have lasers and night vision for that price.” Sadly, it only has one of those, and it’s not the lasers. Even still, the see-in-the-dark feature doubles as a great party trick and a genuinely useful assist once you get used to it.
Bentley's sci-fi-like driver aid uses a Forward InfraRed sensor and an electronic control unit to cast a real-time feed of what's ahead onto the crispy 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. It shows the heat signature of everything within its 24-degree view, so long as it's within 450 feet or so. That gives you roughly 5.5 seconds to react to an obstacle in the road at 55 miles per hour, or roughly four seconds if you're going 70 mph.
There’s no crazy startup procedure to initiate night vision. You just click a button to the left of the leather-wrapped steering wheel and it pops up on the dash. It doesn’t take up the entire screen, though a lot of display real estate is dedicated to showing what looms in the shadows.
In my case, it was usually my dog, Arlo. He’s a 160-pound Newfoundland who’s too lazy to get out of his own way, let alone a Bentley’s. But I also used the feature on our Ozark backroads, which are teeming with all kinds of critters. I obviously couldn’t snap pictures of every raccoon and opossum the Bentley’s system picked up—I was driving, after all—though I do have photographic evidence that it works.
Here's the system showing what's in my driveway:
And in my sister-in-law's driveway, where her goats love to sit, stand, and play
Now, Bentley doesn't allow you to turn off the headlights while driving and rely entirely on night vision. That'd be a horrible idea. If you're parked, though, you can cut the lights and let nature come to you. I tried it at my family's creekside property but I think the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8's exhaust scared the varmin away. It's just too rumbly, I guess.
When you're moving, the display highlights oncoming obstacles with yellow boxes. You also get an audible chime, meaning you don't have to keep a constant eye on the screen. It recognizes traffic so you don't get an alert every time you pass a car on the highway, but if something is sitting still or entering the path you're traveling on, it lets you know loud and clear.
I was afraid this might be a gimmick or novelty when I first heard about it, but I actually found it to be pretty handy. Night vision was engaged every time I drove the Bentley in the dark, mainly because I couldn't even afford to replace a broken grille on a Bentayga. Fortunately, with the car's help, I never had to worry about that.
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