Stepping into the driving seat of the Bentley Bentayga is a bit like walking into a stately home. Not one of the more traditional run-down, holes-in-the-roof, blank-squares- where-priceless-paintings-used-to-be stately homes, mind, but one that’s been bought by some South African wine magnate or one of those social media squillionaires with a hankering for a weekend bolthole.
Short of having a pair of crystal chandeliers for headlamps, in the manner of the Duke’s souped-up 1977 Cadillac in John Carpenter’s 1981 crime fantasy Escape from New York, I cannot see what the manufacturers could have done to make it any more luxurious. This is a ride that has been well and truly pimped, with no expense spared.
The quality is simply outstanding. It is to other SUVs what Lalique is to glass, what a Rolex is to a Casio, what Prada is to Primark, what cashmere is to polyester. In other words, it does all the things that you would expect from an SUV, only it does them in a much better and distinctly classier way. Everything, from the buttery leather to the clunk of the door, to the chrome knobs that control the heating vents, is absolutely exquisite.
Driving it is quite an experience. One almost feels the need to dress for the occasion. I can’t bear the thought of my trainers importuning its pedals, so I wear my new silver ankle boots, even though it is raining and they are unlikely to benefit from the walk from door to pavement.
Easing out into traffic on the Hammersmith Road, I feel a sense of power, possibly even a touch of arrogance. There is something about a Bentley that seems to elicit an innate sense of awe in passers-by. Pedestrians hold back to let me pass, van drivers wave me on. I feel entitled, special, a cut above. Unfortunately, my style is slightly cramped by my fellow passengers, who, between the four of them, are wearing several sets of unsatisfactory plastic moulded footwear and have an odour reminiscent of a badger’s sett. It is my son’s 13th birthday, and he and three of his friends are heading to an industrial estate in west London for a Go Karting session.
Their initial excitement (‘This car is sick, man’) having worn off in traffic, they are experimenting with the seat controls. ‘Oh man, my arse is on fire,’ shouts Ayman, as the seat warmer reaches maximum temperature. Tom, meanwhile, is mesmerised by the automatic passenger window shade, like a cat with a washing machine. In the front, Jonathan is giving himself a back massage by inflating and deflating the automatic back rest. Talk about putting a car through its paces.
Meanwhile, my son Will has worked out how to synch his phone to the computer. Something unprintable blares from the (top-quality) speakers, and the four of them begin to bounce in unison, performing complex hand gestures in time to the beat. Poor Bentley, I think, this is not why you were conceived. You shouldn’t have to suffer the ignominy of having a Lucozade bottle resting in your beautifully appointed back-door cup holder.
As we pull up outside the Go Kart place, a corrugated hangar next to an ironmonger’s, a group of boys swarm around us, wide-eyed in awe. Will and his friends emerge like princes and are, for the rest of the afternoon, treated like minor celebrities by their peers, for whom rocking up in a Bentley is clearly the epitome of cool.
For my part, I spend an enjoyable hour or so being chatted up by a charming gentleman from Brazil, clearly labouring under the illusion that I am a woman of some means. I don’t disabuse him of this notion, allowing him to buy me several cups of tea and packets of Pom-Bears.
The next day, the man comes to take the car away. It has an appointment with a far more appropriate passenger, the film star Catherine Zeta Jones, who is being driven to a red-carpet event that evening. As we climb into my muddy and dog-eared Fiat 500 for the school run, Will watches it glide away. ‘What did you think of that?’ I ask him. ‘Nice car,’ he says. ‘But far too classy for the likes of us.’
0-60mph, 4 seconds