Bentley Bentayga 2020

As Bentley prepares to launch its freshened Bentayga, the automaker knows the ultraluxury and exotic SUV segment it helped create five years ago looks much different — and bigger — in 2020.

But getting to the market first has its perks. Case in point, the updated Bentayga will arrive as or before competitors launch their initial SUV offerings.

Bentley plans to put its head start to use, especially in the U.S., one of the automaker’s largest markets and one of the biggest markets for the Bentayga worldwide. The nameplate accounted for 45 percent of the brand’s 11,006 global sales in 2019.

The SUV went on sale in the U.S. in 2016, two years before the launches of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan cross- over and Lamborghini Urus SUV. U.S. deliveries of Aston Martin’s DBX SUV are set to begin this summer, and the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 is also scheduled for this year. Ferrari’s Purosangue SUV is set to arrive around 2022.

Christophe Georges, CEO of Bentley Motors Inc., the brand’s Americas unit, said competition in the segment is seen as a good thing because it gives the market credibility and makes it relevant, which is a draw to some customers of vehicles that start around $180,000 and beyond.

“This new car coming now is quite important after all the other luxury brands have launched, or nearly all have launched, their first SUV,” Georges told Automotive News. “It’s good to have our second one and keep pace in the market, maintain our leadership and remain the benchmark.”

Despite a growing list of competitors, Georges is confident the Bentayga, which has been a driver for Bentley sales in the U.S., can continue to increase deliveries as the brand sees growth in its Americas region. The automaker sold a total of 2,913 vehicles in the region in 2019, up 30 percent from 2018.

“We don’t want to lose our share,” Georges said. “We created the market, and now we are the first to have a second SUV, or a new one.”

One reason for his confidence is simply the timing tied to the U.S. launch in 2016. Not only does Bentley now have a group of existing customers, but for those initial buyers who leased, the freshened model will be waiting for them.

“The traditional lease market is about three years,” Georges said. “The lease market represents about 40 percent of the sales. It is coming at the right time for a lot of current owners to replace the current car with a new one. We expect most of our customers to be very loyal and to turn into the next car when it is time to do so.”

Georges said the 2021 Bentayga will arrive at U.S. dealerships by the end of this quarter. Bentley is launching the Bentayga with a V-8 engine first, followed by the W-12-powered Speed variant and then a plug-in hybrid model.

The rollout is a shift from when the Bentayga first went on sale in the U.S. Then, it was offered with a W-12 initially, followed by a V-8 in 2018, a Speed performance variant in 2019 and a plug-in hybrid this year.

“We started with V-8 simply because it is consumer preference,” said Georges. “Seventy percent of our customers are opting for the V-8.”

Chris Cole, Bentley’s product line director for the Bentayga, said the automaker expects the other two variants will split the remaining 30 percent of U.S. sales.

The freshening is most evident in the thoughtful changes for the Bentayga’s cabin and exterior.

Cole said Bentley gave the SUV a dose of updated technology with a new sleek digital instrument cluster that replaced a dated physical unit. A high-res 10.9-inch touch screen, with standard wireless Apple CarPlay, spans the center of the dashboard for a more contemporary look.

In addition to the redesigned grille that sits 1.18 inches higher, the exterior gets an updated look with the headlights that have been reworked to better match the faces of the Continental GT coupe and convertible and Flying Spur sedan. At the rear, the Bentayga gets a full-width tailgate with elliptical taillights similar to those on the Continental GT. The license plate has been moved down into the bumper, and the word “Bentley” is now placed where the license plate used to be.

“What we wanted to do was make sure that we were doing the car justice so that we can stay on top in that segment,” Cole said. “We’ve had some pretty impressive competition get drawn into that sector that we’ve created.

“It’s absolutely vital that we do what’s the right thing for Bentley and invest in our car to give it the opportunity to maintain it as the benchmark, as the sector-defining product it always was.”