The Bentley Bentayga W-12 has paved the road to opulent utilitarianism for soon-to-arrive mega-luxury SUVs from Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Rolls-Royce. Yet the big B’s early move means that it has already started churning out derivative models, including a diesel, a plug-in hybrid, and our subject here, the 2019 Bentayga V-8, a gilded eight-cylinder grapple designed to more effectively snag aspiring shoppers out of lesser high-end SUVs and place them into Bentley’s hedonistic orbit.
The thinking behind this entry-level variant for the U.S. market is simple: Lower the admission fee by supplanting the top-spec model’s 600-hp, 664-lb-ft twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W-12 engine with a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V-8 shared with other high-powered Volkswagen Group products. In this instance, the “hot-vee” boosted eight pumps out a still-heady 542 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 568 lb-ft of torque at just 1960 revs. Little else changes about the vehicle, including the standard eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, and VW’s MLB chassis architecture.
Bentley says the V-8 is the sportiest version of the Bentayga despite its power deficit, and we have to agree after sampling it both on the German autobahn and on the tight Alpine roads of Austria. Curb weights should drop by about 100 pounds versus the 12-cylinder, most of it coming off the nose, and indeed the new rig feels a touch more willing to bite into corners and change direction, even when sliding around a makeshift ice rink that Bentley had set up for the occasion. Although Pirelli Scorpion winter tires dulled the steering responses of the examples we drove—that’s the trade-off for the excellent ice and snow grip of such tires’ softer rubber compound—Bentley’s optional 48-volt Dynamic Ride active anti-roll bar system returns stately ride comfort and impressive body control. And up to eight driving modes, four each for on- and off-road setups, allow the Bentayga’s engine, drivetrain, and chassis systems to be honed for varying conditions and driver attitudes.
While this is still a heavy vehicle (the last W-12 model we tested weighed 5781 pounds), the 4.0-liter has little trouble moving the Bentayga’s bulk with gusto. The silky V-8 is eager to spin to its 6800-rpm redline, which makes it the highest-revving powerplant Bentley has ever fitted to a road car. Thrust builds with linear authority just off idle, and burying the accelerator into the Bentayga’s plush footwell is greeted with near immediate response and ample shove well into triple-digit speeds. The V-8 customer will sacrifice little for his or her purchase, aside from bragging rights. Considering that we’ve beaten Bentley’s 4.0-second zero-to-60-mph estimate for the W-12 model by half a second, we expect the V-8’s quoted 4.4-second figure to be similarly conservative. The V-8’s ungoverned top speed of 180 mph is but 7 mph lower than the W-12’s terminal velocity.
The loudest argument for the V-8 model is made by the engine itself via a more characterful exhaust note from the dual twin-tip tailpipes that are the only visual distinction from the W-12, beyond a blacked-out grille. Whereas the W-12 emits a distant, turbinelike thrum, the V-8 exhales deeper, more guttural tones and revs with the muffled snarl of a swaddled wolverine when prodded. We don’t expect the Bentayga V-8 to be much better in terms of fuel economy than its W-12 counterpart, which has averaged 14 to 16 mpg in our hands, but it is rated slightly better in the optimistic European cycle: a combined 25 mpg versus the W-12’s 22-mpg figure. EPA estimates will be released before U.S. deliveries commence this summer.
To downplay the V-8’s entry-level status, Bentley is using its introduction to update the entirety of the 2019 Bentayga lineup with new available equipment, most notably a carbon-ceramic brake upgrade featuring monstrous 17.3-inch front rotors with 10-piston calipers—the largest ever fitted to a production vehicle, says Crewe’s crew. (There are 14.6-inchers in back with four-piston clampers.) That the carbon brakes felt no different in regular driving than the standard and still huge iron stoppers (15.8-inch front rotors with six-piston calipers and a single piston grabbing 15.0-inchers out back) means our verdict will have to wait until we can get them to the test track to quantify their benefits. More obvious to observers is the optional Blackline Specification package, which somewhat cools the Bentayga’s ostentatious exterior presence by replacing most of its chrome-plated bits with gloss-black pieces. Other new items added to the options list include an updated 22-inch wheel design, a wood-and-leather wrapped steering wheel, glossy carbon-fiber interior trim, and intricate cross-threaded leather stitching that Bentley says takes 30 hours alone to complete.
While the examples we drove were loaded with extra kit, price-conscious buyers should be mindful that the V-8 model’s estimated $168,000 starting price (about $34K less than a base W-12) does not include many of the Bentayga’s highlight features, including the 48-volt suspension, the All Terrain Specification with off-road driving modes, and Bentley’s appropriately excessive interior personalization treatments. Also extra are rear captain’s chairs in place of the three-seat bench, as well as a two-seat third-row setup.
This being Bentley, modesty is nowhere to be found on the order sheet, and the upper crust may look straight past the V-8 for the numerically greater W-12. Yet the latest Bentayga variant is a classic example of making a reduction to produce more—in this case, greater driving verve from an already extravagant luxury sled.