The opportunity to drive the Bentley Bentayga V8 is not one many would pass up and when I was invited to do so I responded faster than the Bentayga can reach 100km/h.
This meant that in under 4.5 seconds I had not read the entire itinerary.
Only sometime later did I notice that the trip would include a tour of the Bentley factory in Crewe.
Generally speaking, factory tours are not too enthusiastically undertaken by journalists who have already done a couple.
Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that one factory appears much like any other. Building cars even of significantly different quality basically looks the same.
Sure, some factories may have more robots and the assembly lines vary a bit depending on their age, but they look the same, as do their often indifferent looking employees.
The tasks are exacting, but, I would imagine boringly repetative once mastered.
Most of the difference between the car that emerges at the end of the line lies in the quality of materials used and no doubt the clever processes involved, but it looks the same.
However, enduring a stroll through the factory is a tiny price to pay for getting behind the wheel of a Bentley and cruising the picturesque Cotswold countryside.
That part of Britain that should be virtually uninhabited due to the number of murders Inspector Morse and the like have had to investigate for any number of TV series.
At the start of the Bentley factory tour it was immediately apparent that this was not going to be a mundane experience. Apart from the fact that our guide appeared to have been educated at Eton and dressed by Tom Ford, he had made his way from the shop floor to his current position.
Bentley are proud of their unique heritage and they make the point by casually guiding you past a highlight of the company’s heritage collection – EXP 2, the second experimental Bentley 3 Litre.
This is the oldest surviving Bentley and the first to win a race. While I was itching to feel the 404 kW and 770 Nm of the Bentayga I could sense a purpose behind this tour that would stretch beyond the ordinary.
Our tour flashed by in less than three hours.
The point was made, building a Bentley is almost the very antithesis of the clinical factories we are so used to.
If you have the money Bentley will build almost any amount of customisation into your Bentayga, but even if you just want one “off the shelf” because you have only the R2 950 000 base price available, the amount of “uniqueness” is extraordinary I have often wondered quite what manufacturers truly mean when they speak of “handstitched” leather, for example.
In all those other factory tours I had never seen anyone actually hand-stitching anything.
That is not to say it doesn’t happen or that there is anything wrong with machines, but at Bentley it is hand-stitched.
In the case of the steering wheel, for example, literally by hand.
In the case of the upholstery, by a person sitting at an industrial version of what you would recognise as Mom’s pants repairer.
The environment is relaxed, confidence exuded by teams that clearly know they can do anything a customer wants.
Indeed many a customer has toured the plant to find to their surprise, and no doubt Bentley’s careful planning, that their product is in production.
The conversation moving along the line of “and this ma’am is where we stitch the steering wheels”. “Goodness that does look difficult, that one there looks just like the one I ordered.
“Yes ma’am, it is in fact the one you ordered. Would you like to return for a cup of tea and watch it fitted?”
In the same way the finest wood veneers are imported and hand processed and a well trained eye matches the laminates for the optimum effect.
So too each piece of leather is selected and cut to ensure not the slightest imperfection finds its way into production.
After witnessing this part of the process, driving the Bentayga took on a different dimension.
I have had the privilege of driving many wonderful vehicles. I have probably professed to have felt “connected” in the course of the drive, but this was a whole different ball game.
I looked at each piece of leather in the car and wondered whose signature lay on the other side, as is the custom of each crafter to mark their work.
Was it the Master I had just chatted to at the factory who had expertly matched the wood laminates in the dash so that you felt the warmth of the wood as if it were alive?
But, of course, more than anything Bentleys are built to be driven, the Le Mans winning marque is not just about aesthetic excellence, it is about performance first and foremost and the 4-litre 32-valve V8 is not there to be trumped by comfortable seats, it is there to prove that you need them.
The growl of the V8 causes a tingle across your forearms and the surge forward brings the mind to focus on the serious matter of driving.
In England the serious matter of driving is punctuated by an extraordinary need to change the speed limits constantly.
The head up display constantly reflects the speed indicated by the latest sign.
This will be the first feature of an English driven Bentley to wear out.
There are so many speed restrictions that I presume it has resulted in severe shortages of tin as each is about the size of a small sideplate.
But the Bentayga picked them all, I hope, and so it was a constant dance between the throttle and the massive 10 piston brake calipers snatching huge 440 mm discs at the front to stay both happy and on the right side of the law.
With all the murderers Inspector Morse has behind bars a night in jail was a terrifying prospect. What was not at all terrifying was negotiating the tight English roads as the large SUV responded to driving inputs instantly.
The ZF eight-speed gearbox deals with the permanent all wheel drive so effectively you forget it is there. The suspension is self-levelling with continuous damping control.
An optional 48v electric active anti-roll bar is available, which is probably because England is not as flat as I had imagined nor are its roads as good.
But the Bentayga can deal with no roads at all if it is fitted with All-Terrain Specification which offers four on road and four off road options.
There are volumes that could be written about the Bentayga and any other Bentley, but nothing can tell its story as well as it itself.
Only a fortunate few will live that tale.