Flagship to the Bentley brand aims to add monstrous backseat room while retaining driving dynamics.
Bentley Airline Seat hits new levels of comfort for the limo class.
Near last hurrah for internal combustion engine-powered luxury SUV.
Size matters in the SUV world, and in the luxury end of that world, you could add an exclamation point to that statement. The 2023 Bentley Bentayga EWB is a bold exclamation point for VW’s luxury brand.
Yet, as important as “bigness” is for this latest iteration of the Bentayga clan, the expanded size is only part of the story. The 180 millimeter extension of the wheelbase is a stretch between the wheels, but Bentley handled it so elegantly that it is barely noticeable from the outside of the now almost 17.5-foot-long luxury SUV. The EWB’s chief designer told Autoweek the key was extending the arc surrounding the rear wheelwell so proportions of the EWB mimic the shorter standard wheelbase.
Open that massive rear door, though, and the point of the stretch becomes clear. The rear of the Bentayga EWB can—and probably should in all cases—be equipped with its proprietary Airline Seats. These seats and their surrounding environment put the passenger in a special world, as we found driving and being driven in the mountain roads of British Columbia outside Vancouver. With only a day of driving/riding, it wasn’t possible to explore all of the 22 ways of adjustment or experience the 177 individual pressure changes across six fully independent pressure zones that the seat offers. Trust us when we say it is one of the most comfortable and accommodating seats we’ve ever experienced in an automobile. That includes having side bolsters that gently secure you in place without restricting movement.
Beyond the seat, the spaciousness of the rear compartment, augmented by the car’s smooth ride, provided a work environment unlike any automobile we’ve been in—and better than some offices in which we’ve had to labor. Hand-stitched leathers are everywhere throughout the cabin, with mood lighting peeking out from behind in some places.
The picture-window-size side glass and panoramic sunroof add to the ambiance in the rear; it’s not unlike riding in one of Amtrak’s observation cars. Although I don’t think the Amtrak seats offer a variety of massages like Bentley’s. Or have the “wellness” focus of automatic climate sensing and advanced postural adjustments.
The tension with Bentley is all these limo accoutrements clash with its heritage as a luxurious driver’s car. Even though the highlighted feature of the EWB is in the back seat, Bentley couldn’t let go of the importance of how this 7165-pound car would perform for its driver, making sure we not only experienced the Airline Seat, but also got behind the wheel on some fun BC mountain roads.
The 542-horsepower twin-turbo V8 did not disappoint. The 4.0-liter engine appeared to not only be more than capable of replicating its claimed 4.5-second 0-to-60 mph, it also was mated to a smooth eight-speed ZF gearbox and permanent all-wheel drive that delivered seamless power as needed. The car was easily capable of leaving behind the conservative mountain road speed limits and blasting past laggard vehicles as needed with its 568 lb-ft of torque kicking in at 2000 rpm.
Bentley’s V8 adds cylinder deactivation to show it is keeping an eye on fuel economy. The regular Bentayga delivers 14 mpg in the city, 21 on the highway and 17 combined. The EWB with its added weight shouldn’t diminish those numbers too much. That should equal more than 400 miles of driving.
The Bentayga EWB’s rear-wheel steering adds another driver-oriented treat that also is a positive for the rear-seat passenger. Maneuvering the lengthy vehicle is much easier than expected and transitory moves become almost second nature. Bentley says the EWB will turn more efficiently than the standard-wheelbase Bentayga, which we have no reason to doubt. The steering feeds off of the car’s 48-volt mild hybrid system, which also runs an active antiroll bar. You don’t feel—which is the point—the self-leveling air suspension or its continuous dampening control.
Bentleys are all about options, so it’s not surprising it features an eight-mode drive control and four ride heights.
Even though Bentleys sell in the 10s of thousands annually, the company has done its best to make sure your neighbor will not show up with a twin of your vehicle. The variety of trim combinations for the Bentley lineup totals 24 billion—and that’s before going into bespoke choices. As an example, the Bentayga EWB has seven standard paint colors, but 56 extended paint colors, and then can customize your paint on top of that.
Likewise, you have five standard hide colors for the seats and an extended choice of 10 more. Veneers, a key part of the luxury experience, clock in at eight choices plus three open-pore options.
This is the luxury world, defined by the Bentley folks as vehicles starting at $200,000 retail. Needless to say, that’s the ground floor for the brand’s five models. With record revenues during the pandemic, Bentley noted that the division is able to self-fund the £2.5 billion investment in the electrification of the lineup, which will be beginning soon. The spokesman defined that as a sustainable business plan feeding into the production of more sustainable luxury vehicles.
Bentley’s hybrid and plug-in hybrid models are being handling by the internal combustion engine team since they’re built on the current platforms, but a distinct EV team is working on the electric models. Those are promised to come at a one-per-year cadence starting in 2025 until the entire portfolio is electrified in 2030. It’s hard to imagine the Bentayga EWB could be smoother, quieter or a more powerful driving machine, but an electric powertrain just might be the ticket.
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