Last week, Bentley brought $4,500,000 worth of Bentaygas to Lime Rock Park and let us flog them mercilessly. Much ado has been made about the speed of the ute, and rightly so. It’s absurdly quick, screaming to 60 in 3.5 seconds, if Motor Trend is to be believed. But it should be shit-grinning fast, especially in a straight line. The 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 motor, providing 600-horsepower and 664 lb-ft of twist, is more than ample to get the 5,340 pound beast hauling. The question becomes how does the Bentayga, at $300,000 apiece, handle at speed in a turn? The answer is well. Quite well.
Before the track, there was a simple ABS and avoidance maneuver test. Mat the throttle and don't lift until a set of cones, then floor the brake and crank the wheel to a secondary lane. Ease off the gas or go too soft on the brake and you’d not engage the ABS and plow through the cone barrier. Done properly, it looked like this:
From inside the car, driven by a race coach, it went like this:
“The car wants to help you,” our instructor told us. “The more you can show it you know what you’re doing, the better it can aid you. When you’re railing the brake, and you’re giving definite steering input, it’ll recognize that and give you a little more control to help you steer the car through the stopping process.” Accurate. With decisive actions, the Bentayga dipped and swayed to a halt with ease, in a surprisingly short distance, only a whiff of vulcanized rubber wafting into the cabin. And these were not high-performance brakes, no ceramics here. Knowing that it’s indeed possible to stop a three-ton missile, we hopped on the track.
After a slow reconnaissance lap, we opened the taps. Entering turn one, the big bend, I hit the gas too hard and started to run wide, setting us up poorly for the sharper turn in at corner two. The Bentayga compensates for such understeer by braking the right rear wheel, and you can feel the car fighting to get itself back on course. But the underlying issue here was driver input error, not a deficiency of the vehicle. After the second lap, I found a better line and fed the throttle more steadily and had nary an issue.
Turn three, the big left hander, requires a late apex and the Bentayga dealt with it with aplomb, even when I hadn’t scrubbed sufficient speed to handle the sharp, late approach. The chicanes were set up, so there was some hard braking before turn four and nosing up the hill. My coach, a prototype ALMS racer named Ryan Lewis, knew I went too light on the brake even before the heavy wheel squeal kicked in through the esses, though the Bentayga never strayed from the line. Through the uphill, back straight, downhill and front straight, the Bentayga just wanted to be unleashed, like a wild stallion in a clearing. We crested 120 mph just before the brake zone near turn one.
We ran a number of laps, some in comfort mode which, while wallowy, was more even than I expected. In sport suspension, with the dampers stiffened, the body roll reduced significantly and it felt like a smaller sports car, not a lumbering three ton whale. With proper application of throttle, steering and brake, it deftly handled the track. The more comfortable I felt, the easier it was to try and find its limits, going faster, braking later, turning harder. The Bentayga didn’t care. It’s like an energetic puppy that never tires of fetch.
Because the Bentley’s technical abilities exceeded my own driving capabilities, after my stint around the track, it was time to let a professional take over. First up was Butch Leitzinger, of NASCAR, ALMS and Le Mans fame. Leitzinger was piloting a Continental GT3R, a Continental GT V8 S that’s been boosted to 572 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, stripped of nearly 300 pounds of wood and seats and given a carbon fiber bath. It is an insane machine, even more so in the hands of Leitzinger. He sliced through the circuit in record time, just to give us a taste of how goddamn fast and slippery the track feels in a proper race car.
Then it was time for five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell to take us around in a Bentayga. He had no issues flicking the SUV around at breakneck speed. It felt even more lithe under his control. He calmly chatted as he plowed into turn three, causing me to nearly flop into his lap. “It’s funny,” he began softly, “I’ve never viewed a race track from this height before. I’m used to being a foot from the tarmac.”
While I was perhaps too passive a driver, Bell was nearly too much. I noticed a little shimmy right after a deep dive into the brakes to slough speed for the downhill and asked if the stability control was still on. “I’ve got everything turned off, but the ABS is kicking in a bit, trying to stabilize us, telling me I shouldn’t be doing this,” he smirked. “Though it’s amazing for an SUV to handle like this. It’s one thing to enjoy it as a street driver but another to be able to come out here and perform so well. Bentley pays me, but they can't pay me to lie."
Bell was truthful. This vehicle can handle the track, though the average Bentayga owner will likely never bring their steed onto one. But they can boast to their friends about it, and that's half the point of owning a Bentley, no? Post lap, Bell touched the 21-inch Pirellis. “They’re warm, but not even hot. Bloody brilliant,” he exclaimed. The brakes smoldered slightly, wisps curling from the semi-metallic pads. (If that rumored Speed version of the Bentayga comes to fruition, perhaps they’ll opt for ceramic pads when the power gets boosted.)
As it currently stands, the preeminent luxury SUV ticks the right boxes in terms of benchmark Bentley performance. It flowed as smoothly around the track as a hyper-powered AWD ute can, provided you were smooth with it. Even if that Speed variant doesn't materialize, the base Bentayga will be more than enough.