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Two years after its introduction, the Bentayga is no longer an exclusively 12-cylinder affair. A plug-in hybrid is on the horizon, and buyers outside the US are treated to a torque-tastic diesel option.
But it's the gasoline V8 option tested here that I find particularly enticing. With strong power, and a sound and character all its own, this engine transforms the big Bentayga into a more rewarding driver's car. Bentley's SUV isn't perfect, mind you, but it's certainly no fault of its V8.
This V8 isn't unique to the Bentayga -- it's the same 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged engine you'll find in other high-output Volkswagen Group products (the Porsche Cayenne Turbo comes to mind). It offers more-than-ample output of 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque, even if those are decreases of 58 and 96, respectively, compared to the Bentayga W12. That said, the V8 version of the SUV is lighter, with some 115 fewer pounds to lug around. Bentley says the V8 model is able to sprint to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds, which may be 0.4 seconds slower than the W12, but is still damn impressive considering the lightest Bentayga still tips the scales at 5,264 pounds.
Numbers don't really tell the whole story. Bentley calls the V8 model the Bentayga's "most sporting guise," and whether cruising around town or out on the canyon roads north of Los Angeles, the big B certainly delivers a more enthusiastic character than you might initially expect. Off-the-line acceleration is hearty, with a loud, throaty growl from the model-specific exhaust. The eight-speed automatic transmission is more than willing to kick down with a simple provocation of your right foot, delivering mid-range punch that'll embarrass many other sports cars as you fly by them on the highway.
On more technical roads, the Bentayga's size and weight are certainly apparent, but the V8 version feels a bit more willing to round corners with gusto, the 285/40-series Pirelli P Zero tires offering commendable grip as I tear along my favorite stretches of winding asphalt. There's great heft to the steering, an appropriate tune that accurately conveys the sheer mass of Bentley's SUV.
Body motions are appropriate for such a high-riding SUV, and if you're the sort of aristocrat who plans to drive your Bentayga in a spirited fashion on the regular, you'll want to opt for the $5,235 Bentley Dynamic Ride option. That's the fancy name for Bentley's 48-volt active anti-roll tech, keeping the big body composed and controlled, returning impressive ride comfort while allowing the Bentayga to be a little more playful in bends. Of course, if you pony up for the Bentayga W12, this feature comes standard.
In fact, there isn't a whole lot of standard driver assistance tech on this lower-price Bentayga. If you want things like parking assist, a top-view camera, traffic sign recognition or city braking, you have to opt for the $3,855 City Specification package. Want adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, lane-keeping assist and traffic jam assist? That's all bundled in the $8,435 Touring Specification.
At $165,000, the Bentayga V8 serves as a lower-cost entry point into the world of Bentley. For 2019, a few new options are available, including an absolutely massive set of carbon-ceramic brakes, with 15.7-inch-diameter front stoppers that are the largest fitted to any production car, according to Bentley. A new Blackline Specification, seen on this test car (and priced at $7,000), replaces some of the exterior chrome details with better-looking black bits. New wheel designs are available, as well, including the 22-inch rollers fitted here, part of the $15,800 Mulliner Driving Specification pack.
Of course, none of this really changes the fact that the Bentayga is... not very pretty. It rides on the same VW Group MLB platform that underpins the Audi Q7, Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, and while it certainly has presence -- especially here in Orange Flame -- there doesn't seem to be a good angle from which to view Bentley's beast.
Happily, the interior is as comfortable and lovely as any Bentley. Plush leather seats have diamond contrast stitching on the bolsters, and every inch of hide and veneer inside the cabin is of the absolute best quality. Overall levels of fit and finish are Bentley-spec excellent. The buttons and knobs all feel premium to the touch and have satisfying action (those air vent plungers, especially so). From the soft headliner to the deep-pile carpeted floormats, the Bentayga's cabin is supple and serene.
There are lots of available techy interior goodies, including the absolutely sweet-sounding (and horrendously expensive) $8,910 Naim audio system, and secret agent-spec $2,600 biometric storage box. Rear-seat occupants even get in on the high-tech options, with a removable, 10.2-inch Wi-Fi-equipped Android device that Bentley calls its Entertainment Tablet.
Three different rear seating arrangements are available. There's the five-passenger layout you see here, with a three-across bench in the back. If you want more comfort, you can option captain's chairs with a console between the seats, or you can even spec a third row, with what I can only imagine are two very cramped way-back thrones, resulting in seating for seven. Rich moms, rejoice.
Inside, every Bentayga gets an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, with embedded navigation and Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto). Compared to the impressive, Porsche Communication Management-based system found in the new Continental GT, the Bentayga's interface looks and feels outdated. There's lots of functionality found within, but the graphics could stand to be of higher resolution, and responses to inputs could certainly be faster.
The instrument cluster features a digital central screen, but again, it's a similar story of low-resolution graphics and fonts, and not a lot of functionality. Considering the proliferation of fully digital gauge clusters -- in the Continental GT, not to mention far less expensive VW Group products -- this could stand to be updated, and soon. A $27,000 Jetta SEL Premium offers a richer suite of in-car tech.
The big issue I have with the Bentayga is that, even in cheapest $165,000 spec, it doesn't totally feel worth the money. Cars are getting really, really nice these days, and most other luxury SUVs offer similar levels of space and comfort, with a lot better tech. Have you driven an Audi Q7 lately? It's damn good.
Still, there's no arguing with the sort of panache a Flying B badge buys you. And while I normally like to include a "how I'd spec it" section to these reviews, the truth is, with the Bentayga, the world is your oyster. As with all Bentleys, you can personalize the Bentayga in myriad ways, with seemingly endless color options, not to mention a similarly long list of available options.
The 2019 Bentley Bentayga V8 may start at $165,000, but the test car pictured here has $63,915 worth of optional extras. Add in a $2,725 destination charge and the price as it sits is $231,640 -- about the same as a base W12.
The V8 model is absolutely the Bentayga to get. The added dynamic verve of its 4.0-liter engine is something to be admired, and you don't lose anything in terms of appearance or luxury. I can't say my personal lux bucks would be spent on a Bentayga, but for hifalutin buyers who won't settle for less, at least rest assured knowing the "entry-level" version is just as rich.