ATHERTON, California—Life, at least of the gasoline-powered internal combustion variety, starts at around 10’o-clock when you’re behind the wheel of the 2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid. That’s where the virtual needle on the digital power gauge dips from ‘EV DRIVE’ into a hashmarked, rpm-denoted ascension that culminates in a discreetly marked 6,500 rpm redline.
Hybrids are virgin territory for the Bentley brand, and they arrive during heady times for the carmaker that is simultaneously dipping its toe into electrification, celebrating its 100th year, and about to unveil a conceptual vision of future mobility during a grandiose centenary celebration at company HQs later this month. The winds of change are almost strong enough to make W.O.’s head spin in his grave.
Perhaps most auspicious about the new Bentayga Hybrid is that it effectively takes a reverse approach to corporate stablemate Porsche, who is positioning its gasoline/electric models at the pinnacle of the product food chain. Unlike Porsche’s monstrously powerful offerings (like the almost 700-hp Panamera hybrid sedan), Bentley’s new electrified sport ’ute actually features its first six-cylinder engine since the Eisenhower administration. It’s also the most affordable way to get into a Winged B—more on that later.
Motivation comes from a version of the familiar 3.0-liter V-6 you’ll also find in the Porsche Cayenne V-6 and numerous Audi family offerings, producing 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. On their own those would be unremarkable stats for a premium SUV. But paired with a 94 kW electric motor-generator, the numbers climb to a more compelling 443 hp and 516 lb-ft combined, good for a claimed 0-60 mph run of 5.2 seconds. That’s not quite as earth shattering as the Bentayga V-8’s 4.4 clicks (let alone the W-12’s thumping 4-seconds-flat figure), but certainly “adequate” for most circumstances, to borrow Rolls-Royce/Bentley-speak.
Apart from a few innocuously integrated Hybrid badges adorning its exterior and a few different controls and displays inside, the new model feels very much like a Bentayga, a good thing given its innately sumptuous interior. Our Windsor Blue tester, trimmed in welcoming shades of Camel and Brunel leather accented with honey-like Liquid Amber veneer, is the sort of rolling bank vault you’d be tempted to wile away the hours in. You also might need a bank vault to pony up for its spec: equipped with $40,545 worth of options, it makes the $156,900 base price as the least expensive Bentley seem just that: a starting line for a spending sprint.
City driving just might be the Bentayga Hybrid’s spirit animal—especially in the Silicon Valley suburb of Atherton, the priciest residential neighborhood in the United States where our test drive began. Capable of speeds up to 84 mph in EV-only mode, the Bentayga Hybrid claims an estimated electric-only range of 16 miles, though one Bentley engineer says he squeezed double that amount from the 17.3 kW-hr lithium-ion battery pack. Light throttle pedal application makes it easy to float around electrically in E-Mode, which is selected via the button just ahead of the so-called Charisma controller. Select ‘Hold,’ and it can maintain battery charge, to boot. Push past that magical 10-o’clock marker, and the V-6 fires up imperceptibly, aiding acceleration with more dial-climbing power.
There’s a nice fluidity to the shift to internal combustion, one whose refinement makes a solid case for this hybrid setup. Also reassuring is the fact that (at least during our city drive) those unofficial claims to 32 miles of EV-only range seemed entirely plausible. Brake feel is wanting, especially during hard stops, but at least the regenerative forces harnessed from the Bentayga’s considerable 5,789-lb curb weight go a long way towards keeping all 168-cells of the battery replenished. Route planning is aided by predictive technology that can contribute just enough electric motivation so you arrive at your destination with no remaining charge left—also handy if you plan on entering emissions-restricted zones like, say, London’s congestion charge-enforced city center.
Hitting the interstate before diverting to the winding Route 92, which twists its way down to Half Moon Bay, makes this Bentayga feel like more of a fish out of water than a willing dance partner. Though the 48-volt, active anti-rollbar equipped suspension does wonders at low-to-medium speeds by smoothing out bumpy roads and helping the nearly three-ton sport utility vehicle feel significantly slimmer, there’s simply no avoiding the heft in higher speed corners, where it handles gracelessly. Though power delivery is smooth and can encourage somewhat spirited straight line driving, twisting tarmac discourages any inclination for unreasonable speed; best to leave those intentions in tech-happy Atherton, where the streets seem to be paved with the best of earth-saving intentions.
Though the Bentayga Hybrid’s flaws make it easy to nitpick this entry level Flying B to oblivion, context provides a crucial key into its place within the Bentley microverse. Considering that this is the first hybrid Bentley in history, one that paves the way for a lineup that will have electrified options in every model by 2023 and a fully electric Bentley by 2025, this hybrid SUV’s powertrain represents more of a line drawn in the sand than a volume seller, at least for now. So while those seeking a low-revving, counter-clockwise spinning tachometer that measures internal combustion revolutions per minute, Bentayga Hybrid’s gas/electric gauge just might attract a new type of Bentley customer, one that could very well help shape the brand’s next 100 years.
2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid Specifications
|ON SALE||Fall 2019|
|ENGINE||3.0L turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6; 335 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 1,340 rpm|
|ELECTRIC DRIVETRAIN||17.3-kW-hr Li-Ion battery pack, 94 kW electric motor-generator; 126 hp, 258 lb-ft; 443 hp, 516 lb-ft combined hp|
|ELECTRIC RANGE||16 miles|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|L/W/H||202.4 x 87.5 x 67.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.2 sec|