► The first plug-in Bentley
► 3.0-litre V6 plus e-motor
► Is the hybrid fit for Bentley?
Car makers are rushing to meet EU CO2 emissions limits and electrify their cars, and Bentley is no exception. The British company says that it’ll offer a hybrid variant of every model by 2023, and an EV by 2025 – but before all of that comes this, the new Bentley Bentayga Hybrid.
Our guide to hybrid car tech
What is it?
Like a handful of car brands, Bentley has the parts catalogue of the mighty VW Group at its disposal, and that means it’s time for another engine swap – much like the Continental GT V8 we drove earlier this month. This time Crewe has pulled out the V8 and W12 from the Bentayga, had a deeper rummage in the stockroom, and replaced them with a 3.0 V6 hybrid unit. That’s the same system seen in the various VW Group cars, but this is the first production hybrid Bentley in history.
The hybrid specs
Bentley has opted for a 3.0-litre single-turbo V6 good for 335bhp, and combined it with a 126bhp e-motor. Overall, then, the hybrid Bentayga has 443bhp and 516lb ft of torque – a fair bit less than the 542bhp and 568lb ft of the V8, and a world away from the colossal 626bhp and 664lb ft of torque in the Bentayga Speed’s W12.
It’s around 200kg heavier too, thanks to all that hybrid plumbing and batteries that sit below the boot (which also stop it coming in seven-seat form). This isn’t looking good, is it?
What do you get?
At a predicted £130,000, the Bentayga Hybrid is a significant chunk cheaper than the V8 or W12 models, and you get a free wallbox charger installed at home as part of the purchase cost. Bentley says the battery can be fast-charged in 2.5 hours, and claims a range of 16 miles (EPA) on pure electric power.
It’s hard to believe this Bentayga is Bentley’s first hybrid, because it’s such a logical exercise - and makes sense on several levels. Bentley’s German family connection allows it to produce a hybrid with much lower R&D costs – but most importantly, it makes sense for the Bentley brand too. And exercises like these are all about branding.
Crewe cars have always been about masses of torque, refinement and effortless performance – so the traction and bottom-end power of an electrified powertrain make a lot of sense for a Bentley. Combine a petrol engine for the range and performance at higher speed, and you’re set – right?
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Tell me, what’s your flavour?
Hybrid cars are complicated things at the best of times, but the Bentley’s driving modes mean this car can be driven in several different attitudes.
The electrified Bentayga offers three hybrid modes: EV-only, Hybrid and Hold, plus a further three driving modes on top, including Sport, Bentley and Comfort. All of these are configurable using the Bentley’s now aged-looking touchscreen, but we’ll talk more about that later.
EV-only mode is exactly what it sounds like, while Hybrid mode uses both petrol and electric power. Hold mode saves battery energy for when you need it most (ie around town), and because that power can also be held back for instant performance, it’s the only powertrain mode available when you’re in Sport mode.
The driving modes are the same as elsewhere across the Bentley range, so Sport weights up the steering, firms the ride and increases throttle response; Comfort softens and lightens everything up; and Bentley mode continues to impress as a brand-building balance of the other two. It's the one we picked most often in our test drive.
What’s it like to drive?
Driving in EV-only mode is quite startling. You can pootle around town in silence and electric drive can be engaged at speeds up to 84mph, giving seamless power, silent operation and easy speed – it offers an arguably better, more refined experience than Bentley’s combustion engines. It’s a silent refuge, and a reassuring glimpse into the future of the brand’s luxury cars.
There are some nice touches; the Bentayga Hybrid shows a dynamic EV-only range zone on maps, which helps you plan your journey and charging times. In EV and Hybrid modes, the throttle has a tangible barrier between electric and petrol power. Push the pedal down to this detent for EV-only power, and then push through it for the combined power of engine and electric. Like kickdown of yore, it's simple, effective and intuitive - exactly what you need in a car bristling with technology.
Hybrid mode also has an added layer of intelligence, and switches between electric and petrol modes to maximise efficiency and range for your journey. And as with all the modes here, the car will display energy use in real-time, so you can see it working.
However, the problems begin when you start using the combined powertrain. Wake up the VW Group’s 3.0-litre V6, and it’s relatively seamless – but still abrupt enough to be noticed. Fine in a Volkswagen, passable in an Audi – but in a brand that’s been surrounding its customers in a luxury cocoon for a century? Less so.
Once it does come to life, the V6 predictably can’t quite match the refinement of a W12, the soundtrack of a V8 or the ease of the EV-only mode. Instead, there’s a real sense of effort – in any driving mode – and it sounds like any other slightly stressed six-cylinder from Wolfsburg.
The Bentayga Hybrid has more weight and less power to overcome it, and it really does feel like it. This is a far cry from the calming ambience and demure performance of the Bentayga V8 we ran as a long-termer last year, and further still from the chapel-quiet W12-engined SUV.
That’s a shame, because the rest of the Bentayga is still a well-crafted thing. It weighs around 2.6 tonnes, but trickery such as Bentley’s Dynamic Ride – read active anti-roll bars – make it feel less like a moving private member’s club on wheels, and more like an actual car. But while in the W12 and V8 you’re able to dive into corners and punch out with violent momentum, in the Bentayga Hybrid it all feels a little laboured.
Bentley Bentayga Hybrid: verdict
On paper hybridising the Bentayga makes sense, and in EV mode it’s a compelling formula, but Bentley’s first hybrid doesn’t quite add up to us. Crewe has been able to whip up a storm with VW Group parts on several occasions, but this electrified system feels like a platform share too far. The 3.0 V6 used here would be serviceable in many other SUVs, but it doesn’t have the silky, easy power this interior, craftsmanship and design deserve.
It also goes some way to explain why Rolls-Royce, Bentley’s opposite number at BMW, has said it’ll head straight from petrol power to EVs, skipping hybrids completely. If Bentley does do another hybrid, it’ll need to pick a powertrain more aligned with its brand mission.
As it is, the Bentayga Hybrid is like a regal carriage strapped to a shetland pony – it doesn’t quite give the experience you’d expect of the big B – and it’s something no amount of custom stitching, free wall chargers, epic craftsmanship or premium cowhide can fix. If you’re just interested in the possible urban ULEZ tax benefits, that’s fine, but we’d rather stick to pure combustion for now.
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