The latest sign that the gas engine’s days are numbered? A plug-in electric Bentley.
The gasoline engine is dying. Its decline started years ago and has only accelerated as electrified vehicles continue sinking their hooks into new markets. Today, all-electric vehicles are increasingly common, while electrification is (to varying degrees) present in nearly every market segment.
The 2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid represents the initial advance of progress into one of the few segments untouched by lithium-ion batteries: six-figure ultra-luxury vehicles. This hybridized Bentley is the latest in a string of tipping points, but much like early plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, some of its compromises are hard to live with, and almost all of them happen to be under the hood.
Like the Continental GT V8 we reviewed last week (as well as the V8-powered Bentayga), Bentley sources the hybrid powertrain from its German overlords, Volkswagen Group. Instead of a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, though, a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 works alongside a 94-kilowatt electric motor and a 13-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack to produce 443 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor on its own is responsible for 126 hp and 258 lb-ft, while the 463-pound battery provides enough juice for an EPA-estimated 16 miles of all-electric driving. And because Bentley hid it in the floor, it does that without eating into cargo space.
In testing at suburban speeds around Silicon Valley, the 16-mile estimate seemed remarkably conservative. In fact, our tester estimated our range was almost double that figure when we set off, and we still had a few miles left after the short-ish drive loop. That said, the loop only included a few miles of freeway driving, as well as a long downhill section, which we coasted down to regain a mile of range.
Like most plug-ins, the Bentayga features three dedicated settings to control its electrified powertrain. These are in addition to and independent from the usual driving modes for all the other vehicle systems (the Hybrid SUV shares its Sport, Bentley, Comfort, and Custom driving modes with its siblings). Hybrid (which Bentley’s engineers requested we spend almost all of our time in) let's the car's computers judge which power source to use based on the situation. Hold prevents the Bentayga from drawing electricity from its lithium-ion battery pack, while EV deactivates the gas engine for all-electric driving and limits the top speed to 84 mile per hour. Being able to manipulate the modes is key to getting the most out of the battery pack. And even if it squanders electrons, recharging the Bentayga Hybrid is easy – the battery pack takes 2.5 hours to recharge on a 240-volt charger (7.5 hours from a normal wall outlet).
Getting to 60 mph from a standstill takes a leisurely 5.2 seconds.
The Bentayga Hybrid, as a whole, drives mostly well. The electric motor provides abundant power off the line, while the turbocharged V6 keeps the good times rolling at higher speeds. But it all feels a little… underwhelming. And the stopwatch supports that argument. Getting to 60 mph from a standstill takes a leisurely 5.2 seconds, or half a second longer than in the new Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid. So even with the bite from the electric motor and passing power on the freeway from the gas engine, the Bentayga Hybrid lacks the gut punch and the sense of occasion we enjoyed so much in last week's German-engined Bentley. Accelerating isn't an eye-opening experience here. It's just a mundane one.
That's largely down to weight. At 5,789 pounds, the Bentayga Hybrid is over 700 pounds heavier than the upcoming Cayenne E-Hybrid. That's a big disadvantage. But even if the Bentayga is slower because of its heft, we'd be willing to forgive it if the hybrid powertrain at least sounded the part. But the hybrid pairing lacks the aristocratic bellow from out back that shouts to all the peasants that someone important has somewhere to be. Instead, there's the ho-hum sound of a 3.0-liter V6 engine. To a blindfolded person, an Audi Q5 may have just driven by.
This hybrid does suffer from some other hybrid ills, although they're minor. The regenerative brake pedal is on the grabby side, but we could adjust to it after a couple of days. There's also the occasional stumble when switching from electric to gas power. We bring these up not because they're especially major problems (they'd barely warrant a mention in a lesser car), but because this is a Bentley. They shouldn't be there at all.
But ignore the powertrain – as we suspect most owners will – and this hybrid still does everything a Bentayga should do, and incredibly well, we might add. Hell, in some cases, it's better than the gas model.
The ride is quiet and composed, even with 22-inch alloy wheels. When running in EV mode, the cabin feels cut off from the world, with hardly any noise sneaking in. If your commute to work is within the Bentayga's EV range, it'd be a remarkably serene way to while away rush-hour traffic. Every seat is comfortable, too. In fact, we spent a lengthy, traffic-filled ride in the back of a Bentayga Hybrid while traveling from San Francisco International Airport to a Napa Valley hotel. The only complaint on the journey was down to lousy Bay Area traffic. Families that road trip in the Bentayga will adore its spacious second row, a cargo hold that’s unaffected by the battery pack, and its cabin’s tomb-like quietness.
This hybrid still does everything a Bentayga should do, and incredibly well, we might add.
And they'll adore looking at it, too. Bentley wisely opted to retain the gas-powered Bentayga's looks inside and out. Aside from an additional door on the driver's side rear fender for the charge port and three small Hybrid badges, the Bentayga Hybrid is indistinguishable from a V8 or W12 model. It still, unquestionably, looks the part of a Bentley. That's true of the cabin, too.
While less impressive than the newer Continental, the Bentayga’s innards are still its top selling point. Leather is everywhere, in exceedingly high quality and quantity. Bentley offers 15 different leather shades (but if you order anything but Cumbrian Green hides with Cricket Ball accents, you're a fool) and nearly as much veneer variety, with seven different types of wood, as well as carbon fiber and piano black trim available. The fit and finish is immaculate, with every button, dial, switch, and touchpoint assembled to an exceedingly high standard.
In fact, the interior looks and feels far more expensive than the Hybrid’s $156,900 price might indicate. That relatively low figure is the best reason to consider the Bentayga Hybrid – and why its presence in the Bentley line-up is such a big deal. This is now the most affordable new model Bentley sells.
There isn't a vehicle within $50,000 that offers this level of interior quality, refinement, and comfort. Even optioned up, there's genuine value here. Our tester rang up at $200,045, and included all of the Bentayga’s available active safety systems, including night vision and a head-up display, as well as massaging front seats, the Mulliner Driving Specification (22-inch alloys, diamond-quilted seat upholstery, drilled pedals), and the range-topping Naim audio system. The as-tested price is about even with the Mercedes-Maybach S650 and a bit less than a Land Rover Range Rover SVAutobiography. Those vehicles are excellent, to be sure, but neither is a Bentley.
And that remains the Bentayga Hybrid's strength. The powertrain may not feel like it belongs, but at the end of the day this still looks, feels, and rides like a Bentley, even if its hybrid powertrain lacks the punch of one. The better news, for Bentley and its customers, is that the company's first hybrid is positive proof of concept. It's a sign that, even with some wrinkles, electrification and ultra-luxury are not mutually exclusive concepts. There's room for improvement, but as starting points go, the 2020 Bentayga Hybrid is a strong one.