The 2023 Bentley Bentayga EWB (for “Extended Wheelbase”) might seem an odd replacement for the British automaker’s much-loved flagship Mulsanne sedan, retired in 2020.
“Over the past decade,” Bentayga product line director Chris Cole has revealed that, “SUVs have dominated all sectors and continue to grow worldwide, so it really made sense to look at further broadening the Bentayga range.”
Indeed, when it was introduced in 2015 the entire concept of a Bentley SUV seemed alien, but 26,000 of them have sold since, Cole said, huge numbers by Bentley’s historical standards.
The range already included a plug-in hybrid and a 190-mph W-12-powered Speed variant. None other than former corporate overlord turned arch-rival Rolls-Royce responded to the Bentayga’s success with its own SUV, the Cullinan, in 2018.
Rather than building another car-based limo out of the Flying Spur for a declining number of interested buyers, the EWB will carry Bentley’s limousine torch until full electrification later this decade. But company communications director Wayne Bruce is quick to point out that the Bentayga EWB is not “just a stretch.”
The Bentayga EWB is 7.1 inches longer than the regular version, all of which goes into the rear cabin. The result is legroom on par with giants like the Lincoln Navigator.
“We don’t cut-and-shut,” Bruce says. “There’s a whole new underbody and significant modifications had to be made at Crewe to produce it.” Indeed, more than 2,500 new parts were required to create this bigger Bentayga, but this big investment is likely to yield a vehicle even more popular than the Mulsanne it replaces, and one that is used differently.
“84% of Bentaygas are driven every day, and,” Bruce added, “Something like 74% of them are used every day in cities, which is totally unlike our other products.”
Although aimed at the chauffeured plutocrat, the Bentayga EWB retains all of the sporty character of the regular version. Bentley predicts that up to 45% of Bentayga buyers will opt for the bigger version, and given that the Bentayga makes up 40% of the company’s existing sales, that surely means selling more overall.
The EWB price starts at $226,900, a $30,900 premium over the regular V8 version. But you do get more, and for the price of the Cullinan you could have an EWB and several rather nice classic Bentleys for your garage, so there’s that.
While the regular Bentayga faces off against even sportier SUVs like the Lamborghini Urus, having driven the Cullinan and Cadillac Escalade on similar roads and in the dirt, the Bentayga EWB is a standout among the biggest machines.
At 5,542 pounds to start, the Bentayga EWB is a big battleship, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like one. The regular short version is already one of the most athletic large SUVs thanks to its punchy powertrains, precise steering, well-damped suspension and 48-volt active anti-roll system, called Bentley Dynamic Ride.
The qualities that make the regular Bentayga a dynamic standout among merely large SUVs are even more pronounced in the world of SUV megafauna. Even with all its heft, it’s 150 to 600 pounds lighter than some competitors and its roofline 4 to 8 inches lower overall, with no real sacrifice in room.
With its lower center of gravity and much more performance-focused chassis, it’s no surprise that it feels more like Bentley’s GT cars than other SUVs at speed. Of course, physics dictate that it doesn’t handle quite like they do, but carving up the twisty roads of rural B.C. like a Christmas roast was no problem for the EWB.
Dynamic Ride’s tiny electric motors can apply 959 pound-feet of torque to each of the Bentayga’s chunky anti-roll bars and react in as little as 0.06 seconds, counteracting both body roll and bumps.
The EWB stayed securely planted up to very high limits. Like the regular Bentayga it’s more eager to have fun than many of its competitors and, unlike the American alternatives, it never feels truck-like.
For maneuverability in tight spaces, or on dirt trails, there’s a new electrically activated rear-wheel steering system that turns up to 4.1 degrees, reducing the EWB’s turning circle by 7% compared to the regular Bentayga.
At high speeds, it moves more subtly in the other direction, to help stability when changing lanes. Speaking of trails, when off-road, the Dynamic Ride system uses its muscle to increase wheel articulation, and the suspension can rise to 9.6 inches of ground clearance.
Only one powertrain is available for now, the 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 and ZF eight-speed automatic transmission shared with the Bentayga S. Despite its extra size, it’s only 0.1 seconds slower to 60 mph. (It reached in 4.5 seconds, about the same as an Escalade-V). Although there’s a hair of turbo lag when you first hit the pedal, the V8 and its ZF partner are a highly responsive pair.
Strangely for a limo-like vehicle, the exhaust note is louder in the back than up front for the driver, but that only seems to hammer home that this is a sportier vehicle even if it will sometimes be chauffeur driven. Those in the back seat, however, are in for other delights, some of them auditory.
The entire wheelbase stretch goes into backseat legroom, opening up the kind of space seen in even larger SUVs like the Lincoln Navigator L and Cullinan. Bentley measures the distance from the ball of the driver’s foot to the hip of the rear passenger to avoid variations in where the front seat is placed and quotes about 2.5 to 2.7 inches more room in this dimension than the new Range Rover LWB.
Bentayga EWB buyers can choose from three backseat configurations. The standard arrangement is a 4+1 layout, with two 16-way powered chairs big enough for Kevin Durant and flanking a (very) occasional middle seat with a fold-down console.
They can also choose (though few will) for a simple five-place setup (as on a commoner’s Lexus LX 600), or a dedicated four-seat layout with a fixed console. New to the EWB, and available only with the four-seat setup, are Bentley’s $11,195 “Airline specification” seats. The name evokes the kind of first-class chairs seen on an Etihad 787, but these seats are better.
Beautiful details abound, not only in the functional “Airline” seats, but also in the finely-crafted door panels, the perforations in which hide ambient lights (“Diamond Illumination”) that liven up the cabin at night.
Merely being adjustable 22 ways would provide plenty of comfy positions, but these seats also constantly monitor contact temperature and humidity to automatically keep you at your desired temperature. A postural adjustment system can apply up to 177 barely perceptible changes to six pressure zones over three hours, banishing the numbness that even the nicest seats can induce over time.
Pop out the touchscreen controller on the rear console and you can control all aspects of seat position and temperature, including putting the passenger’s side rear seat in “relax” mode. This moves the front passenger seat forward, pops open a heated footrest and reclines the seat up to 40 degrees.
This 20-speaker, 20-channel amp audio upgrade is another option priced like a normal person’s used car at $9,150, but even Giorgio Moroder would be impressed at its symphonic range. The stock 590-watt, 12-speaker system is good, but the Naim system might be the highest-quality factory-installed audio setup I’ve ever heard.
If the overachieving audio system and the throaty V8 bellow aren’t enough, there’s an optional rear entertainment system running on a pair of 10.1-inch screens.
As with other Bentleys, for the towering price the company will let you customize your build to an extreme degree. Rolls-Royce also offers such luxuries, but at an even higher price. There are, Chris Cole says, “More than 24 billion possible combinations of trim and color in our configurator.”
If the standard range of colors doesn’t satisfy, there are even more available via the Mulliner color packages, starting from $7,810. There are more than a dozen hide colors and surface veneers to suit.
Bentley is also gradually introducing what it calls its “Azure” line (a name used in the past on an ultra-luxe convertible), a luxury-and-wellness themed trim group soon to filter through the rest of the line.
The Bentayga EWB Azure First Edition bundles many of the most desirable options into a limited-run special package, and it’s as customizable as the other Bentaygas.
According to the company, the changes in these models are geared toward reducing noise, vibration and harshness and taking a neuroscience-driven approach to comfort.
The EWB Azure will start at $263,500. It does include some extra niceties like the $8,815 Touring Spec option, which includes adaptive cruise control and lane centering, though sadly that system was one of my only gripes about the Bentayga. It isn’t nearly as smooth as GM’s systems on the Escalade, and it’s nowhere near as capable as Super Cruise.
The Bentayga EWB is a much more energetic and entertaining drive than most of its high-luxe, jumbo-sized rivals. That makes it a bit of an enigma among such machines. It’s true, Clydesdales and Shire horses have size, presence and brawn, but Bentleys are thoroughbreds made for both stately luxury and fast fun. Those virtues shine whether you’re riding in front or back.
The Price And When It Will Be Available:
The 2023 Bentayga EWB starts at $226,900 while the Azure rings in at $263,500, plus a hefty $2,275 destination charge on either. A First Edition package that includes special badging and embroidery, among other extras, adds $15,030 to the bill.
The order books are already open for the EWB, and the first examples of the SUV should be meeting their new owners in the next few weeks.
Credit: Alex Kwanten, Forbes Media LLC