In a car market with an insatiable appetite for high riding vehicles, Bentley came to the table with their Bentayga SUV back in 2015. With the nameplate now in its second generation, it’s certainly proven itself as a success.
Whether or not it does the brand justice is a question that has plagued this self-confessed purist. Importantly, the Azure, released in May 2022, has joined the Bentayga S and a range of other variants as a permanent fixture.
The mantra behind the model is the “prioritisation of comfort and wellbeing”. It’s not just a notion, with many hours of expert research having gone into developing “a curated selection of features designed to enhance wellbeing and comfort”.
At least one passenger commented on feeling incredibly relaxed during a ride during peak hour Sydney traffic, which says a lot. Externally, the front end is unmistakably Bentley, bearing similarities to the Flying Spur we tested not so long ago.
The far corners carry double lamps – the inner ones holding the main LED Matrix headlamps which shimmer like jewels – contrasting magically against the ocean-deep Onyx Black paintwork, one of a vast selection of hues to choose from.
The chrome mesh grille that sits dead centre leads to a deep chin which rounds out what mere motorists see in their rear-view mirror. Side on, a relatively short bonnet morphs into a large passenger cabin.
Despite the Volkswagen underpinnings, the exterior coachwork is all Bentley – right down to the scallops that protrude from the bodywork over the rear axle. At each corner, optional machined face, black painted 22-inch wheels, are wrapped in 285/40 Pirelli P Zero rubber.
One would think such a low-profile tyre would affect ride quality, but it certainly didn’t. A Mulliner option ensures anyone looking at the wheels in motion will always see an upright Bentley badge.
Those scalloped guards meander through to the rear end of the vehicle – which is relatively benign. The taillight treatment gives some clues to the manufacturer, but the badging is what cements it.
One cannot get the full Bentley experience by observing the exterior appointments though. Opening the door for the first time reveals a breath-taking mix of specially selected and quilted cowhide in Camel and Beluga.
It really is a lovely, bright space to spend time in, even without deploying the enormous sunroof. The piano black theme of the exterior extends onto selected interior panels, and just the right splash of brightwork rounds out an interior that exudes opulence.
20-way adjustable driver and passenger seats feature heating, cooling and six massage functions – and are among the most comfortable we’ve landed in. If one cannot find the comfort in these seats, there really isn’t much hope left for humanity.
Front row passengers access a 10.9-inch screen which handles all vehicle functions and is supplemented with a customisable screen for the driver that presents vitals in the instrument binnacle.
The driver takes hold of a leather wrapped steering wheel, with optional Mulliner honeycomb stitching in our case, while looking at the head-up display on the windscreen. There is an appreciated level of button-ware across the cabin.
Screen-based controls are frustrating and we’re glad that Bentley have shrugged the trend, despite many of the buttons appearing too much like other VW offerings. Some of them simply didn’t have the tactility and feel of a vehicle of this calibre or price.
We’re talking a plus on-roads price of just over $515,000 in the case of the vehicle we tested. A wireless charger complements wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and is supplemented by two USB-C charging ports front and rear.
One area that left us a little underwhelmed was the audio system – it was the “basic” Bentley Signature audio. It felt like anything above halfway in volume really affected the output quality.
It’s still better than 80 per cent of the market but if you like your music loud, with fidelity, unfortunately you weren’t going to get no satisfaction here (see what we did there?). Rear seat passengers are well accommodated in the Bentayga Azure.
From electric blinds that form part of the Sunshine Specification, through to individual controls for the air conditioning, seat temperature and adjustment, along with audio controls.
Many of these functions are at the lucky passengers’ fingertips by way of a remote control that sits behind the centre console. It pops out electronically with a satisfying touch, is superbly weighted, and a joy to use.
Storage is plentiful across the vehicle but importantly, the boot measures in at a large 484-litres, which can obviously be extended with the folding of seats where required.
They say a Bentley is to drive and a Rolls Royce is to be driven in – so we eagerly hit the start button. This brought to life the 404kW, 770Nm twin turbo V8 which quickly settled into a snarly warm up.
We love how there is just enough engine noise to excite the keen driver – especially when Sport mode is selected. It’s responsive too, owing in part to the 8-speed dual clutch gearbox which takes advantage of that torque being available from a measly 2000rpm.
Shifts can be completely impervious in Comfort mode or you can bang the gears in Sport mode, on your way to a 4.5 second sprint to 100km/h, and right out to a claimed 290km/h top speed.
It will go down gears with the same vigour, aiding the six piston front callipers on monster 400mm solid steel rotors to reel in the 2,510kg of heft. There’s no shortage of performance SUV’s out there and we didn’t put the Bentayga in the same class until this test.
Yes, obviously the sprint is impressive, but not the fastest. The turn-in is good but it’s no Lamborghini Urus. But the Italian bull simply can’t carry passengers with the same comfort as the Bentley.
It will corner and hold a line with confidence, but it will do it in an unmistakably Bentley way. Owing partly, we’re sure, to active air suspension and a 48v anti-roll bar that can see you go from pillow like comfort to taut and flat mid corner in .3 seconds.
You’re not supposed to drive it fast – but if you need to, the Bentayga Azure is ready for the challenge. Our only gripe on ride quality was on some of Sydney’s horrible roads. There were times where it was just not as controlled as we’d like.
Comfort mode helped but didn’t remove the unsettledness completely. Our thoughts honed in on a wheelbase that is the shortest in the range at 2,995mm, versus the next shortest at 3,175mm for the EWB variant of this model, but we’re not engineers.
With predominantly city driving, we recorded an average consumption of 16.5-litres/100km – Bentley provide no claimed figure to compare this to. The number is not unexpected given the size of the vehicle and drivetrain.
Safety is well covered in the Bentley Bentayga Azure. The standard list includes dual front curtain and side airbags front and rear, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot assist, rear cross traffic alert, park assist and 360-degree cameras.
Our test vehicle also featured the Touring Specification which adds adaptive cruise, and Bentley Safeguard Plus (high speed autonomous emergency braking, lane assist, night vision cameras and traffic assist).
Going back to that conundrum we posed at the start of this review about whether the Bentayga Azure does the brand justice leads to determining two things. Firstly, the world wants SUV’s – plain and simple.
If you’re not playing in that space, you’re losing customers to those who are, and with up to 60 per cent of Australian Bentley sales now made up of the Bentayga, this writer is thankful that it exists.
The unknown is how many of these buyers are new to the brand, versus existing owners that swapped a sedan, coupe, or convertible for one. But it doesn’t matter, because the option could be no more Bentley – and that would be an unacceptable calamity.
Our test vehicle was supplied by Bentley Motors Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Bentley Bentayga Azure, contact your local Bentley dealer. Pictures courtesy of Andrew E Hempsall.