Among all the things I ever thought I’d find myself doing in a super-luxurious, half-a-million-dollar Bentley, coming face-to-face with 300-kilogram grizzly bears wasn’t one of them.
And yet here we are in the mountains of British Columbia, two hours’ drive outside Vancouver, in a convoy of three Bentayga SUVs, being escorted along a rutted track by a wildlife guide. (That’s another thing I never thought I’d find myself doing in a Bentley: off-roading.) Via walkie-talkie from his lead car, our Canadian host is pointing out various claw marks the local bear population have engraved on surrounding tree stumps.
When we stop in a clearing and jump out to stretch our legs, our guide casually mentions that he saw both grizzlies and brown bears (which do sound less grumpy) in this very spot only a week ago.
Time to get back in the car, lock the doors, squeal quietly to myself and recall again how fast this Bentley can go…
Alas, the world’s media haven’t been corralled to North America just to test the Bentley’s surprisingly solid four-wheel-drive credentials (or to test its liability insurance if a couple of us become bear food); we’re here because the storied British marque is launching an extended wheel base version of its Bentayga SUV, lengthening the car by 180 millimeters between the axles, which means more space for humans, who could possibly even lie down to hide from bears.
Since the regular Bentayga is already Bentley’s best-selling model of all-time, you might reasonably question why the company would fiddle with a successful formula to gain such a piffling amount of metal. Well, ask any designer and they’ll tell you that in the space-conscious design universe, 180 millimeters is roughly the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Bentley also needed something to replace the aging, former flagship Mulsanne sedan, something with extra gravitas over the normal Bentayga, especially as it is expected to go for more than US$300,000 when it arrives early next year.
Seeing the Bentayga EWB for the first time, it’s clear Bentley’s play has been a shrewd one. By extending the rear doors, thus creating a longer profile, the car makes sense as a brand crown jewel and a piece of clever design in its own right. It’s a subtle refresh but the proportions are nicely balanced.
Less understated are the new ‘Vertical Vane Grille’ and polished 56 centimeter, 10-spoke wheels, giving the Bentayga EWB a regal yet modern air. It’s a car that would work as much in a Jay-Z video clip as on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, particularly with the bling gold-coloured body paint, officially described as ‘camel’.
It’s inside the Bentayga EWB where the added real estate really begins to pay dividends, though, allowing Bentley the room to introduce its new party piece, the Airline Seat, part of the company’s push to frame the cabin as a ‘wellness’ zone.
Inspired by the pews in private jets (because business and first class seats are for paupers), this sumptuous armchair can, via a handheld touchscreen, recline to 40 degrees and be adjusted to 22 different positions. It also includes a Relax Mode that, using motorization, moves the facing passenger seat forward and deploys a footrest. It’s an incredible piece of theater; I kept expecting clouds to float by the side windows.
If you activate the Postural Adjustment feature, the seat begins massaging you; and then you fall asleep and start dribbling on yourself.
The fancy seat may steal the limelight, but for me the real boon is how the extra space has allowed Bentley to move the panoramic sunroof backwards by 125 millimeters. Combined with the large side window, it feels like the jaw-dropping Canadian mountain scenery is pouring into the cabin, a kind of Dolby Surround for the eyes.
Add in ionizers that remove pollutants from the cabin air, top-end interior materials, exquisitely smooth power-closing doors, noise-reduction technology and an optional champagne fridge, and the whole Bentayga EWB experience becomes so indulgent, so comfortable, it’s unlikely you’ll ever want to do something as stressful as driving. This is why chauffeurs were invented.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
For those who want to sully their hands with a steering wheel, the Bentley is a joy to pilot, transferring the calmly extravagant vibes of the cabin into the driving sensations. The 4.0-liter, V8 turbo-petrol engine delivers the type of immense power and acceleration you’d expect from a car with 404 kilowatts and 770 newton meters, but it’s never hurried or cavalier.
And for a car weighing some 2.5 metric tons and measuring 5.32 meters, it neatly handles all but the tightest corners, with minimal body roll – although that heft means a few unavoidable compromises with suspension that, depending on the road-surface quality, veers from plush (great) to sharp (not quite great).
In the interests of self-preservation, I never felt brave enough to probe the car’s outer limits, and that’s not a deal-breaker because, ultimately, the Bentayga EWB is really a limousine – a limousine that happens to be shaped like an SUV – and not a sports-focused machine.
Still, with a 0–100 kilometers per hour time of 4.6 seconds, it is, I was relieved to discover, definitely quick enough to outrun a Canadian grizzly bear if need be.