Downsizing is not just for the common people. Bentley, for example, is adding a new plug-in hybrid version of its Bentayga SUV, one that will combine the efforts of a 3.0-liter V-6 engine and an electric motor. That makes this Bentayga the first Bentley with fewer than eight cylinders in quite some time.
By our reckoning, the last six-cylinder Bentley would have been prior to the introduction of the exceptionally long-serving Rolls-Royce L-series V-8 in 1959, the pushrod engine that—in highly evolved form—still powers the top-of-the-line Mulsanne sedan.
The arrival of the hybrid means the Bentayga will be offered with no fewer than four powerplants: the 6.0-liter W-12 that tops the line, the 4.0-liter V-8 that is just being launched, the Europe-only triple-boosted 4.0-liter V-8 diesel, and now the hybrid. That’s a serious amount of engineering complexity for a car that has only just seen its 10,000th example produced after nearly two years on sale. In Bentley terms, though, that volume makes the Bentayga what the F-series is to Ford, and the new powertrain offering will increase the model’s appeal to buyers in parts of the world with stringent taxes based on engine capacity, CO2 emissions, or both.
Aside from telling us that the electric-only range will be better than 30 miles, Bentley remains coy about the exact specs of the powertrain and also has not released any performance claims—in stark contrast to the brand’s normal enthusiasm for telling us just how fast its products are. The Bentayga’s system is a development of the one used by the previous-generation Porsche Cayenne S e-Hybrid, so we can expect a combined system output likely to match or beat the 416 horsepower in that car. Like other Bentaygas, the hybrid will have standard all-wheel drive.
Another unknown is how much mass the Bentayga’s presumably substantial battery pack will add to the already portly SUV. The W-12 version strained our scales at 5672 pounds, and even with the lighter V-6 engine we’d expect the hybrid to approach the three-ton mark.
The charging port mirrors the gas-tank flap but on the other side, and the hybrid gets a secondary analog gauge to indicate battery status. Bentley says it will take around seven and a half hours to recharge from a home power supply, but that is based on the standard European 220-/240-volt standard; charging from a U.S. 120-volt outlet would probably take twice as long. Fast chargers will cut that time to as little as two and a half hours, and Bentley offers buyers the option to purchase a stylish aluminum rapid charger styled by industrial designer Philippe Starck.
As well as different display screens to show how power is flowing between the gasoline and electric sides of the powertrain, the Bentayga hybrid will have three selectable modes: EV Drive for purely electric propulsion, Hold to maintain battery charge at a set level, and the standard Hybrid mode. Like some rivals, including the Mercedes E350e, the Bentayga has a smart strategy if a destination is programmed into the navigation system: it will hold charge in reserve for urban use and aim to reach a recharging point with the battery fully depleted. It will also have the ability to preheat or cool the cabin via a smartphone app.
Plug-in hybrids are struggling to gain traction in the U.S. market, and Bentley has not said whether the car will come here. The official line is that “it will become available to order in selected markets from the second half of 2018.” This greener Bentayga should have a strong appeal in countries such as China that are moving aggressively toward EVs and downsized engines. Bentley acknowledges the Bentayga is a first step toward full electrification, and we’re looking forward to seeing what follows it.