We drive the more performance-oriented Bentayga S in California ahead of its Australian launch this year.
Bentley has created a junior model of the W12-powered Bentley Bentayga Speed that we will be able to buy in Australia soon, the Bentayga S, adding most of the same dynamic tweaks to the V8 version. The expected arrival is in the first quarter of this year.
Bad news first: there is no more power. Company insiders say the complexity of homologating different powerplants within Europe precluded the possibility of an output tweak, although the 4.0-litre V8’s peaks of 404kW and 770Nm remain impressive enough. On Bentley’s figures, the S’s 4.5sec 0-100km/h time and 300km/h top speed are just 0.6sec and 16km off the respective figures for the W12.
Suspension changes from the standard V8 are more significant. Bentley says the dampers are 15 per cent stiffer but that the S has also been given a more dynamic ESC tune in its Sport mode. It also gets the Dynamic Ride system as standard, this being the active set-up that uses 48V motors to counter lean under hard cornering loads by applying torque to the anti-roll bars.
Visually, the S gets the darkened trim of the Bentayga’s optional Blackline package as standard, subtle badging on the doors, a larger rear wing and oval tailpipes – plus 22-inch alloy wheels as standard. There is also stitched S branding on the seats.
While the Bentayga’s styling and proportions have been likened to those of a stately home, the car has always felt fleet of foot when pressed hard – and the S does indeed improve on the impressive dynamic abilities of the regular V8.
There might be no more power, but a new sports exhaust has given the V8 a significant increase in character. It fires into life with a fruity idle, burbles under gentle use and develops an angry snarl when worked hard. While it sounds great to petrolhead ears, especially driving past at full throttle, the volume is getting towards anti-social levels; neighbours are certainly going to notice any Bentayga S owners trying to sneak out early in the morning.
Yet the chassis still feels impressively well judged, with even a relatively short drive in California proving the stiffened settings haven’t compromised the standard Bentayga’s pliant athleticism.
Sport mode gives the ride a noticeable edge over high-frequency imperfections but never turns the car harsh. Comfort mode feels nearly as pliant as the regular V8, despite the huge wheels, and the air springs always use their travel intelligently to absorb and digest bumps rather than fight them. As before, the default ‘B’ dynamic mode leaves the car to its own devices, and it definitely makes the right choices most of the time.
The anti-roll system works almost invisibly. It doesn’t entirely cancel lean under hard cornering loads; a small amount has been deliberately left in to give the driver a sense of the forces at play. But it feels impressively lithe and wieldy for something so tall and heavy, putting up a spirited resistance to understeer in tighter turns before ultimately surrendering to it.
The eight-speed autobox’s Sport mode remains too aggressive, kicking down under gentle throttle applications rather than trusting in the engine’s mighty torque and holding onto low gears for longer than it needs to. The transmission also feels slightly dull-witted when ordered to make changes by the steering-wheel paddles, sometimes missing ratios when multiple shifts are requested in short order. And the five-spoke alloy wheels will also be wide of many tastes, the combination of polished faces and black spokes on the car I drove making them look very aftermarket
While few Bentayga buyers are likely to put dynamic focus at the top of their list or purchasing priorities, the S’s improved handling and soundtrack are significant upgrades.