High on the island of Gran Canaria is the rock that gave Bentley’s Bentayga its name. Time one towering monolith met the other, surely?
Melted ice cream runs in white and pink rivulets across chubby, sun-kissed knuckles. Moments later soft balls of vanilla and strawberry slide from the cone and plop onto hot, parched sand, lost forever to the desiccated ground. A crying shame but you can understand the poor child’s lapsed concentration. There he is, perhaps 11 years old, shuffling along the beach in still-damp trunks, thinking about Pokémon, when through the dunes comes a Bentley in such a dazzling shade of silver that its metallic skin might be chromed. As he watches on, ice cream turning to cream, the Bentayga slowly but imperiously rolls over the next rise and out of sight. The cultured murmur of its 12-cylinder engine is lost to the breeze almost immediately but the Pirellis’ tracks linger as proof of its surreal passing.
Inside, with the ventilated (or heated, and of course massage-ready) seats at ten-tenths to keep me from sticking to the lickably nice Portland hide, I can’t help but smile at the incongruity of it all, of clambering about on rocks and sand in one of the most expensive cars I’ve driven this year, and of waving not at Berber travellers in grit-blasted blue garb or intrepid overlanders but bemused German nudists and families clutching buckets and spades. Truly this is a weird take on sandy off-roading, fraught less with the risk of getting stuck and slowly boiling to death in some remote desert and more of scuffing a diamond-turned 21-inch wheel or being busted by the local police for trespassing. For while these are most definitely sand dunes they’re not of die type you might ordinarily picture. Here, in Gran Canaria’s package Mecca Maspalomas, die dunes are surrounded on three sides by sprawling hotel complexes and, where they drop down to the beach, great flocks of migratory holidaymakers. The breeze is perfumed not with the timeless, earthy majesty of the Sahara but with chips, beer and sun cream, and getting here was as hard as taking the right exit from the motorway and dodging a runaway windblown lilo in town.
Why Gran Canaria? The island is of course home to the rock that gave this controversial Bentley its name, but more than that it’s also a spectacularly picturesque laboratory in which to try to find a few answers. Answers to questions like whether or not the an-/off-road template for success that sees Sunderland crank out Qashqais by the truckload can stretch to $197.000, and whether the deft case of the Porsche Cayenne – the cash-cow that somehow left the brand untarnished – was a fluke or a miracle architect Wolfgang Dürheimer, then at Porsche, now at Bentley, can pull off a second time. And can we even find this oddly named rock in our oddly-named SUV, hidden at the end of hundreds of kilometres of winding mountain roads hardy wider than a garden path, and curiously absent from the Bentley’s navigation system?
Rock Bentayga was formed a few million years ago when a volcano emerged from the shimmering waters of the North Atlantic, grew until it towered above the sea and then collapsed in on itself like a Masterchef soufflé, leaving behind a dramatic island geography of high ridges, steep-sided ravines and rock monoliths. Bentley’s Bentayga was formed when Dürheimer arrived at Crewe convinced the place needed an SUV to fill out its range and massage its finances. At the car’s launch he insisted there was ‘room for an SUV in the Bentley lifestyle’, adding that there was ‘no product in this price region or in this region of exclusivity’. That region is a base price for the petrol W12 (a diesel V8 goes on sale this month – see pm), a sum to which most buyers add options for an average purchase price.