Cybertrucks can’t touch this posh Bentley’s off-road skills

In the car world, the term “pavement princess” refers to an SUV, pickup truck or any other 4×4 off-road vehicle that spends the majority of its life on paved roads.

You have probably seen them before by where you live, but on the roads and parking lots in my neck of North Jersey, I see more vehicles that fit that description on a daily basis than the amount of fingers on my hands.

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Here, Jeep Wranglers with off-road modifications haul groceries, Ford Broncos and Ineos Grenadiers take up two parking spaces at the mall, while Land Rover Defenders, Mercedes G-Wagons and Tesla Cybertrucks get left with well-tipped valets at trendy restaurants.

A Toyota 4Runner and Mercedes G-Class SUV in a parking garage.

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I understand why people buy them. They’re big, they have tons of space and they are the trump card in the game of ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ but many car enthusiasts will argue that they’re capable of so much more than what their owners are willing to do with them.

Over at The Preserve Sporting Club and Resort in Rhode Island, I got to experience the Bentley Bentayga; not just as a passenger on smooth roads, but as a driver taking it to its limits off the beaten path.

On-roading in comfort

The Bentley Bentayga at The Preserve in Rhode Island


With a base price well into the six figures, Bentley’s large and in charge Bentayga is exactly what you’d expect when thinking of a Bentley SUV.

On the outside, the design is pure Bentley. Its most prominent exterior features include a prominent grille, quad headlamps and an extra-long hood covering a twin-turbo V8 or hybrid V6 engine. 

The rear of a Bentley Bentayga at The Preserve in Rhode Island


Under the hood of the Bentayga I drove off-road was the 4-liter twin turbo V8. It pumps out 542 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque though all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox.

Sitting in its backseat as a passenger on actual paved roads, the Bentayga feels extremely comfortable. Like the Continental GT that I drove previously, the Bentayga’s fit and finish, as well as the details that only your fingers will feel is absolutely pleasing to the touch; everything is either metal, wood, or soft-touch leather. 

I felt this experience to be the best in its passenger-focused extended wheelbase model, where the added length amounts to a feeling of being in some sort of “lifted limousine.” No joke, there was so much room in the back, that you could fit a full-grown adult in front of me and I wouldn’t complain about the legroom. 

Off-roading in comfort

The Bentley Bentayga at the Bentley Off-Road Experience at The Preserve in Rhode Island


However, when it comes to going off-road, most of the things that kept the Bentayga still feeling like “a Bentley” were due to the car’s extensive suite of off-road electronic assists within the car’s optional $4,995 “All-Terrain specification.”

The options list of other off-road oriented SUVs can offer goodies such as winches, snorkels, special wheels and tires or even suspension components designed to lift up the car for better ground clearance, however, this Bentley, even with its $236,150 asking price, doesn’t get any of that.

Instead, you get four additional “drive dynamics” modes meant for various off-road situations such as “Mud and Trail,” “Sand,” “Dirt & Gravel” and “Snow, Ice & Wet Grass.”

An overhead view of the Bentley Bentayga at the Bentley Off-Road Experience at The Preserve in Rhode Island


As someone whose only experiences going off-road are limited to driving on unplowed roads during blizzards and navigating through makeshift dirt parking lots at upstate New York farms during apple picking season – these impressive pieces of technology are the things separating me from escaping the trail unscathed and a six-figure luxury SUV getting stuck in a ditch.

These pieces of software and technology were demonstrated to the absolute best of its abilities at The Preserve’s Bentley Off-Road course, where drivers behind the wheels of Bentaygas navigate a selection of scenarios and obstacles out on a dynamic and scenic route. 

The Course

The Bentley Bentayga navigates the course at the Bentley Off-Road Experience at The Preserve in Rhode Island


After riding on the backseat and watching another person drive one lap of the course, I took the wheel of the Bentayga with an instructor sitting shotgun next to me. 

Before I sat down in the Bentayga, the car was already set to the Mud and Trail mode. In this mode, the car’s air suspension raises the car 2 inches and the traction control sets itself up to control the heavy Bentley in the dirt.

Reflecting on the experience, the course itself seems very straightforward, as it was made to demonstrate the functions capabilities and functions of the vehicle; but that was not what I felt from my seat. 

The Bentley Bentayga climbing a banking at the Bentley Off-Road Experience at The Preserve in Rhode Island


The first obstacle I faced was a series of bankings that tested the maximum amount of incline it could take going sideways. According to Bentley, the Bentley is able tackle bankings as high as 35 degrees — for comparison, Talladega Superspeedway’s bankings are at a steep 33 degrees; the highest of any track on the NASCAR calendar. 

I managed to reach a maximum of 21 degrees, which felt more than enough, especially considering that my butt was starting to slide off the seat.

“Seems steep?,” the instructor asked. “Don’t worry, the car can handle it.”

The Bentley Bentayga uses Hill Descent Control to tackle this steep incline during the Bentley Off-Road Experience at The Preserve in Rhode Island


Another feature of the Bentayga that surprised me was something called the hill descent control. After tackling a log-balancing obstacle, the Bentayga and I came across a fairly steep decline. 

When faced with a situation like this on a loose surface like dirt, mud, or unplowed snowy road, one would usually descend down the hill with one foot hard on the brake; hoping to God that they do not slide down to their impending doom. 

After stopping and giving a good look down at the decline, the instructor told me to lift my foot off the brake and let the car coast. Given that the Bentayga weighs a gargantuan 5,542 pounds, I was expecting a rush of speed that would send us down this hill in the blink of an eye, but it didn’t do that. 

The software operating the hill descent control rode the brake for me to a comfortable speed of 3 miles per hour, which you do not feel or hear whatsoever; nothing sounded like it was grinding, nothing felt like it was resisting, just smooth like butter down the hill. 

“It’s like cruise control,” I said in amazement. 

“Cruise control for severe weather conditions,” my instructor replied. “If we were in a blizzard right now, all these wheels won’t break traction. Any other car would skid down this hill.”

This technology is so advanced that it works down a hill going backwards — which is a million times scarier than going forward. 

The Bentley Bentayga tackles the moguls at the Bentley Off-Road Experience at The Preserve in Rhode Island


The next obstacles were a series of large bumps, moguls and potholes that tested the limits of the tough components that make up the Bentayga’s air suspension. 

On these obstacles, I felt the car go up on three wheels. Here, the air shocks compressing the rest of the wheels were helping the car find traction to navigate the rest of the way in front of me. 

Bentley says that this is thanks to something called Bentley Dynamic ride, where a 48V system activates motors in an “active anti-roll bar” to help to control the traction in each wheel without overworking the suspension. It’s rather cool stuff.

On the “potholes,” the screen showing the status of the suspension system showed that while the bumps threw me up and down, the air shocks barely moved a centimeter — which sounds very convenient on the ever-bumpy roads of North Jersey. 

The Bentley Bentayga navigates a steep decline at the Bentley Off-Road Experience at The Preserve in Rhode Island


After another decline that tested the clever hill descent control, we came to the bottom of a rather steep incline that felt very effortless for the Bentayga. Other four-wheel-drive cars may have had a hard time navigating the loose dirt on the way up, but at low speeds, the Bentley was able to come up as if the road were paved.

To bid me farewell was a final set of “aggressive rock terrain” that seemed to be more comfortable for my instructor than me. I could swear that one of the rocks I went over on that part of the course took it personal — it gave me a bigger jolt to my lower back than any pothole I went over on Halsey Street in Newark. 


The Bentley Bentayga before we hit the dirt at The Preserve’s off-road course.


Is this car a better alternative to other off-roaders? Well, if offroading value-for-money is what you are looking for, than the $236,150 Bentley Bentayga might not be a better answer than say, a Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota 4Runner.

However, the Bentley trumps the 4Runner, the Wrangler, the Land Rover Defender and even the G-Wagon in two categories: comfort and flash. No other off-roader is this plush on the inside, and lined with wood and Birkin-bag soft leather. No other off-roader is pin-drop quiet in the cabin, even while going over bumps and rough terrain. Most of all, no other off-roader has as much presence as the flashy, posh Bentley Bentayga. 

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There is an extremely low chance that the Bentley Bentayga that you may find parked outside the valet parking stall at Saks Fifth Avenue might be taken off-roading, but it is nice to know that it is possible and it feels comfortable doing so.

Other manufacturers that make off-road capable cars incorporate similar technologies into their models. For instance, the cool hill descent control can be also be found in Toyota’s 4Runner and even in Subarus like the Ascent, Crosstrek, Forester, Outback and Solterra. 

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Experiencing what I experienced makes me feel a tiny bit safer behind the wheel of the Subaru Crosstrek in my driveway. God forbid that I encounter a strong blizzard, or find myself in a situation where I would need to turn on these enhanced off-road features. 

But will I willingly go off-road? Hell no, that Subaru is my mom’s car. 

Full Disclosure: James Ochoa’s time with the Bentley Bentayga on the off-road course was part of a press trip to The Preserve furnished by Bentley. He stayed two nights with Bentley, who flew him out, fed him, kept him in nice hotels and allowed him to experience multiple Bentley vehicles.

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