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2023 Bentley Bentayga Road Test: Airline Spec is the way to travel


Jun 14, 2023
2023 Bentley Bentayga Road Test: Airline Spec is the way to travel


After nearly a week rolling around town in the 2023 Bentley Bentayga, enjoying its power, comfort and the ability to make a grand entrance basically anywhere, it dawns on me that I’m doing this wrong. Yes, the V8 is great, but of course it is. The story is in the back seat.

I’m testing an extended wheelbase Bentayga Azure First Edition outfitted with the Airline Seat Specification. It’s business class, plain and simple. As darkness falls, I make up a cheese plate and head to the backseat, placing my charcuterie on the veneered picnic trays below the 10.1-inch screens. Leaning back on the pillowy headrest, I feel like I’m about to settle in for a cushy trans-Atlantic flight.

There’s so much room. The wheelbase extends 7 inches beyond the standard Bentayga and there’s enough space to do calf stretches. The First Edition offers Diamond Illumination on the door panels and the purple ambient lighting casts a royal glow. It’s not as dramatic as the Starry Night Sky in the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, but with 22 LEDs shimmering through leather perforations, it is rather cosmic. 

The Airline spec seats are the other part of the Bentayga’s charm, with 22 possible ways to calibrate positions. Sure, you can cue up any number of massages, but you can do that in many Jeeps. Bentley’s seats also offer a Postural Adjustment System that is said to apply up to 177 pressure changes over a three-hour period to keep you comfy. Dialing into work meetings with my feet up, I enjoyed it, mostly. I didn’t stay there for three hours, but for my roughly one-hour stint, the adjustments were generally appreciated (I could have updated my Google calendar location to ‘Bentley’, but that seemed pretentious). The cupholders are solid, too.

Bentley moved the sunroof back about 5 inches to further focus on the rear passengers, and it’s an airy setting, especially when reclined. There’s also an auto climate function that adjusts the surface temperature. After playing around with the many settings, I eventually found the one that pushed the front passenger’s seat all the way forward, a footstool extended down and I leaned back for a brief rest. 

Different Bentayga EWB pictured

So I did actually drive a Bentley for a week, and it offers a certain gravitas both in motion and at rest. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 supplies plenty of power to the tune of 542 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque, and it will get you and your passengers to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, should the need arise. It’s a big SUV, roughly similar in size to the Chevy Tahoe, and it’s a bit to handle on the road. I wasn’t intimidated, but the hood is long and visibility out of the back isn’t great (the passengers are clearly the priority). All-wheel steering helps, and the Bentagya is reasonably maneuverable, even pulling off some impressive U-turns in tight situations.

It’s a bit louder on the expressway than I anticipated. During rush hour traffic on Interstate 75 in Detroit’s northern suburbs, I was surprised that the usual soundtrack of road noise and wind infiltrated the cabin. It wasn’t offensive, but it was typical of most SUVs traveling at the posted speeds on the highway. The smooth sounds produced by the Naim speakers did overcome most of the outside intrusions.

I drove in sport mode for a good chunk of time, as I found it tailored the eight-speed transmission’s shifts best with the V8. Getting on the throttle will produce a bark, though the powertrain is calmer — Bentley would posit more couth — than potent eight-cylinder SUVs from Jaguar and Maserati I have tested. I briefly ventured off pavement onto a compacted dirt road with chuck holes, and the Bentayga was composed and capable, thanks in part to the 48-volt active anti-roll system, called Bentley Dynamic Ride.

At $263,500, this Bentayga looks expensive. The large, circular headlights have diamond-shaped accent details, there’s a lot of chrome, and the grille is suitably huge. My tester wore a shade of purple that was actually subtle during overcast weather. Riding on 21-inch painted machined wheels, the Bentayga has a commanding presence. Though it’s blingy, it’s inline with things like the Cullinan and Lamborghini Urus. At this price point, you can afford to be unassuming, but luxury SUV designers seem to believe the opposite

The Bentayga EWB offers prestige and decadence, yet in a creative way. It’s one thing to make a big SUV with cushy seats, it’s another to make them actively work to make the passengers more comfortable. It’s a bit much, but frankly so is everything at this price point. You could also spend your quarter of a million bucks on a Continental. Or a Lamborghini Huracan. It depends on the experience you’re looking for. In that sense, the Bentayga delivers a singular performance that’s beyond terrestrial. Airline Spec, indeed.  

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