Plus ça change… Bentley introduces a more heavily revised Bentayga than previously imagined. It’s both better and worse than before.
Successful products tend to be characterised by a number of factors: A fitness for the intended purpose, a sense that their intrinsic qualities are worth the outlay, and an essential honesty to their form, position and remit. Bentley’s Bentayga SUV has been a commercially successful product for the desired British luxury carmaker, with over 20,000 built since its less than rapturous introduction in 2015. Certainly the Crewe-based carmaker’s press release makes much of it being the market leader in its sector, but given that Bentley trades upon exclusivity, one must question whether this is something necessarily to boast about?
Nevertheless, Crewe has achieved this feat seemingly, by ignoring or otherwise circumventing the above mentioned strictures, instead majoring on qualities considered undesirable for a sizeable swathe of people – albeit not the target market. Qualities like vulgarity, overt consumption, excessive displays of wealth and that most nebulous of factors, a marked lack of taste.
Bentayga came into being through a troubled and rather insecure process which culminated in (it’s believed) the sacking of the original proposal’s lead designer. Whatever the truth of that might be, the production Bentayga was a vehicle even dyed in the wool (or quilted leather in this instance) Bentley aficionados found somewhat difficult to swallow, on design-execution-related grounds at least.
Appearance-wise, the car’s genes were ill-hidden by a surfeit of tacked-on Continental GT styling cues (itself no paragon of platonic quintessence), while its cabin served up a carelessly delivered symphony of seemingly high-end materials locked in futile quest for an over-riding theme. But to a certain stripe of customer, it made the right kind of impression, and while inverted snobs such as myself either rolled their eyes, or held their noses, these customers, (70% Crewe state have been new to the brand) have made Bentayga perhaps the most sought-after Bentley model ever.
This week, marking five years since the model’s introduction, Crewe have announced a facelifted version. And while initial teaser images suggested the more habitual minor exterior tweaks, the car has in fact been far more comprehensively (and expensively) revised than first expected, with both nose and tail significantly altered – the rear in particular being singled out for the most overt scalpel work.
Given the level of opprobrium hurled Bentley’s way upon the car’s initial introduction, it’s maybe unsurprising, but nevertheless it’s far from customary for such a wholesale midlife revision to take place at this elevated end of the market. Clearly, Bentley has been stung, not only by criticism of its own creation, but by the advent of competition, such as that from arch-rival Rolls Royce.
I could go into detail as to the changes wrought upon the Bentayga’s visage and posterior, (other outlets are available for that) but given that the revisions only serve to reinforce the plenitude of fundamental stylistic and proportional deficiencies, it feels somewhat superfluous. Needless to say, nothing wrought upon Bentayga’s exterior by by Chief Exterior Designer, JP Gregory or his opposite number in Interior Design, Darren Day, has done anything to mollify the sense that this remains a deeply dishonest device aimed at those with money, but little else to say for themselves.
Not only that, but the bulk of the exterior changes, clearly aimed at improving the original’s distressingly weak stance and proportion, only seem to further emphasise the car’s MLB, Audi-derived platform hard points and by consequence, its ill-wrought basis in essence.
Bentley, certainly as currently fashioned within the VW empire, and for all its touted class-superiority suffers from an over-riding deficiency – one which its Goodwood-based rival has somehow managed to largely avoid – what might be termed a gravitas deficit. Rolls Royce, itself hardly immune from ill-judged excursions off-road has been busy of late telling tame journalists about efforts at redefining itself around the notion of “post-opulence”.
Bentley on the other hand appear to be mired within the same rather dated post-millennium Dubai 7-star hotel aesthetic which their upper-crust antagonists believe is on the way out, and while the seriously wealthy seek new meaning in materials, one has to wonder if pleated leather, contrast stitching, hand cross stitching, micro-stitching and dark tint, diamond brushed aluminium fillets are entirely on-zeitgeist? Is it not all a little too redolent of the blessed one of Carlsbad? (And the less said about G. Wagener’s Maybach confections the better for all concerned).
Because as be-tinselled and oversized as the current Range Rover (for example) has become there remains an element of integrity to its offer – a shadow of the utility vehicle from which it is descended. The likes of Bentayga and Cullinan are not simply the most explicit expressions of this concept, but perversions of it. But while Rolls Royce’s diamond geezer is gross, its monstrous appearance has some coherence, a sense that RR designers were in possession of a theme which was broadly adhered to, even if the results were anything but pleasing.
The Bentayga however maintains all appearances of a camel by committee, one where market strategy and cost considerations over-rode any chance the designers had to craft a convincing product. Because, to paraphrase a noted songwriter, all the bullion in the world can not transform what’s simply second rate.