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Dirty Deeds, Not Dirt Cheap: Testing the Bentley Bentayga's Off-Road Chops

It's not a hardcore dirt-slayer, but the Bentley Bentayga will go farther off the beaten path than you might expect

2024 Bentley Bentayga off-roading
  • We hit the dirt in Bentley's posh SUV, the Bentayga.
  • The SUV's All-Terrain Specification adds off-road drive modes and torque-vectoring tech.
  • It's no serious off-roader, but if you've got a private castle up a rocky road, the Bentayga will get you there.

Any car can be an off-roader if you're determined enough. I’ve wheeled an electric Volkswagen ID.4 in Baja, Mexico, won my class in the Mint 400 in a modified Mazda Miata, and placed atop the podium in the grueling seven-day Rebelle Rally in a Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Which brings me to The Preserve in Rhode Island, and the massaging-leather-seat luxury of a $236,150 Bentley Bentayga.

Mind you, The Preserve isn't as hardcore as other off-road courses I've driven. This is a very bougie private resort where initiation fees can be as high as $300,000. The property and Bentley have a partnership, and the automaker provides specially outfitted Bentaygas available for members to use. You can go fly fishing, clay shooting, or just chill out with a romantic picnic, and the Bentaygas on hand are outfitted for each specific scenario.

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2024 Bentley Bentayga front view

Me? I'm here to hit the dirt. The Preserve has a few Bentaygas optioned with the $4,995 All-Terrain Specification. But don't get too excited; it's not like this adds knobby all-terrain tires or greatly increased ground clearance. Instead I’ve got four off-road settings — Snow and Grass, Dirt and Gravel, Mud and Trail, and Sand — and some fancy brake-based torque-vectoring tech that sort of acts like traditional front and rear differential lockers.

So, yeah, all of the Bentayga’s off-road skills come from software, not hardware. But what do you expect? I'm in a car that costs as much as a house, and after I'm done off-roading, The Preserve will let me sit in a whirlpool with a glass of prosecco before I tuck myself into a feather-soft bed. I'm not exactly trying to work hard here.

Setting the Bentayga to Mud and Trail raises the SUV's ground clearance by 2 inches and puts the traction control into its off-road setting that allows for a little more slip. Hill descent control is also enabled, which is helpful.

2024 Bentley Bentayga off-roading

Under the Bentayga's hood is a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine with 542 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. Power goes down to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, but it’s not like I’ll get to use this SUV's upper register. On trails like this, I'm keeping it around 10 mph.

Each obstacle at The Preserve designed to show off the Bentayga's features. There is a test where I use the forward-facing camera to precisely drive atop two logs for about 25 yards. The camera view is clear and crisp and it’s easy to get the SUV balanced on the rounded surfaces of the buried logs.

The Bentayga has a maximum lateral gradient of 35 degrees, and even at 26 degrees during my test, the Bentayga is more sideways than you'll ever likely experience in the real world. The Bentayga also has a wading depth of just over 19 inches, but unfortunately there are only a few shallow mud puddles for me to splash through. Darn.

2024 Bentley Bentayga off-roading

There are, however, a few interesting obstacles at The Preserve. The staggered moguls really highlight the Bentayga's traction control system. While one wheel — or even two at diagonally opposite corners — is up in the air, the computer can send power to the tires that have traction. This is best experienced with a steady foot on the throttle, as lifting can interrupt the computer’s thinking process, but it works well to smoothly glide the SUV across the deep holes.

Hill descent control is another standout feature. I set it to coast at 3 mph down a steep slope and let the car handle braking duties. It does so silently and smoothly, which is more than I can say for the systems in some off-road trucks these days, which can sound like things are grinding and braking under the truck. The technology can also work in reverse — something I’ve never thought to try in any other vehicle.

2024 Bentley Bentayga off-roading

Finally, the Bentayga's adaptive damping system is put to the test on a small rock section. Yes, I’m going slowly, but it’s a good place to feel the Bentley Dynamic Ride technology in action. On the road, this 48-volt system helps keep body roll in check through corners. Out here, it essentially acts like an electric sway-bar disconnect that allows each wheel to travel as much as the air suspension will allow. Now, could a Honda Civic make it through this little rock garden? Absolutely. But it wouldn’t be nearly as smooth or composed.

Having said all that, drivers still need to take care when piloting this 5,000-plus beast off pavement. The approach, departure and breakover angles are terrible compared to other off-roaders. The Pirelli Scorpion Venza all-season tires are just waiting to get a sidewall puncture. And let’s face it: Your pretty paint job ain’t gonna last.

Edmunds says

The Bentayga's off-road chops are nice but not groundbreaking. Will most buyers ever experience this SUV's capabilities? Nah. But if you've got a castle at a lake or a super-secret Mongolian desert lair, the Bentley Bentayga and its sophisticated software can likely get the job done.