Vancouver, BC — It’s a familiar story by this point. Prestige automotive brand jumps into the SUV segment for the first time. And the move completely transforms the brand’s entire product focus forever. The same story played out at BMW and Porsche around the turn of the century, then at Audi and Volvo in the mid-2000s, then everywhere else in the mid-2010s. One of those “everywhere else” places was Bentley, which introduced its first SUV, the Bentayga, in 2017.
Since that auspicious debut, the Bentayga line has grown to include V12- and V8-powered examples, a hybrid model and a higher-powered Speed variant. (The breakdown: The Bentayga accounts for 45% of overall Bentley sales around the world.) Now we have the addition of the Bentayga Extended Wheelbase (EWB). This is not merely a stretched version of the original, but also the model designated to replace the Mulsanne EWB at the very top of the Bentley food chain. The press materials call the Bentayga EWB the result of “a nine-digit investment to create the pinnacle luxury SUV.”
So was it worth the investment?
Well, the premium SUV space is a wildly crowded one these days; carving market share is tougher than engineering an SUV capable of carving corners. Since the Bentayga appeared, we’ve seen brand new competitors from Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Maybach, Maserati and Rolls-Royce burst onto the scene. Next year, the 800-pound gorilla in the room, Ferrari roars into position with the Purosangue. Long story short, it may have been the classic “go big or go home” scenario for the automotive tastemakers at Crewe.
Here’s what they’ve wrought.
The Bentayga EWB is powered by the brand’s twin-turbocharged V8 engine, mustering 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque. Despite the fact that this SUV is a big one—curb weight is some 2514 kg (5542 lbs)—this level of performance is enough to move the EWB along very nicely. One hundred kilometres per hour appears in an estimated 4.6 seconds and the Bentley roars on to achieve a top speed of 290 km/h.
These numbers won’t give the Purosangue any sleepless nights, they won’t cause the Urus any migraines and they won’t trigger high blood pressure in the DBX707. But that’s not the raison d’être for the EWB; instead, it’s to create the ultimate luxury driving experience without sacrificing driving dynamics in the least.
Example: While the EWB is 180 mm longer than all other versions of the Bentayga, its turning circle is tighter than that of the Bentayga V8. This is thanks to the rear-wheel steering system, which aids in slow-speed manoeuvres and higher-speed stability.
Speaking of stability, the vehicle’s 48-volt architecture sets the stage for electric active anti-roll bars at all four corners, helping give this large SUV a surprising degree of agility. Permanent all-wheel drive, a Torsen centre differential and an open rear differential with electronic locking also weigh in, creating a limousine-like ride that still manages to excite.
The litmus test for all this investment was the epic thoroughfare known as Duffey Lake Road. This restless heart of mine has completed the drive from Vancouver to Whistler a handful of times. But the notorious mountain road that starts just north of Whistler at Pemberton and stretches towards Cache Creek remained a mystery.
It proved to be the perfect setting to experience the Bentayga EWB—from both the driver’s seat and from the back seat.
The road itself is fantastic, a tremendous mix of fast corners and elevation changes and the tremendous natural beauty that is British Columbia. From behind the wheel, the EWB proved to be incredibly engaging and well-mannered, far more so than some competitors with more sporting pretensions. The faster corners were handled with ease and, before long, we were powering along the road at a very, shall we say, sporting pace.
At the midway point, my driving partner and I switched seats, giving me the chance to sample the optional Airline Seat specification, billed as being the most advanced seat ever fitted to a production vehicle. All of the additional length of the vehicle is taken up by the wheelbase, which has given the engineers at Bentley the breathing space to perform a minor miracle.
The Airline Seat can be adjusted in 22 different ways and features an automatic body temperature sensing system and postural adjustment. In effect, the seat monitors the passenger’s body position and skin temperature, then automatically adjusts the heating, cooling and angle of the seat itself. The postural adjustment feature involves 177 different pressure changes across six different zones—and will keep making these adjustments for up to three hours. (Road trip!)
In relax mode, the seat can recline up to 40 degrees, while the front passenger seat is automatically shifted forward and a leather-trimmed footrest drops down from the back of that seat. Rear-seat controls are operated via a touchscreen remote, similar in size to a smartphone. (The Bentley also comes in a 5-seat configuration and a 4+1 configuration.)
While fully reclined in full relax mode, expansive sunroof open, massage function at its most intense and the optional 20-speaker Naim audio system blasting, the experience was truly revelatory. This was one of those days when it seems that all of world’s troubles are a world away. As such, the 2023 Bentley Bentayga EWB, priced at $274,500 to start, offers a clear-cut return on investment.