Can a big-and-tall SUV still have the class of a traditional flagship limousine? Bentley is hoping enough people will say “yes” to justify abandoning the traditional limousine world in favor of one that looks like the high-rise 2023 Bentayga EWB.
It’s not unusual to see chauffeurs driving their bosses in big limousines or drivers ferrying around VIPs in Cadillac Escalades, but in the rarified world of stretched Bentleys this is a relatively new idea. Even the pair of custom-made, gigantic Bentley state limos owned by Queen Elizabeth II are sedan-shaped, and Rolls-Royce does not make a long-wheelbase Cullinan.
This may be new ground, but Bentley insists the new, elongated Bentayga will change all that, with a little help from an extra 7-inches of legroom in the rear and a bag full of luxury. Indeed, the automaker suggests that the EWB, which stands for Extended Wheelbase, is so luxurious that people will option them beyond $300,000 when it launches here in the last quarter of 2022.
A Bigger, Bolder Bentayga
Bentley calls the Bentayga EWB a stand-alone model, which is stretching the truth as well as the wheelbase, but the company also says it thinks 45% of Bentayga buyers will plump for the lengthened version.
The Crew at Crewe admit most people see an SUV as a daily driver, even if the Bentayga is a very luxurious one, and that it will need to do some convincing to make it credibly scan as a chauffer-piloted limousine. Hence the big wheelbase stretch, taking the Bentayga EWB out well beyond five meters, to 208.9 inches long.
The Bentayga was already the longest production car riding on the Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo architecture (which also sits beneath the Audi Q7 and Q8, the Porsche Cayenne and the Volkswagen Touareg, now replaced by the Atlas in the U.S.) and stretching the wheelbase out to 125 inches.
All of that extra room is snaffled by the rear seat area, which includes options for four-, four-plus-one and five-seat layouts, with the option of Airline Seats that recline up to 40 degrees, a new approach to “wellness” and with a heated adjustable footrest. No, seriously.
Whether or not traditional luxury owners agree with the idea that an SUV is, actually, a limousine, the Bentayga EWB adds weight to both the bottom line and the roads it drives on.
“The Bentayga EWB takes over from the Mulsanne as the pinnacle position of the range,” Bentley Bentayga Product Line Director Chris Cole told Forbes Wheels during a sneak preview in Brooklands earlier this year.
“The E segment (Mulsanne) is shrinking, while the SUV segments continue to grow, and it creates a great opportunity to do more with the segment and we are pushing further from the D to the E segments.” In regular terms, that means Bentley wants to get away from being tied so closely to old-school large sedans.
All this comes with costs more than the obvious financial ones, and they include weight. Lots of it.
Its basic form (with the 4+1 seating that is expected to be the most popular here) is 5,542 pounds, which is 213 pounds heavier than the standard Bentayga before you add in bottles of champagne, crystal glasses, bottles of single-malt and your shooting case.
It won’t be the heaviest Bentley for long, though, with an all-electric Bentayga (sitting on completely different architecture) due in 2025.
It rides on standard 21-inch wheels and tires (which can, and likely will often be, lifted to 22s), and critically, offers all-wheel steering, first seen on the Flying Spur PHEV. This addition gives the EWB a 38.7-foot turning circle, tighter than the standard Bentayga.
The Bentayga EWB will only ever be sold with a V8 powertrain, though Bentley won’t be shocked if certain extremely well-heeled people ask its Mulliner customization house to squeeze the W12 into its engine bay. The hyper-powerful twelve is, after all, offered in the regular Bentayga and the engine bay of the EWB is identically-sized.
While the low projected volumes and the added weight keep the W12 engine off-limits for the Bentayga EWB, a plug-in hybrid version is on the books for the near future, but Bentley won’t confirm when.
Faster Than You Think
Even if a potential W12 ends up being more performance-oriented, Bentley has still given the V8 Bentayga EWB enough urge to whip to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, cross 100 mph in 10.0 seconds and top out at a not-legal-here 180 mph.
That’s only a tenth of a second slower to 60 than the standard Bentayga V8 thanks to the 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque pumping out from the EWB’s 4.0-liter engine. It’s also likely faster than Cadillac’s upcoming Escalade V.
The Bentayga EWB uses the same suspension, all-wheel drive and eight-speed transmission as the standard version, and the same 48-Volt system to control the active anti-roll bars as well.
“We are looking for the Extended Wheel Base Bentayga to be for the owner-driver, or for the chauffeur experience,” Cole confirmed. “It will be an SUV to be experienced, to turn up at the opera as a rear-seat passenger, but drive it yourself if you want to.”
That’s a bunch of spin, yes, but there is sales data to back Bentley’s volume assumptions. The luxury large sedan market shrank from 21.6% of automotive sales in 2010 to just 9.6% last year, so why would they engineer stand-alone limousine architecture to sit about the Continental Flying Spur?
This way, Bentley can stretch the wheelbase of the Bentayga and deliver a new kind of luxury flagship for far less money while it preps a series of all-electric cars and SUVs for 2025 and beyond.
While the Bentley Bentayga EWB is nearly identical to its smaller sibling in the front row, the rear-seat area is special. Even before you climb in, you can see that Bentley has turned the rear sunroof around, with the mechanism now at the front, so there’s nothing to interfere with passenger headroom. It’s a clever piece of cost savings, with the exact same sunroof flipped.
The rear seats have 22 directions of adjustment, and they’re now clever enough to sense the surface temperature and humidity of the occupant’s skin, to help it calculate and maintain the “optimal thermal condition.”
They are capable of an astonishing 177 individual pressure changes across their independent adjustment zones in a three-hour window, and the Bentayga EWB backs that up with dual rear air ionizers. Which is clearly what the world has been crying out for.
The rear center console has been redesigned (well, it’s longer, to start with), in both the two- and 2+1-seat rear row, and there’s new infotainment front and rear.
Bentley looks to have gone to an enormous amount of effort in detailing the Bentayga EWB’s interior, and that goes beyond new quilting techniques. The company’s head of color and trim, Maria Mulder, insisted it had to invent new techniques to produce the precision digital holes, with ambient light coming through tiny holes in the door trims, in an elongated quilt pattern.
The holes in the seat inserts range from 1.2mm to 0.8mm and they’ve demanded an even finer stitching thread. There’s also a chromed metal inlay feature, 0.5mm thick, around the cabin, with diamond detailing from polished steel just 0.07mm thick.
Bentley claims it had to make 2,500 new parts to produce the Bentayga EWB, and it’s now so big that Bentley’s workers remove its front fenders and hood so it can fit into the paint shop.
Company figures show 82% of luxury SUV owners drive themselves, and assumes the Bentayga EWB will lower this figure as chauffeurs take on some of the work, particularly in the Asian markets.
The Chinese market, which should combine with the US for about 60 percent of the Bentayga EWB’s global sales, will be almost all four-seat versions, with special features for chauffeurs. Cole expects the four powered comfort seats plus one occasional center seat (or 4+1) to be the preferred option here.
There is a market for luxury SUVs this size, with Range Rover being the traditional standard-bearer, though the Rolls-Royce Cullinan gave the category a new ceiling unapproached by the Mercedes-Benz GLS, the BMW X7 or the Audi Q8. Will buyers bite? We’ll find out this fall.