Here’s a prediction. In the future there will be only two kinds of car: sports cars, for driving on tracks, and SUVs, for driving everywhere else.
If this dismays those who love their cars – SUVs have something of a reputation as being just a little bit dull – then two words might change their mind: Bentley and Bentayga.
If the top-end car marques have, over recent years, dabbled with producing something SUVish, few of the results have seemed truly committed to the idea so successfully championed by the likes Volvo, BMW and Land Rover.
And then there’s Rolls-Royce’s Project Culcullen, an SUV due for launch in 2018.
And small wonder even the least SUVish of brands are set to enter the market – in the US they’re already the dominant car type, accounting for roughly a third of the market.
SUV sales (qualms over diesel pollution notwithstanding) are expected to surge 30% by 2020, while in China and India rough road conditions make the SUV an obvious choice over any low-slung sports car.
Bentley shows how luxe suv is done
But before all that has come the Bentayga, doing now what Lamborghini didn’t quite pull off with its preemptive LM002, the four-wheel drive ‘Rambo Lambo’ it launched way back in 1986.
It shows just what’s possible if you’re prepared to spend £200,000-plus on something that diehard speed freaks might dismiss as looking like a well-appointed London taxi.
That is, at least, until they depress the accelerator to discover quite what this kind of London taxi is capable of.
Well, all hail the Bentayga: this car takes the SUV rulebook and rips it up by effectively cramming everything one might expect from one of those big Bentley tourers into a shorter, higher body.
It still looks like a Bentley too – losing brand identity being precisely the fear that has put so many car manufacturers off trying to make their own for so long.
Indeed, if a Bentley Bentayga might typically have been a second car – blissfully free of the clutter and bits of stale crisps liberally scattered over the more everyday well-heeled family car – then now it seems to have accepted its parental responsibility.
This includes the chance for spiking blood pressure and in-car screaming matches as one gets to grips with playing the aptly-named ‘Frozen’ on the initially impenetrable tablet-based entertainment system.
When it comes, enjoy that song, yet again, from – count ’em – no less than 20 speakers.
the bentley bentayga is a totally new design
The song may be tired, but almost everything else on the Bentayga is new.
The body is made from a lightweight but rigid aluminium/steel mix; the engine is a new 12-cylinder petrol one, offering, the company claims, the best power, torque and economy combination of any SUV.
And then, amid the quilted leatherwork – more creases in which to catch that small person detritus – there’s all the gadgetry: night vision, head-up display, driver assistance, and the rest.
Certainly there are other touches that, while they may have sounded luxurious in the management meeting, are frustrating in reality.
The centre console, for example, has what one can only assume is a beautifully-crafted spectacles case – which only speaks to the likely age of the Bentayga’s myopic driver, or to the fact that they’re the kind who always wears sunglasses.
It’s a nice idea, until you want to put your coffee down, when it’s revealed that the cup holders are under the glasses case, a home for which now has to be found before you can put your drink down, by which time it’s likely scalding your lap.
Luxury in an All-rounder vehicle
But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent all-rounder with luxuriousness to spare. And luxury, as much as practicality, is what this is about.
Refreshingly, Bentley makes no claims to off-road capabilities, an honest assessment perhaps that a Bentayga is unlikely ever to go where no mega-bucks car has gone before.
It is more likely to be found in just the same gridlock as the next, rather less well-appointed vehicle.
Indeed, the Bentley Bentayga’s traffic assist system means that, up to speeds of 3km per hour, the car can progress completely autonomously – leaving you with the chance to wipe spilled yoghurt from the buttery upholstery one more time.
BEST BIT: Bentley manages to pile on the comforts without the ostentation.
WORST BIT: ‘Bentley’ rather naffly embroidered into each head rest. Just in case you forget you’re not in a Skoda, right?
HEAD TURNING QUOTIENT: Welcomingly low – this is a vehicle as much about practicality as panache.
DRIVING EXPERIENCE: You mean without the kids in tow? Quiet, oh so quiet. And surprisingly punchy.