Once upon a time, the masters of the universe traveled around in the back seats of big cars. Not stretch limousines — other than a burst of mainstream popularity during the gaudy days of 1980s excess, those cars have always been more the province of heads of state and high school prom-goers — but full-size luxury sedans, boasting big back seats, powerful engines and exquisitely nice interiors.
Plenty of those very very important people (or at least, very very wealthy people) still choose such cars, either to drive themselves or be driven in — the continued existence and excellence of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Bentley Flying Spur and Rolls-Royce Ghost are all proof of that. But as trucks and sport-utility vehicles have taken over the entire automotive market, the market for plus-sized luxury sedans has started to wane. After all, masters of the universe like easy entry and exit and a high seating position as much as the rest of us do.
In turn, automakers have pounced on such an opportunity, pushing their existing SUV and 4x4 products further and further upmarket to cater to the wants and needs of those buyers. Bentley's first SUV, the Bentayga, launched back in 2015 and quickly became the brand's most popular model — perhaps unsurprising, considering it was a super-luxury vehicle capable of both rock-crawling and equalling a Ferrari F40 in acceleration. Since then, it's been tweaked, pumped up and hybridized, but it's always remained the same size — one that's convenient for many, but places a definite priority on front-seat occupants.
That's changing as of 2022, though, with the new Bentley Bentayga EWB.
Simply put, it's a bigger Bentayga. EWB stands for Extended WheelBase, in reference to the extra 7.2 inches added between the axles to open up the inside of this SUV.
Not that you'd necessarily realize that from the outside, however. Bentley's design team did a stellar job in blending the added length into the SUV's design; unless you had the shorter version directly alongside the EWB, you'd have to look twice to figure out whether you were peering at the regular Bentayga or the extended version. (Indeed, depending on your eyes, the long-wheelbase Bentayga might even be considered more appealing, at least from in profile.)
Fast, smooth and silent. You'd be hard-pressed to notice the extra length, at least in the sort of driving you're actually engaging in with a long-wheelbase SUV: ambling through city streets, powering through suburban neighborhoods and hauling down fast highways.
The sole engine available (for now, at least, although a plug-in hybrid version is basically inevitable) is the VW Group's venerable twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8, an engine that deserves to go down in history as a high-water mark for internal combustion; it is, after all, a motor that enables a Porsche Panamera GTS to see 30 mpg while cruising on the highway, or be tuned to make more than 650 horsepower. Here, it makes 542 horses and 568 lb-ft, which — when combined with all-wheel-drive and a dependable eight-speed automatic — is more than enough to make all 5,500-plus pounds of Flying B leap forth with startling alacrity.
On those occasions when you are asked to call upon the Bentayga's lateral performance, the EWB's agility ace in the hole rears its head: the SUV's rear-wheel-steering system, which can pivot the aft tires to tighten up turns. (In fact, the EWB's turning radius of 38.7 feet is 7 percent smaller than the regular Bentayga's.) In practice, it brings unexpected levels of agility to this beast of an SUV; you'll never confuse it for, say, a Porsche 911, but it certainly makes navigating parking lots and roundabouts easy enough that you won't need to worry.
Up front, it's basically identical to shorter Bentaygas of current vintage. It's exceptionally nice; the only way you might think any less of it is if you had the fortune of just stepping out of one of Bentley's other, newer models, which boast even sleeker screens and more modern layouts. Beyond a few slightly dated controls, though, it's hard to find fault.
In back, though, there are new pleasures to be found. That added wheelbase length has almost entirely been dedicated to the service of the second-row passengers — specifically, their legs. Opt for a traditional three-person bench or two-plus-one seat situation back there, and the experience will be more or less like a regular Bentayga, just with more room to stretch out.
Real sybarites, though, will want the optional Airline Seat Specification available for the back-right spot — a feature Bentley is so proud of, they issued a separate press release about it. (As my colleague Tyler Duffy wryly noted, only customers used to flying first-class and private would consider "airline seat" a positive descriptor.) Not only does it recline to 40 degrees (assuming no one is in the front passenger seat), it also monitors your body position and even temperature to 0.1ºC, adjusting 177 different pressure points and varying the heat or ventilation to keep you comfortable over long hauls.
After spending an hour and a half winding up the California coast in the back seat, I can't truly speak to the efficacy of the temperature-sensing or automatic adjustment; I was, admittedly, too busy playing with the active massage function, which is undoubtedly one of, if not the best, I've encountered in a car. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay the Airline Seat is this: I haven't fallen asleep in a car in 15 years, but I was dangerously close to nodding off in the back-right chair of the Bentayga EWB.
We live in interesting times, dear reader. Not long ago, the idea of a big SUV whose backseat was meant to be the primary accomodations was restricted to wild limo companies with aggressive in-house modifying teams willing to hack and weld frames. Today, there's at least four such vehicles you can buy from the factory: the Bentayga EWB, the Range Rover SV Signature Suite, the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 and the Lexus LX 600 Ultra Luxury. Also, don't forget about the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, which isn't quite so backseat-centric but is surely used as a VVIP transport by chauffeurs because, well, it's a Roller.
And more are sure to follow. BMW has already shown off a first-class rear seat concept in an X7, so it stands to follow such a feature might hit the mainstream; Cadillac's Escalade and Lincoln's Navigator, meanwhile, are already staples of livery fleets, so it stands to reason a variant tailored even more for second-row occupants might sell well.
Base Price: $226,900
Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
Torque: 568 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
Seats: Four or five, depending on your choices, but you want the four-seat version
If you need to cover a few thousand miles in any weather with company in tow, it's hard to beat Maybach's first SUV.