► CAR magazine’s luxury SUV group test
► Bentley Bentayga vs Range Rover SVA
► Performance and mud-plugging
From rich pig farmer to boss of Big Pharma, the audience for luxury SUVs has shifted radically since the first Range Rover crested a muddy brow and loomed imperiously into view in 1970. These days everyone wants an SUV, and why should the hyper-rich be any different? Having been slow to latch on to the concept, the world’s most exclusive car brands are about to flood the market with 4x4s that are every bit as expensive and eye-catching as any supercar. And a world away from the clunky manual-shift and plastic hose-out interiors of the original Rangie.
Lamborghini is poised to launch the Urus. Aston has a crossover in development. Even Ferrari, after years of asserting it would never build an SUV, is now investigating the genre.
Click here to read our Ferrari SUV scoop
But until any of those arrive, the Bentley Bentayga or full-size Range Rover is as good as it gets – and about as expensive, if you discount the often taste-free world of aftermarket modification. In 2003 when the previous Range Rover was making waves, the most expensive cost £59,995, only fractionally pricier than the cheapest 911.
Now an entry-level Range Rover costs £76,795, and this SVAutobiography Dynamic weighs in at £132,800, or twice the price of a bottom-rung 911. The 2018 facelift, brings many changes, but they don’t include a price cut.
This kind of money gets you into a V8 diesel Bentayga, but you’d need to step up to the even more luxury-infused (and less dynamic) long-wheelbase SVAutobiography Rangie to level with the £162,700 W12 Bentley we’ve got here. And that price is before options. Yes, even a £167k Bentley doesn’t come with everything you want.
Our car has £1600 of veneered picnic tables, a rear entertainment system that costs £5635, £6615 of Naim hi-fi and both the All Terrain and Touring packages (adaptive cruise, collision detection, night vision, head-up display). Those, plus a smattering of other options, inflate the price by £47k to £210,205. Can that £60k halo Rangie we reminisced about really have been only 14 years ago?
But is it any more outrageous to charge £200k for a luxury car than asking the same money for a supercar? Plenty of manufacturers do, and then some, for supercars less worthy than this. There has never been an SUV, a Bentley, perhaps even a car at all with such a wide remit as this.
Not only does the Bentayga marry limo-like luxury with proper four-wheel-drive ability, it throws near-supercar performance into the mix. At 187mph this 600bhp Bentley is the world’s fastest, most powerful production SUV. At least until they come up with a Speed or Super Sports version and top 200mph. The idea of a 200mph SUV might be ridiculous but the concept of a Bentley SUV isn’t.
Read our full Bentley Bentayga review
In fact, it’s a perfect fit for a British brand that doesn’t have to worry about corrupting handling purity the way some of its rivals have had to. Still, it took a German to make it happen, CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer, who’d previously overseen the development of the Cayenne at Porsche – a much trickier task and at a time when SUVs were judged with far more suspicion.
It wouldn’t have happened at all if Bentley wasn’t part of the mighty VW empire. Under the Bentayga’s skin lies a platform (and smart 48v electrical system) shared with sister company Audi’s Q7. Not that anyone’s worried about that as we roll into Uppingham, 20 miles west of the CAR office, having demolished the back roads there in a time a decent hot hatch would be hard pressed to beat.
Not the old dear in the Corsa who oohs when we glide past. Not the immaculately turned-out kids whose parents have parted with £12k a term to send their budding Rees-Moggs to board at the town’s school and might well have one of our duo in their six-car garage.
Styling, design touches
Both cars look perfectly at ease here, though in detail and proportion they’re wildly different. The current Rangie initially seemed impossibly elegant after its Metrocab-like predecessor, the perfect combination of sleek and statesman- like. The kind of car you could slap a fluted grille on and convincingly sell as a Rolls-Royce.
But today it’s the Bentley that wears the flash grille. The Range Rover needs all 1.9mm of its height to come close to drawing your attention away from the Crewe car. And height is the only stat battle the SVAutobiography wins: the Bentley rides on a bigger wheelbase, it’s longer and it’s wider.
Read our Range Rover long-term test review
This Range Rover is the product of JLR’s SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) team, whose work includes limited-edition specials, armour-plated cars and line-built special cars designed to match anything AMG or Bentley can turn out.
Range Rover: what the SVA Dynamic badge means
We’ve seen the SV badge before on Jag’s F-type, and also on the Range Rover Sport. In both cases SV prefixed the letter R, denoting that these were serious performance machines. But that wouldn’t have been exactly right for a Range Rover proper. This SVAutobiography still has a definite performance slant that’s reinforced by its use of the 542bhp engine from its Range Sport SVR little brother and suspension that’s stiffer and 8mm lower.
But this RR is predominantly about the luxury. And by the standards of ordinary cars the interior would seem to define luxury. There’s quilted leather, Bentley-ish knurling to the controls and expensive veneers. But often the quality isn’t as good as a glance suggests. The column stalks feel nasty, and Lexus wouldn’t send out a £35k car with a glovebox this reluctant to close, never mind one that costs £135k.
The coming switch to the Velar’s twin-screen dash set-up will add some wow and it’s up to the buyer to pick wisely from the colour palette to avoid something that looks like it was built to mark Hugh Hefner’s passing. Examples on the Land Rover website show how elegant the SVA can look.
If, that is, you’re prepared to look past the crass detailing. The quad tailpipes (with hangers all too visible) look like a bad aftermarket job, their round shape jarring awkwardly with the lantern-jaw lines of the body itself. And the handsome 22in wheels are spoiled by the red calipers begging for your attention between their spokes. But nastiest of all are the red anodised shift paddles located behind the steering wheel.
Obviously there’s a huge market for SUV bling, and this is Land Rover’s attempt to court it. Trouble is, people like Overfinch do it better. The Bentley is free of any such faux pas. It looks and feels every inch the consummate British luxury express, without ever tipping into some awful Rover 75-esque parody. The low roofline makes for a surprisingly cosy driving environment that’s saved from being cramped by generous legroom, and everything in here from the presentation of the dials to the fit and finish of the switches shouts luxury. But unlike the SVA, there’s little in here that shouts about the car’s performance – not even the induction noise of that W12.
Browse secondhand Range Rovers for sale
What are they like to drive?
The SVA’s volume has been dialled back compared to the Sport SVR, but there’s the same richly textured V8 growl that backs up what the 542bhp on the spec sheet suggests. Yup, this SVAutobiography is one bad-ass-UV.
Or so I think until staff writer Jake Groves in the Bentayga wafts past my right-hand window, past my flattened right foot, and past the two cars beyond me on the long pull uphill that runs alongside Rutland Water. If you’ve already geeked out on the technical specs of our two cars, you’ll know how and why.
Both weigh around 2450kg give or take the odd case of Dom, but the Bentley’s 6.0-litre W12 serves up 600bhp and enough torque to suck the Rangie’s aluminium skin off like a magician whipping away a tablecloth. We’re talking 682lb ft of twist versus 502lb ft in the SVA Dynamic, and only the faintest hint of turbo lag to contend with between opening the taps in the Bentayga and the dam being breached.
The Bentley doesn’t sound that special, but it does special things to the laws of physics, reaching 62mph in 4.0sec compared with 5.4sec for the Range Rover. Both are fast, but it’s like taking on an F1 car in a Formula Ford.
Technically, there are quicker cars around. But in that stomp from the lights on Park Lane the combination of hypercar torque and all-wheel-drive traction means you’ll rarely be beaten to the next red in either.
Used Bentley Bentaygas from £130k
Around town it’s the supple Range Rover that’s marginally the more comfortable, despite being hobbled compared to lesser Range Rovers by the 22in wheels and uprated suspension fitted to make it credibly sporty, and less comfortable seats than the Bentayga. A towering driving position makes you feel like you’re riding an elephant with a roof as you peer down at lesser traffic, and the tall glasshouse and upright screen creates a real sense of space that you just don’t get in the Bentley.
But away from the crawl of Uppingham it’s the Bentayga that plays the performance car role more convincingly. You sense the huge mass travelling with you at every attempt to turn or slow it. But its dynamic superiority over its rival is never in doubt.
Inside the Bentley Bentayga SUV
Having swapped to the Bentley at our last stop, I’m perched on the Bentayga’s quilted leather chair, peering down towards the winged badge at the leading edge of the bonnet, seriously impressed by how flat that false horizon stays through the corners. With the chassis dial in Sport the adaptive air suspension is doing a good job of checking unwanted body movements, and we’re leaving the Range Rover behind.
You’ll normally see these cars looking immaculate, but we wondered what they would look like in brown, so we headed to one of the few places where the vehicles can make a Bentayga seem small. Make that small and cheap. Even a used example of the Komatsu HD785 trucks at Rutland’s Hanson Cement plant will set you back as much as a new Bentayga and the combination of 1200bhp, 2m-tall wheels and a 70-tonne kerb weight means they could crush our preening pair in a snap.
What are they like off-road?
Of our duo, it’s the Range Rover that offers the most off-road ability. It’ll wade to 900mm versus 500mm for the Bentley, and with its air suspension hiked up it’s got the approach, departure and breakover stats sewn up too. If you want to discover a new tribe in the Congo while listening to Test Match Special and without muddying your shoes, this is your car.
The Bentayga is more than capable enough, particularly if you’ve splashed £4955 for the All Terrain package. It includes a luggage management system to stop your posh cases flying around, underfloor protection and a top-view camera to help you navigate trails. But its main sell is the expanded choice of driving modes on the rotary selector, tailoring the running gear’s operation to suit the terrain and weather. It’s a dead ringer for LR’s Terrain Response system – and probably equally wasted on 99 per cent of the people who’ll buy it.
There’s a valid argument that says cars like this, and the Bentley in particular, sum up everything that’s wrong with a wasteful world. Almost no-one needs a car that can drive off-road, is this opulent, or can do 187mph, let alone one that marries all three, and compromises its ability to do each to achieve it. They cost as much as a house and still emit almost 300g/km of CO2 when all around them ordinary cars have worked their backsides off to close in on 100.
But experience them and it’s hard not to fall for them. Since this generation of Range Rover emerged in 2012 we’ve always considered it one of the few seriously expensive cars we’d spend money on. We love the way it looks, the imperious driving position, that it celebrates the joy of driving not that quickly in the way a Rolls-Royce does.
Even five years on it’s hugely likeable. More handsome than the Bentley, better off road, less claustrophobic and offering more luggage space for those ski trips to Chamonix, a Range Rover is a fabulous machine.
But it’s fabulous at £80,000 or £90,000, less so when it costs almost £140,000 and has a slew of no-holds-barred rivals on the horizon. At that money, the Range Rover doesn’t feel special enough. It might be the best in extreme off-road situations, but that’s even less relevant than the Bentayga’s 187mph top speed.
Enjoyable as it is, the SVA is not distinct enough from other Range Rovers, and not luxurious enough, fast enough or agile enough to go toe to toe with the Bentley. It feels like it’s stretching itself a little too thin, and cracks have opened up in the process.
If the tacky world of obscenely expensive cars was a nightclub, the SVA’d be standing awkwardly at the bar shouting about money to get your attention. The Bentayga would be sitting in the roped-off VIP area looking like it owns the joint. This isn’t only the best luxury SUV; it’s one of the most appealing luxury vehicles of any type.
Bentley’s only mistake was taking so long to green-light this project. Well, that and the guinea-pig styling. But if you like the way it looks, you’ll like everything else about the Bentayga and won’t quibble about the extra cost if you’ve got the money to spend. Few cars at any price leave you feeling so contented behind the wheel. Or is that just what smug feels like?
For now, the W12’s only real threat is its diesel little brother, which is a ––better buy if you live in one of the few markets where both engines are offered. But that could all change next year when Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini enter the fray. The big boys are coming and if Land Rover really wants to play, it’s going to need to do more than throw a few bits of shiny metal trim at a Range Rover.
Bentley Bentayga specs
As tested £210,205
Engine 5950cc 48v W12, 600bhp @ 5000rpm, 682lb ft @ 1350rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 4.0sec 0-62mph, 187mph, 21.6mpg, 296g/km CO2
On sale Now
Range Rover 5.0 V8 SVAutobiography Dynamic specs
As tested £133,680
Engine 5000cc 32v V8, 542bhp @ 6000rpm, 502lb ft @ 3500rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 5.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 22.1mpg, 299g/km CO2
On sale Now
More comparison car test reviews by CAR magazine