Deep in the leafy gardens of the Sunset Marquis Hotel, Bentley introduced its latest rolling homage to opulence: The Bentayga “First Edition” superluxe SUV. It’s a fitting location for such a debut; this legendary hotel has offered protection and pampering to well-heeled glitterati for more than a half-century. Roger Waters famously laid low here during the L.A. Riots in 1992. Actor Billy Bob Thornton once called the hotel “everything you’d ever dreamed.” The Beastie Boys had to be stashed away from police after committing unmentionable acts in the Jacuzzi—in front of mimosa-sipping Sunday brunchers, no less.
This setting of intoxicating indulgence embodies the British automaker to the bone; it’s the aura upon which the brand, and its infamous “Bentley Boys” history, are built.
Crowned by the bright bougainvillea of the hidden villas, the “First Edition” Bentayga seemed a gleaming, mechanical manifestation of this affluent spirit. As with any vehicle sporting the Winged B on its grille, Bentley’s new SUV boasts many superlatives. It is the fastest and most powerful SUV ever unleashed on the market. It is also the most expensive, with the First Edition starting at $297,400. Because if Bentley’s going to launch war on an entirely new beachhead in the automotive landscape, it’s going to come out with aluminum-knurled guns blazing.
So the First Edition has bespoke ambient lighting, illuminated treadplates, and rich lambswool carpeting. You’ll find Union Jack badges by the front doors, a Breitling timepiece in the dash, and a complex screen pattern etched on the 1,800-watt, 18-speaker Naim sound system grills. Dark Fiddleback wood trim (or one of eight other veneers) laces the console. Seatbacks, too, for the enjoyment of chauffeured passengers. Rear riders also get an entertainment package with large, removable 10.2-inch Android tablets.
Other First Edition fineries include a leather-clad “Event Seat” and three-box cutlery set, crafted by the woodworking masters of Lord David Linley. But the greatest extravagance is a Bentayga-customized Breitling wristwatch, of which you can select from three options. For the adventurist, the 51-mm Emergency 2, featuring a personal locator beacon in case you venture so far off-road that it necessitates helicopter rescue. The Cockpit B50 is a bit smaller at 46-mm, and more style-oriented. The woman’s Chronomat 38 is for the lady of the house.
Oh, right. The car. There’s an exclusive exterior package featuring deep-set 22” black-and-polished wheels and carbon fiber bits, including the rear spoiler. Lest you think the aero is merely cosmetic, remember this is the fastest SUV ever put into production. Its 187-mph top speed is quicker than the runner-up, the Cayenne Turbo S, with which the Bentayga shares a chassis. This Bentayga is a 7,200-lb gilded behemoth that launches from 0-60 mph in 4 seconds flat. This could be the first mega ute that actually needs extra downforce.
The First Edition will be limited to only 608 examples, one for each horsepower its 6-liter, twin-turbocharged W-12 engine generates by European measurements (600 hp by U.S. standards). Only 75 First Edition Bentaygas will come to the Americas. That’s about 12 percent of the run, which is considerably less than America’s 29 percent Bentley market share. Maybe the number crunchers in Crewe figured the First Edition will sell better in Bentley’s other Bentayga-starved zones (Russia, the Middle East and China).
Bentley will soon have big-ticket, diamond-beveled competition storming the same beachhead from all fronts. Aston Martin , Lamborghini , and, most dangerously, Rolls-Royce are all loading up heavy SUV artillery. The latter is prepping for a vehicle known internally as the “Cullinan”, which reportedly may retail as high as $400,000, putting severe upmarket pressure on the Bentayga. But that’s in 2017, at the earliest.
Seeing as the First Edition hits showrooms this spring, Bentley will own this burgeoning ultralux SUV segment for almost two years, unchallenged. Sure, the Range Rover SV Autobiography and Mercedes-AMG G65 have lofty price tags—$220,000 and $200,000 respectively. But both are bedazzled versions of models you can squeak into for less than half the cost of the Bentayga. So their exclusivity tag—one of the strongest selling points for finicky oligarchs—isn’t quite as aspirational. Barring an unexpected worldwide economic collapse, the Bentayga will sell by the fistful. Last year was a record breaker for Bentley, which moved 11,020 vehicles, up nine percent from 2013. Don’t expect that to slow anytime soon.
But sales aren’t really the concern, are they? What has Bentley purists foaming at the mouth is the mere fact that Crewe would even consider a Flying B-badged SUV, much less build one. That complaint is unfounded. Bentley isn’t a performance car builder—it’s a luxury craft producer. They’re not beholden to GTs, the way Porsche isn’t beholden to rear-engine sportscars with round headlamps. If potential consumers demand Bentley’s level of luxury in a new format—in this case, a gargantuan SUV— then it would be completely illogical for the brand not to address this market.
What’s of utmost importance is how Bentley addresses it. Early photos of the Bentayga made me wince, but in the metal it’s much more elegant. Stretching the handsome, signature Bentley features around a bloated SUV frame might seem like taking Diner Mickey Rourke’s face and wrapping it around The Wrestler Mickey Rourke cranium. Not so. The Bentayga retains muscular proportions and timeless, British restraint. Say what you will about the extravagances, they are never garish; the Bentayga stays true to form, even in sumptuous First Edition trim.
On second thought, maybe the Sunset Marquis wasn’t the best place for Bentley to show off its ultra-luxe SUV. Somewhere up in the hills, high above the hotel, someone’s building a $500 million house, the most expensive the world has ever seen. Maybe Bentley should’ve staged the reveal there, just to put to rest any idea that a $300,000 SUV won’t find many a home in today’s dizzying one percent climate.