Now, in an anxious time, I have an SUV, and this is apt. There is something very comforting about an SUV if it’s yours (though less so if it isn’t). They are designed to dominate any landscape they can fit inside and, if that is a hollow fantasy of control it doesn’t feel like one from the driving seat. The advertising shows them climbing mountains and navigating deserts and investigating forests and this is truthful: they really can do this. It is also true that they rarely do this – their owners are the urban rich, segueing to late middle-age, and are as likely to be found in St John’s Wood as the Gobi Desert– but they can, and that is the joy in it. Owning a luxury SUV is like having a leg you do not need.
Land Rover dominated the luxury SUV market for many years as the mobile home of dukes (aside from the G-Wagon, which was a military vehicle designed for the Shah of Iran, now reborn with disco lights, a car for suave madmen). Now luxury SUVs are everywhere because as people feel smaller, they want to feel bigger. Rolls-Royce has the immense Cullinan, which looks like a Hackney carriage reborn as a god in a forge in Sussex; Aston Martin has the DBX; Porsche has the Cayenne; Lamborghini has the Urus; and Bentley, car maker to the Queen, has the Bentayga, launched in 2015 with Volkswagen gold. It is now in its second incarnation, and they have sold more than 20,000 of them, though I am not sure how many of them have been to a forest.
If there was no dreaming involved in movement – something that we can now identify as a luxury - everyone would drive a VW Golf or a donkey. Expensive cars are emotionally transformative; the advertising shows us this, and the reality more so. And that which you desire you too become, which is why a man I once knew used to wave at fellow Saab drivers.
Nothing I have yet driven made me feel as impregnable as the Bentayga; not even the amphibious landing craft a rogue Royal Marine let me drive to HMS Albion for the Daily Mail (It’s hard not to drive an amphibious landing craft in zigzag, at least the first time, but we were seen from the ship and there was no second time). It is like being mounted on a throne, from which you consider the possibilities of invasion from the comfort of a luxury hotel room. It is a car of infinite emotional possibilities, though in fact I only drive to Antony, where I park it next to a Range Rover, which it dwarfs, pleasingly. It is five metres long, two metres wide, weighs almost two and a half tonnes and is substantially taller than I am. It is “orange flame”, with black 22-inch wheels, a gloss black exhaust tailpipe and an interior of wood veneer and black leather with orange stitching. You can, if you wish, create a bespoke Bentayga; in the modern luxury goods industry, you can do anything (Indeed, the rich are currently looking covetously at space, which they will negotiate in pods that will look like the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai). One woman arrived with a solitary blue sequin and commissioned a car to match it.
An Orange Flame car isn’t subtle, and I wouldn’t wish it to be. I fantasise, rather, about an interior in white, or some kind of mad pelt. This one costs £146,700, though you can pay more, like the man who appeared at Rolls Royce with a bag of diamonds to customise his paintwork. For this much diamond, you need to be noticed at roundabouts. Compared to my dying VW Fox, a car so broken I think every prang makes it more valuable – I mean, what could be worse? – this is an orange monster. It is a biddable one though - with a 12.4 metre turning circle (it is not nippy). This doesn’t matter once you have overcome your initial fears, because when you drive a brand-new luxury SUV that is also orange flame, people tend to get out of your way. It’s instinctive; for them, hitting this car is the stuff of nightmares. For the driver or apex predator, it is merely delightful. When you open the car at night immense Bs dance across the tarmac from a spot that is, I discover with investigation, at the bottom of a door.
Absurd though this is, it is only the lovely plumage: consider now the engineering. How many 4X4s do you know that can do 180mph and go from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds and on, with servicing, for decades? (Bentleys do not break down. I have this from the AA man who took the Fiesta from the M3 to Kilburn, and he would know). It is powered by a 4.0-litre twin turbocharged V8 engine that takes me in orange semi-silence up the line; press the accelerator and you feel inhuman in your dominance. You feel like the avatar in the advert, and happy.