First Drive

2021 Bentley Bentayga V8 First Drive | Not messing with success

It's still the most luxurious crossover for the money

2021 Bentley Bentayga
2021 Bentley Bentayga
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The Bentayga offers a wide variety of luxury and performance. From the sportier W12-equipped Speed model to the plug-in hybrid, there's a Bentayga for your sophisticated motoring needs.


The 2021 Bentley Bentayga V8 marks the first refresh for Bentley’s first and rather successful SUV. The company has sold more than 20,000 of them worldwide since its introduction just a few years ago. As such, Bentley didn’t need to do much to keep it updated, nor did it. The refresh boils down to exterior and interior updates, and after spending some time with the updated Bentayga, it continues to be a brilliantly luxurious machine with impressive capability.

The most obvious and significant changes are to the exterior styling, which has hardly been the Bentayga's strong point. There are new round headlights with a cut crystal design like on other recent Bentleys. The grille has been enlarged, and the front bumper has a sportier design with an integrated spoiler. On the side, the fender vent has been lengthened and mounted higher, while the rear now has slim oval taillights and oval exhaust outlets. Those taillights have the same kind of cut crystal design as the headlights. The changes are subtle but effective at sprucing up the Bentayga, but they also don’t make existing Bentaygas look out of date.

2021 Bentley Bentayga

It’s a similar situation inside. The biggest changes are in the center of the dashboard. The upper air vents are thin and horizontal instead of circles, and they've been relocated with the dash clock to sit mostly on top of the dash instead of nestled into it. Below them is a larger, 10.9-inch infotainment system that spans the whole width of the center stack and looks better integrated than the old version. The back seats can be configured to have nearly 4 inches more legroom, and there’s a larger touchscreen remote and available rear air vents for the bench seat configuration. Beyond that, the interior is mostly the same, which is hardly a complaint. This is a Bentley, after all. Essentially every surface is wrapped in soft leather, adorned with rich wood trim or made of weighty knurled metal. And customers have access to a vast variety of colors and combinations to create a genuinely custom cabin.

There are a few low-ish points. The infotainment system isn’t the most responsive, and it can be a little tricky to find the menu you want. Also, and this is a bit of a car journalist nitpick, you can spot some bits pilfered from the Audi parts bin: the turn signal and washer stalks, the headlight knob, and the underlying menus and layout of the instrument panel. Finally, the seats could use some improvement, as both rows are a bit firm and lacking in support. The front seats’ adjustments help a bit, but Bentley could take some lessons from Volvo. Or, dare I say it, Lincoln? Nitpicks aside, the interior is about the nicest you can find for the money, with only the Rolls-Royce Cullinan being truly comparable. And while pricing for this new Bentayga hasn’t been announced, but is reportedly 5% higher than before. That would put it around $176,000.  The Rolls-Royce starts at nearly twice the price around $330,000.

2021 Bentley Bentayga

Mechanically, the 2021 Bentayga is practically unchanged. Under the hood is the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 with the same 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque. It's the only engine available to start, but plug-in hybrid and W12 engines should be available later. The V8 is coupled to the same eight-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system. Bentley claims it will hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and we don’t have reason to disagree. The engine has gobs of torque available at any rpm to slingshot the Bentayga past anyone in your way. It’s a smooth and quiet engine, too, with only a bit of burbly V8 noises showing up when flooring it. The transmission is seamless in automatic mode, though manual shifts can be a bit jerky. The transmission works well enough in automatic mode, so just leave it there and enjoy it as is.

The one mechanical change is a rear track widened by three-quarters of an inch. Supposedly it helps with steering effort and makes steering feel more linear. We doubt any Bentayga buyer is really going to notice, but generally the steering does feel good with a medium weight and excellent accuracy. It’s a bit slow, though. Standard is an adaptive suspension with active roll control. The latter feature is impressively effective, and there’s hardly any body lean going through corners, regardless of the drive mode.

2021 Bentley Bentayga
2021 Bentley Bentayga
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Even with the reduced body roll, though, the Bentayga feels heavy in corners. There’s quite a bit of grip and with the accurate steering, you can carry a surprising amount of speed in corners, but it doesn’t feel particularly happy that you're doing it. In comfort mode, the Bentayga rides soft but can be a bit floaty and not quick to respond to bumps. Sport mode firms it up and it feels more composed, though it’s rougher over large bumps. The most amazing part of the Bentayga’s driving experience is how quiet it is on the road. Cliché as it may be, it does feel like being in a vault. One with several layers of Dynamat insulation and some of those noise absorbing cones in recording booths.

And really, that moving, leather-lined vault experience is what the 2021 Bentayga is all about. It has amazing materials and details, can drive remarkably quickly, and is cosseting and comfy when you slow things down. It may be a style refresh, but with such a good base, that’s perfectly fine.

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