First drive: 2023 Bentley Bentayga EWB in Canada
The Bentayga was controversial when it first debuted back in the good old days of 2015, before pandemic waves, supply chain issues and inflation became the only topics of conversation. Now that uber-luxury SUVs have gone mainstream, Bentley is doing quite well in navigating the current world — with an even bigger uber-luxury SUV.
The VW-owned British brand has done quite well to navigate global problems. They’re more profitable than ever, and haven’t been a victim of the chip shortage, largely because their relatively smaller volumes means they don’t require as many chips as volume brands. They’ve also axed lower-volume models such as the Mulsanne and have a roadmap to go fully electric by the end of this decade, having started offering hybrid models just a few years ago.
We were in Vancouver, Canada for the launch event for the Bentley Bentayga EWB, which is now intended to be the flagship of the brand. Sporting pretty much the same styling as the regular Bentayga that was overhauled in 2020, there is one noticeable difference.
The EWB’s wheelbase is 180 mm longer, adding a fair bit of length to an already long vehicle, at 5,322 mm. All that length is exclusively for the rear passengers, so the rear doors are longer as well.
That also necessitated the introduction of Bentley’s first power-closing rear doors, using buttons under the rear-console touchscreen.
You’ll only notice the extra length if you stare hard, but the Bentayga’s long overhangs become less obvious on the EWB. Other changes include a vertical-slat grille as standard (whereas it’s part of the extra-cost Azure package on other Bentleys) and a moved-back panoramic roof. Customisable 21-inch wheels are standard, while 22-inch 10-spoke polished alloy wheels are optional. Exterior trim can be customised to be chrome or black, while a First Edition gets extra badges and trimmings.
The cabin up front is standard Bentayga, with padded leather from top to bottom, lots of shiny chrome and matte wood, as well as metal details such as the hefty gear-shifter.
The tech is up-to-date with modern trends, such as Carplay/Auto, navigation, heads-up display, adaptive cruise and all sorts of active safety nannies.
The basics are present, such as smart keyless start, all-round cameras and a power tailgate for a less-than-fullsize boot. And there is no shortage of screens and speakers.
But while the touchscreen is responsive, the interface could do with more user-friendly menus, as they’re a bit complicated to use while driving.
There is more luxury in store for rear passengers. Aside from enough legroom to stretch your legs, the back seat is available as a three-seater bench, a two-seater layout, or a full “Airline Seat” experience.
That last one basically takes the rear two-seater layout to another level, with a 40-degree recline, 22 different ways to adjust the seating position, and a power-folding footrest behind the front passenger when you move the latter forward.
While you bask in ambient lighting, the armrests at the centre and on the door pads are heated. Those aircraft-style chairs apparently even adjust to your body type for better comfort, and re-adjust again on long trips to reduce stress. You can either leave the auto climate control to adjust in-car humidity and temperature, or you can play with settings using the detachable touchscreen control panel above the rear a/c vents. You can even spec it up with twin entertainment screens on the seatbacks.
In a fortelling move, the EWB is only available with the company’s 542 hp 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that makes 770 Nm of torque. Mated to an 8-speed automatic, it’s a great engine, more than enough to move the bigger Bentayga with verve, although it’s not going to be racing Uruses and Purosangues. The ancient W12 engine is increasingly being phased out from Bentley’s line-up, but a hybrid V8 is surely on the way later, as the turbo V8 isn’t exactly frugal either.
For a massive SUV though, the Bentayga EWB remains fun to drive. It may be longer than a Nissan Patrol, but is lower and wider, giving it very stable cornering abilities in conjunction with girthy tyres and adaptive suspension.
The steering and pedals are responsive and weighty, but as with most modern luxury cars, feedback is lacking so you have drive by touch rather than feel.
At the limit, the understeer is gradual and easy to manage. Given long enough corners, it can hustle at a pretty decent pace, as we found out on the twisty roads from downtown Vancouver to the town of Whistler up in the mountains.
However, Bentley was keen to demonstrate the EWB’s impressive turning circle, which is apparently even tighter than the regular Bentayga thanks to the magic of rear-wheel steering. The benefits become obvious in tight spaces, such as the U-turn we had to pull in a forest on the snow-free grounds of the 2022 Winter Olympics that was held in February.
The EWB rides a bit on the firm size. It’s not harsh by any means, but the sporty handling and low-profile tyres come at the cost of mildly jarring thuds over rougher road surfaces. It is very comfortable, but a rung or two below the lumpy-soft Rolls-Royce Cullinan (which definitely isn’t as fun to drive).
However, the air suspension is height-adjustable, and we drove on rutted mountain trails with ease. While there is no low-range gearing, the Bentayga does have tons of power, a smart all-wheel-drive system, a terrain-select dial and hill-descent control that kicks in automatically in offroad mode.
The EWB weighs only 100 kg more and costs about 15 percent dearer than the regular Bentayga. It is expected to take the lion’s share of sales in most markets. To the rest of us plebeians, the launch timing may seem off, with talk of a looming recession. But buyers of this class of car aren’t exactly counting pennies. Bentley definitely is filling a niche and will do quite well.
Photos by Mashfique H. Chowdhury & Bentley