THE booming SUV sector has a new top dog, the Bentley Bentayga Speed.
This British-bulldog takes the sector by the scruff and shakes it up very comprehensively, creating the fastest and most luxurious SUV you can buy for a heady £182,200.
Top end rivals have gone down the performance route but Bentley has brought sophistication with speed, comfort with capability and created what can truly be described as a Grand Tourer.
That means its emissions are high and an owner pays a hefty bill in road tax and BIK for six years on top of a sky-high insurance premium and fuel bill.
Six models in the Bentley Bentayga series share five-door body depending on engines which comprise a 449ps 3.0 V6 petrol-electric hybrid; 435ps 4.0 V8 diesel; 550ps 4.0 V8 petrol; 608ps 6.0 W12 petrol and 635ps 6.0 W12 petrol.
It seats from four to seven depending on configuration and the bootspace is huge with a high flat floor, square sides and back.
At the other end of the Speed edition, the bluff front conceals a compact engine with very little to see under many plastic covers and only fluid fillers are visible.
Open the doors and the luxury immediately impresses with a few of our passengers expressing sharp intakes of breath at the leather and alcantara upholstery, the thick carpets with brightwork accentuated fascia and a couple commented on the full length sunroof bathing the interior with light.
Access is very easy despite the high floor and once inside the deeply padded but supporting seats with multi-adjustable sections on the front pair, are really comfortable mile after mile. Room is outstanding.
The high riding position not only gives a clear view of surroundings but with the deep side windows and low waistline it's easy to judge parking and manoeuvring. Huge wipers both ends, powerful washers and extremely bright, long-range automatic headlights leave nothing out of sight.
For the driver, all controls immediately fall to hand or foot. The dials infront of the driver were big giving clear indications of road and engine speed, fuel and temperatures.
A multi-mode panel between the two main instruments covered status overall and live data. I liked the throw-back ventilation controls for the very efficient air conditioning throughout and contrasting modern wifi remote for those in the back who have their own pad device.
The main infotainment panel was central, very big and clear for selecting media, navigation, communications etc..
On the central console the eight-speed automatic transmission lever had full automatic or sequential manual and up and down paddles on the column. Behind the lever was the start/ stop ignition button and rotary selection for four ride and multiple traction modes.
The engine made little noise upon starting and then ran almost silently at idle and up to the legal maximum while a gentle throttle opening was accompanied by a pleasant ‘whooshing' sound.
Pressed harder or in the sport and competition settings and there was a throaty, rasping sound from the engine as the power poured out but it was never unpleasant. Gearchanges were silky in comfort mode but noticeably quicker and edgy in others, but the responses were always instant with no delay.
I loved the huge, powerful and progressive brakes underfoot which undramatically slowed from any speed without fade or excessive effort and the button parking brake securely held the 2.44 tonnes car on our usual steep test slope.
Turning to the steering, it was well weighted and finely varied with speed so it was precise at motorway speed and almost effortless to park except the turning circle did not make it nimble.
Acceleration was so deceptive. Driven gently it was brisk but seek out the performance modes and it transformed into a sports car, a 2.44 tonnes sports car, which could deliver stunning acceleration for a rapid getaway or overtaking in complete safety.
The Bentayga Speed's adjustable suspension ranged from comfortably compliant through firm to hard and the road and tyre noise was ever present, but it was also useful to be able to raise it for rocky tracks or water wading and adjust for soft or low grip surfaces as well. Bentayga Speed uses an electrical anti-roll system to keep the tyres firmly on the road putting down maximum grip.
The tyre noise was the most noticeable sound in normal driving, and it may have been helped by the aerodynamic skirts and rear wing guiding air around and over the Speed's body.
Handling was always delightfully controlled through the steering, brakes and suspension and it could be hurried along winding sections with confidence as well as composure on motorways. Its size seemed to matter less the quicker we went, so responsive was the engine, gearbox, steering and brakes.