Fashions change. A wealthy gent who once might have expressed his good fortune with a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL or a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, both grand barouches for the pedigreed elite of the 1970s, today might roll in something that looks like an International Scout after disastrous plastic surgery. It's been 25 years since the sport-utility craze took off in earnest and 24 years since the first prediction of the segment's impending demise. But regardless of their income, people like sitting up in the clouds, they like being able to roll carefree over crumbling infrastructure, and they always like having more space.



And carmakers just can't raise the prices high enough. You can now drop 100 grand on a Cadillac Escalade-six digits for the Saks *Fifth Avenue Suburban, the Suburbillac. No matter how many zeros get tacked on to these Colony Parks and Estate Wagons and Shooting Brakes with overactive pituitaries, there are wallets willing to open wide enough. Thus enters-to gilded long horns trumpeting-England, the emerald jewel of the North Sea, that noble carriage maker to kings and emperors and half-assed Idi Amins with good mechanics on staff.

Any discussion of British automotive heraldry is not complete without a nod to Land Rover and its luxury line, Range Rover, which has been supplying four-low and lockers to the Queen's household for as long as anyone can remember. The cheapest Range Rover you can buy (not the Sport and not the, ahem, *Evoque, but the real Range Rover) is $85,945. The cheapest long-wheelbase Ranger is $109,190. So it is not unfair to say that our long-wheelbase SVAutobiography, at $202,935, is a car with, more or less, a hundred grand in options. Believe it or not, there's a Holland & Holland model that goes for $245,495, but avoid that one because, you know, you'll shoot your eye out, kid.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen-owned Bentley has named its first SUV after a rocky partridge roost on an island off Africa's western coast, proving that Germans are hilarious even when they're not trying to be. Our $281,100 Bentley Bentayga came rendered in Hallmark Metallic with Beluga-*over-Camel-colored leather and a veneer of “dark, fiddleback eucalyptus,” indicating that the Bentayga's catalog reads like an issue of Wine Spectator. In testing, this 5703-pound sled was exactly as quick in the quarter-mile as a Ferrari F40, and it amuses the imagination to wonder what songs Gilbert and Sullivan would have written about this very model of a modern minor miracle.

Buying the 600-hp Bentayga or the 550-hp Range Rover would not be at all like buying a Roller or a Mercedes-Benz S-class or a Cadillac limo with a boomerang aerial or any of the big cars we formerly associated with financial achievement. That's because these mega-dollar utes eschew the baroque pageantry that used to define luxury cars in favor of a new hyperposh utilitarianism akin to a diamond-studded Leatherman. Call it clodhopper chic.

Everybody thought the price was crazy until they saw the lunch trays. In the back, where Jaguar Land Rover's clandestine-sounding Special Vehicle Operations (hence the SV in the name) installed two lounge seats that look pilfered from the business-class section of an Emirates A380, there are his and hers lunch trays. Not only that, they are motorized.

Push a secret button under the armrest, and a door in the *cavernous center console whispers open. Before you can cry, “Great Lucas, Prince of Darkness!” up thrusts a polished-aluminum sculpture, rising from the depths like Stromberg's undersea fortress in The Spy Who Loved Me. It motors quietly to full vertical, now looking like a freeway billboard emerging from a chrysalis, then ... stops. Silence. You stare at it for a few moments, wondering what witchcraft will happen next, before realizing that you have to fold it down manually. Ta-da! Push another button (after folding it up), and it sinks out of sight.

The trays plus a champagne-bottle chiller also concealed by electrified doors, a separate refrigerator under the front armrest, a pair of seatback screens we could never figure out, seats with at least a dozen electric adjustments including numerous modes of back massage, self-closing doors (one of which stopped working), and half of the Hundred Acre Wood for dash trim are just some of the things that an extra hundred grand buys. Really, we make fun, but the interior of the Ranger is both beautiful and, because of the 7.8-inch wheelbase stretch over regular Range Rovers, limousine spacious. If you're trying to decide whether to send this or the Bentayga to the airport to pick up the visiting Sultan of Schenectady, this is the one.

The throaty power supplied by the supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 is plenty to move 5950 pounds in a way that will sicken passengers. A 5.2-second 60-mph time seems pokey only in the company of the ridiculously quick Bentayga, which runs on the same stuff that lights the Milky Way. However, there's less satisfaction behind the Rover's wheel than in the three other opulently leatherized seating positions, mainly due to steering that is as numb as a severed limb. The Ranger becomes laborious once the road twists because of its dim steering and relatively tipsy body control. Chasing the coolly proficient Bentayga in it is like trying to run the Rally Catalunya in a Guatemalan mountain bus, though at least the Ranger has good brakes.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, and uneasy sits the butt that rides in the crown's Range Rover. These seats are excessively firm, and the front bottom cushions are short, leading to arse naps and vicious attacks of the tingles at every stop. The rear thrones recline luxuriantly, and there's enough room to raise the big pizza peel of a leg rest, though perfect comfort was never achieved there, either. The softer padding found in the Bentley would go a long way in helping here.

A full complement of off-roading hardware and software plus control-tower outward visibility make the Ranger the more expedition-ready of the two. And let's face it: A Range Rover has just got that familiar look of slightly crusty class to it. It's absurdly over-*engineered for the life it's likely to lead, but then, so was poor Lady Jane Grey, the so-called Nine-Day Queen. When you're talking about British royalty, things can get pretty silly.

You have to see the tailgate bench to believe it. According to our own Tony Quiroga, who knows about such things, Bentley was jealous of the Range Rover's split tailgate, the lower third of which folds down (electrically, of course) to supply a handy bench to sit on. Bentley figures the Bentayga is just as likely to end up at polo-field bacchanals, so the Event Specification option ($3200) includes a “rear event seat” that is a leather-wrapped and diamond-stitched table that slides out-after you've spent 20 minutes screwing with it and finally resort to either the owner's manual or a hammer-to supply the same comfort as sitting on a butcher's block. Unless you are Edward Longshanks, your legs dangle.

Options, baby! The Bentayga starts at $235,525, but to give it many of the same features as the Rover, it needed stuff. For $11,015, it gets the four-bucket executive seating divided by a hefty center console which, alas, lacks motorized lunch tables or a champagne chiller. It does have much more usable tablet-style rear monitors ($7155) and a fancy Naim stereo system ($4690) through which you can hear the nose-hair rustling of the newsreaders on NPR.

That's because the Bentley is exceptionally quiet. No kidding, it is like being inside a Lexus at the bottom of a coal shaft. Start the engine and ... nothing. Where the Rover's V-8 transmits the slightest shakes of actual internal combustion, the Bentley is as inert as El Capitan. Ditto for when you floor it. The world outside goes blurry, but you feel nada from all the spinning and reciprocating and ticking and oil-sloshed parts of the W-12, or from the eight-speed automatic, or the numerous driveshafts, or even the gigantic 285/45 tires on 21-inch wheels. By comparison, most cars you've ever driven sound and feel like a two-stroke Kawasaki.

This, folks, is why you pay the Bentley's big bucks. This plus the exceptionally comfortable seats and the performance stats, which are simply unbelievable. Three-point-five seconds to 60? Remember when the Ferrari Enzo hit 60 in 3.3 and we all bowed in submission? And it's got handling, too, with direct steering and masterful body control and stunning brakes, taking corners like a-well, not a Ferrari, exactly, but a pretty nice Audi at least.

Oops, we said it, the A-word. No matter how much diamond-stitched leather and wood veneer this car gets buried under, it feels a bit like a gussied-up Audi. Too many similarities in the control layout and too many cut-lines in the body panels. Bentleys are renowned for their sculpted-from-one-block look, the panel seams minimized or hidden. Not the Bentayga. It's got body-part lines everywhere that metal meets metal, metal meets plastic, and, in a couple of places where the panels of our car were misaligned, metal meets air. Particularly unsightly are the separate finishers (plastic?) tacked on to the wheel arches.

The brand's spider-eye styling theme doesn't work here, being a little too bulbous, rather plain at the rear, and altogether not quite graceful. Like Old Coppernose himself, Henry VIII. The expected longer-wheelbase version may help, as should the gen-two redesign. Meanwhile, all hail the king of crossovers, a true Hotspur if ever there were one.



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