The Queen’s limousine is a Bentley, and, as brand meeting brand, that feels right. A Bentley is not as sexy as an Aston-Martin, as muddy as a Land Rover, as ostentatious as a Rolls-Royce or as like a bath as a Morgan. It had to be Bentley; or the now-discontinued Morris Minor, which she may have well preferred. Her Bentley is worth £10 million – rarity and a coat of arms on the roof add value – but even so, Bentley, which was born in Cricklewood, of all places, and has now moved to Crewe, is quite an understated luxury British brand. Or it was, before the Bentayga arrived. I do not know why it is called that.
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The Bentayga is my second very expensive SUV this year – I wrote recently on the Rolls Royce Cullinan, which is like riding a cut diamond – and it is very fine. In fact, it is so close to perfection that this threatened to be a short review. Car critics say that often now: we are near the end of cars, and not because we burned the fuel. That is incidental, metaphorical, and apt. Rather, they have been perfected. When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. There is now a perfect car in every class, from VW Up! to Phantom.
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Bentley is one hundred this year, and it celebrated by creating the EXP 100 GT. (I do not know why it is called that either.) This is a car of such finesse, beauty and eroticism – it looks explicitly female, it is a motorcar in evening dress – the fact that it can move seems the least of it. It is barely a car at all. It is a piece of design with thrilling lights, hot, breathless lines, and an insane interior. It is like all luxurious travel nowadays. You do not leave your life. You take it with you.
I would not trust myself with the EXP 100 GT, and I doubt Bentley would either, although I adore its Bentley Continental GT, the best-selling grand tourer which is both luscious and fast: another near perfect car I would dearly love to own. The Vogue reader, too, should consider it, should you have £160,000 lying about. But I am always ready for a £150,000 SUV. I live in west Cornwall in an autumn of storms, and this is the landscape for an SUV.
Now is the part when I tell you how different the Bentayga is from almost any other SUV. It’s simply more: more leather; more height; more stitching; more space; more speed; and when you open the doors at night the letter B – for Bentley – dances along the road in lights. It travels with its own advertising spotlight, then, and I think of Busby Berkeley.
In looks it is lovely: a high, fat GT, with a friendly face. It is a paradox of motorcars that, in the time of Extinction Rebellion, almost nothing makes you feel as safe. The engine is huge, for ostentation: a V12 that does a preposterous zero to 60 in four seconds, although it weighs 2.4 tonnes. (Let us not speak of the fuel economy; I like bursts of speed, and the sound of burning petrol.) The ride is smooth, impeccable; the interior is a hotel room that wanders from county to county; the speed is, if sought, ferocious. Parking, of course, is agony, despite the butler-sensors, but any fool can drive at the end of cars. It can drive on sand dunes, and in rivers, up grassy hills and on the curling granite road to St Michael’s Mount, which is speckled with seaweed. I don’t do any of this, of course – I doubt I am insured – but that is the spiritual function of the SUV, and another one of its contradictions: you won’t, but you could. The school run could become a pilgrimage to the end of the world, and that fantasy, entirely, explains our predicament, and our vulnerability, in the late Capitalist age.
I drive it on the St Ives road, past Zennor, the haunted farmhouses and the raging sea, and I know, with guilty joy, it is not exploration. It is conquest.
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