I touched down in Durango, Colorado, and was immediately greeted by crisp, clean Colorado air and a beautiful piece of bespoke engineering, the Bentley Bentayga. The vehicle is the 98-year-old company’s first foray into the SUV category, the true premium segment really only shared with Range Rover—this is no ordinary SUV. The early release photos were uninspiring, a Bentley for the soccer mom set, but I was pleasantly surprised at the aesthetics in person. Just sitting there, it had presence, but I wondered if it could handle itself off-pavement any better than your average crossover.
Our basecamp was Dunton Hot Springs in Southwest Colorado, a ghost town turned into a mountain resort. The amazing aspect of Dunton is that while its outward appearance is that of a typical dude ranch, it is anything but. Hanging in the saloon were a number of William Eggleston’s “Cadillac Series,” alongside an original David Lachappelle print. Butch Cassidy also carved his name into the saloon’s bar. There was nothing kitsch about it.
The approach to Dunton is a pedestrian, well-maintained gravel road, and the Bentayga was smooth and performed as expected. There was something missing though, something that I was very accustomed to from driving on countless gravel roads, it was quiet—dead quiet. This was even much more apparent days later when I was driving the same road in a different truck, but it wasn’t just the noise, it was the handling and overall performance. I was only able to go half the speed with this other “luxury” SUV.
The real surprise came when I ventured high above the snowline outside of Telluride. At 11,000 feet I came upon a Jeep parked on the rough dirt road with snow banks. I asked the driver how it was and he replied I’d never make it a hundred yards. Two miles later I couldn’t believe I was in a $300k handbuilt truck with lambswool carpet, massaging seats, and a champagne cooler. This rarified machine pushed through spring snow, slippery rocks, and off-camber trails without a slip. This was after driving it up Colorado Highway 145 at seriously irresponsible speeds, gliding through turns as if in a car that weighed half of the Bentayga’s 5,379 pounds. While I never came close to its reported top speed of 187 mph, I’m sure I used most of the 600 horsepower out of the 6.0-liter, 12-cylinder engine on those twisty mountain roads.
But high performance on road is to be expected from Bentley with it’s LeMans pedigree; it was off the asphalt that I was genuinely surprised. Getting articulation from a vehicle on rough terrain while keeping it stable at high speeds through the serpentine mountain roads is completely counterintuitive. Bentley’s Dynamic Ride System cuts the sway bar in half and installs electric motors in between them. A 48-volt system can put up to 959 pound feet of torque into each sway bar. Off-road it is the equivalent of having quick disconnects, allowing impressive articulation under the four available air suspension heights.
As Ferris Bueller famously said, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” You may not take it across the Utah Traverse, but you could.