What Is It?
While consumer tastes have steadily shifted toward sport-utility vehicles over the last decade or so, ultra-luxury manufacturers stayed away from high-riding SUVs until relatively recently. That changed with the launch of the 2017 Bentley Bentayga — the first truly opulent crossover. The market will see another shake-up later this year when the Bentayga becomes the first high-end vehicle driven by a plug-in hybrid powertrain.
2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid First Drive
The World's First Ultra-Luxury Plug-In Hybrid
What Is It?
The 2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 augmented by a 94-kW electric motor fed by a rechargeable 17.3-kWh battery pack. As with the current V8 and W12, the hybrid powertrain drives all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Combined output between the two power sources stands at 443 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. And even though the hybrid is less powerful than either of the Bentayga's uprated engines, it delivers acceleration that is still very quick considering its hefty weight.
Why Does It Matter?
The 2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid is the first ultra-luxury vehicle — crossover or otherwise — with a hybrid powertrain. While most buyers considering vehicles in this price range are unlikely to care much about gasoline prices, the plug-in hybrid ultimately makes ownership more convenient.
In addition to the inherently better fuel economy of a hybrid, giving the buyer the ability to plug in and charge the Bentayga Hybrid's battery every night inevitably cuts down on trips to the pump. It also happens to be the least expensive vehicle in Bentley's lineup.
What Does It Compete With?
The Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid uses the same powertrain and provides a sportier driving experience but doesn't offer the same level of luxury and refinement. The tradeoff is that its starting price is roughly half that of the Bentley. The Land Rover Range Rover Hybrid is more in line with the Bentley's upscale ethos, but it has too many drawbacks to recommend. The Bentayga in general also competes with the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, which provides unsurpassed levels of comfort and luxury but has a base price double that of the Bentley. And the Rolls-Royce has no powertrains aside from the immensely powerful V12.
How Does It Drive?
When fully charged, the Bentayga defaults to the Hybrid drive mode, which primarily uses the battery for power. Under light throttle application, the Bentayga can travel at speeds up to 84 mph on electricity alone. Exceed that speed, or apply a more liberal use of the accelerator pedal, and the turbocharged V6 fires up for extra thrust. This mode also pairs with the navigation system. Input a destination, and the Bentayga will use advanced prediction software and attempt to fully use the battery by the time you reach your destination. This way, the Bentayga drives on EV power as much as possible to save gasoline.
There's an EV drive mode in addition to the Hybrid mode. It uses the battery as much as possible and requires you to dig into the pedal more than in Hybrid mode before the engine switches on. Conversely, Hold mode uses the V6 engine only and saves the battery charge for later.
Though the Bentayga's numerous powertrain modes could be confusing, driving this ultra-luxury SUV isn't. It pulls away from a stop smoothly under EV power, and you don't feel any driveline shock once the engine turns on. There's the low growl of the V6 and extra thrust once you put your foot down, but those are the only indications that you've switched from electric to engine driving.
For drivers trying to maximize their EV efficiency, the Bentayga gives you three ways to track the electricity-to-gas switchover. The first is the left dial in the instrument panel — the needle sweeps from the "EV Drive" section to a traditional tachometer section as you apply throttle and the engine kicks on. The second is in the navigation system. A green circle surrounds the Bentayga's current position so you can see how far you can travel on EV power given the current charge of the battery. The third is through the gas pedal, which vibrates as you approach the switchover point. We found this feedback odd and disconcerting. Thankfully, it can be disabled via a setting in the infotainment system.
What's the Interior Like?
Other than the revised tachometer dial and a few unique screens in the touchscreen display, the interior of the hybrid is exactly the same as the standard Bentayga. Design, build quality and materials quality far surpass those of rival SUVs, save the considerably more expensive Cullinan. Almost every surface is covered in sumptuous leather, attractive chrome and lacquered wood. Plastic use is relegated to just a few buttons and switches.
The Bentayga, in its base form, is very well-equipped, and there's a long list of options to give every model a customized feel. Select from 100 exterior paint options, eight veneer choices and numerous ways to mix and match the 15 leather colors. Among the many optional extras are massaging front seats, diamond-quilted leather upholstery, a rear cooler with champagne flutes, and a Breitling clock with diamond markers. There are also two primary packages — Touring Specification and City Specification — that add extra luxury and safety features.
The Bentayga's one glaring flaw is its infotainment system, which looks dated compared to the one used in the new Bentley Continental GT. Though the Bentayga's system is full-featured and works well, its low-resolution graphics are at odds with the otherwise flawless interior.
How Practical Is It?
With 17.1 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats, the Bentayga Hybrid has the same cargo volume as its non-hybrid counterpart — maximum cargo room is unaffected thanks to the battery pack's location beneath the cargo floor.
As a large SUV, the Bentayga Hybrid offers plenty of legroom in both rows, and headroom is similarly generous. Five seats are standard. But buyers looking for the ultimate in backseat comfort can specify a four-seat configuration with power-adjustable rear seats and a center console. Note that this option also inserts a quilted panel behind the seats to separate the cabin from the cargo area. Bentley added a pass-through to the panel, but the rear seats can no longer fold down to increase cargo room. The panel also reduces cargo capacity to 15.2 cubic feet.
What Else Should I Know?
Bentley says that it takes between two and a half to three hours to charge the Bentayga Hybrid from empty using a Level 2 charger. This time increases to 12 hours if you're using a standard 110-volt outlet. While official EPA figures have not yet been released, Bentley says it should earn 16 miles of EV range and 50 miles per gallon equivalent. During our drive route, we managed about 20 electric-only miles before the gas engine kicked on.
The 2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid is the only ultra-luxury plug-in vehicle on the market, and it's a good one. Smooth power delivery and a useful EV range give this SUV a modicum of eco cred. The advanced powertrain and nearly immaculate interior mean this is anything but a budget Bentley. Even if buyers aren't overly concerned with fuel prices, the ability to plug in every night and reduce the number of trips to the gas station is enticing.