Please hose the mud off the $400,000 Bentley
Picture this scene; a huge, gleaming Bentley Bentayga pounds its way up a perilously steep and gratuitously rock-strewn slope with effortless disdain for the rugged terrain.
The front wheels lift slightly off the ground as it crests the top of the bank at speed, before it hooks aggressively right with a surprisingly graceful ease, bouncing over some heavily rutted tracks and ploughing straight into sill-deep mud, throwing graceful rooster tails of liquid dirt out behind it as it roars off into the deep bush to face even more perilous obstacles.
Never happen? Yeah, well, you are probably right, but that didn't stop me imagining that very scene when the invitation to drive the Bentayga off-road in Australia's famous Hunter Valley came via the electronic mail.
The W12-propelled petrol Bentayga - a vehicle that Bentley takes every opportunity to point out is the world's quickest luxury SUV - has been around for a while now and has been quietly making its hulking, distinctive and definitely polarising presence known in New Zealand's motoring scene, with around 20 finding new homes here so far.
But now the latest variant of the uber-luxury SUV has landed locally and instead of the silky, stately W12 engine, it packs a version of the thumping 4-litre turbo diesel V8 that also resides in the deeply impressive Audi SQ7.
If you are a follower of these things you will already know that this particular diesel V8 is a truly special thing indeed - with 320kW of power and 900Nm of torque, it is an effortlessly belligerent piece of engineering that moves the big SQ7 along like the laws of physics are simply someone else's problem. And it is so in the Bentley, but in a kind of serenely wafty silence, as opposed to the Audi's muted, deep-chested bellow.
Because too much is never enough, the big diesel V8 packs not only two turbos, but also a 48-volt electric turbine that virtually eliminates turbo lag, spooling up in 0.3 of a second to deliver maximum torque at just 1000rpm.
Like the Audi, the Bentley also boasts a secondary 48-volt electrical system that handles all the heavy lifting required by the electric turbo and the active roll stabilisation system - a pair of active anti-roll bars on the front and rear suspension with an electric motor on each sway bar that can produce an immense 1200Nm of torque to keep the things eerily flat and stable through corners.
In NZ the Bentayga diesel costs $285,000 in standard spec which, of course, nobody really buys. If you are dropping that much on a luxury SUV, you may as well go all in.
As such, in keeping with the average customer purchase, the Bentaygas we were driving were tricked up with a fairly healthy number of heftily priced options that jacked to prices up to between $350,000 and $414,000. Like I said: all in.
Anyway, of course the diesel Bentayga is a startlingly special vehicle to drive on the road. Superbly built, insanely comfortable and, above all else, unapologetically fast, it eats up long distances without breaking a sweat.
It is even rather surprisingly easy to creep around wildly driven courier vans and cautious Corollas in heavy Sydney traffic on the way to the Hunter Valley.
My essential criticism off the Bentley's ride when I drove it in Spain last year was regarding some floatiness on the rebound of the rear suspension over larger bumps and that still applies here. But overall, the Bentayga is remarkably accomplished and staggeringly capable on the sealed stuff.
So what about that unsealed stuff that we were promised? Was it going to be a mud-slinging, branches-scraping-paintwork, axle articulating deep bush adventure (that I have actually done on a Range Rover launch, so you can do rough stuff on a luxury SUV launch) that would give the Bentayga's off road credentials a good testing?
The highest position of the Bentayga's air suspension gives it ground clearance of 245mm and a wading depth of 500mm (which is decent, without being incredible), along with 25 degree approach and departure angles, a Torsen centre diff and hill descent control are all suggestive of some degree of capability in the rough stuff.
No, that was never going to happen. But at a heavy machinery driver training centre (yeah, I know, appropriate, right?) in the Hunter Valley we were given the opportunity to throw (well, careful, supervised throwing) the Bentayga around a number of light off-road areas, including a couple of steepish rocky slopes that showed off the hill descent system as a deeply impressive and capable set up that betrays none of the clunking and brake-grabbing of older systems.
After a few runs at the slopes we headed into the scrappy brush that is all coastal NSW can muster as "bush", along a decent distance of rutted, muddy trails that saw proved the Bentayga to be as effortlessly comfortable over the heavy ruts and occasional rock as it is on the road.
The few areas of mud we encountered were arrogantly dispatched by the engine's massive and low-peaking torque with little drama, even though the Bentaygas were all running on 22-inch wheels and road-oriented tyres.
While it proved to be probably more capable off-road than most owners will ever be brave enough to try, the Bentaya can also be optioned with an All Terrain pack that drops the wheels to 20-inch alloys and adds extra off-road settings to the electronics, a sump guard and a 360-degree camera.
"Hose the mud off the Bentley" is a phrase that has almost certainly never been said to one's man servant in seriousness before, but it is one that could believably be uttered now. And I rather like that.