The infotainment system is no less impressive. The primary monitor is an 8-inch touchscreen with a 60GB HDD, CD player, satellite and terrestrial radio. It offers GPS Navigation and voice control with text-to-speech as well. The backs of the front headrests have their own touch screens mounted to them for the rear seat passengers. To ensure that everybody remains entertained throughout the trip, regardless of how many people are riding along, the Bentayga offers the first commercially available tri-SIM LTE connection. Originally developed for military applications, this connectivity splits the data link into three separate streams so that the various connected devices in use aren't stepping on each other's toes.
"It allows us to seamlessly transmit into the vehicle at very high data rates," Bentley's head of marketing strategy, Marcus Abbot, told reporters ahead of the drive, "so that customers in the car can use multiple devices, and experience media interaction at speed, which is almost impossible to do today, with today's in car Wi-Fi offers."
We tried this feature during the test drive but given that we were riding around in the european versions (which were not built for use on American LTE networks) we were only able to squeeze a paltry 0.85 Mbps from the connection. Bentley reps assured me that the connectivity speeds would be very much improved on the US production models.
The driving experience itself was unfortunately not as impressive as the entertainment options and build quality. I got the feeling that the Bentayga hybrid doesn't quite know what it's supposed to be. It was very clear that the hybrid model was simply adapted from the existing platform, which you can see it in the odd dual-fuel gauges -- one for the gas tank, the other for the battery. Similarly, the speedometer dials were all listed in KPH while the holographic HUD showed speeds in MPH. This is likely due to us riding in models intended for UK consumption and won't be the case once the Bentayga arrives in the US but it was still disconcerting. I couldn't decide if the Bentayga is meant to be a chauffeured experience like a Rolls-Royce or a BMW-esque "ultimate driving machine." It's a bit of both and I'm not sure if that really works.
The handling was smooth, like a stately Sherman tank, as the vehicle's suspension floated over potholes and speed bumps. Yet, despite the all-time 4WD, the vehicle is so large that I did not feel comfortable slaloming down the twisting roads of Highway 1 -- regardless of whether it was in Sport, Bentley, Comfort or Custom driving modes. I certainly would think twice before trying to take it to Santa Cruz via the claustrophobic confines of Highway 17. And for a vehicle that is so luxurious and focuses so heavily on the driving experience, I was amazed by how deeply the various driver assist features like lane keeping and blind spot detection were buried in the infotainment system's menus.
Perhaps the oddest bit of this driving experience is not with the vehicle itself but its smartphone app. MyBentley, available for both iOS and Android, is part remote control (ie remote battery charging and vehicle status reports), part maintenance scheduler and part social media hub. The network, as Bentley calls the social aspects of the app, offers "exclusive services, exclusive events" to the company's 12,000 customers.
"If we could get all of our customers onto the network would be at about 100,000 high net worth individuals, which makes it a really, really very powerful community of people," Abbot explained. Users create their own content, he continued, and are not managed in any way by the company.
"We get a lot of insights from it as well, we've started to do some research directly with customers through the app on this as well," he said. "And we see this peer-to-peer relationship when they get through the network is really, really valuable to them as well."
Wildest of all, the app also serves as a hub for Bentley On Demand, which is exactly as bougie as it sounds. If you, a high net worth individual, are travelling to Los Angeles, Miami or New York and don't want to demean yourself by riding in a limo or town car like some plebeian, Bentley will lend you a one of its vehicles while you're there. Company reps did not disclose how much this added service would cost beyond it being "a very reasonable rate" but if you have to ask, you can't afford it.
The Bentayga Hybrid is slated for release in the UK by the end of this year and in the US by 2020. The model will make it to the Chinese market within a few years as well.