• How Six Custom (and Expensive) Bentley Dominators Laid the Foundation for the Bentayga SUV

We are tracing down the genesis of the Bentley Bentayga and it has lead us to the a Sultan’s $5bn car collection

Bentley’s decision to make an SUV was not all that surprising. With backings from the mighty Volkswagen group which comes with a girth of high ends parts and a virtually inexhaustible money pool, they had all the right ingredients. But one person who we believe gets less credit than they deserve for the birth of the Bentley Bentayga is the Sultan of Brunei. Let me explain.

The Real Start to Bentley’s SUV

How Six Custom (and Expensive) Bentley Dominators Laid the Foundation for the Bentayga SUV
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Yes, we are talking about the infamous Hassanal Bolkiah Ibni Omar Ali Saifuddien III, and the Monarch has been in the spotlight for a lot of controversial reasons including his expensive taste in cars. Well, expensive is an understatement considering his super secretive collection is estimated to have close to 7000 cars which experts have valued close to $5bn. But what’s even more baffling is the Royal family’s close ties with brands like Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Aston Martin who, on numerous occasions, have built bespoke rides for the Royal family. Bentley and Rolls Royce, in particular, have been catering to the family for years and some sources suggest that he and his expensive custom cars were instrumental in saving these brands from bankruptcy.

One such unique project was the Bentley Dominator, the brand’s first attempt at making an SUV. The Sultan ordered six SUVs in various shades, and this project arguably laid the foundations for the current Bentayga and even the Rolls Royce Cullinan. So let’s take a close look at what’s similar and what’s between the modern-day Bruises and its bespoke predecessor.

The Aesthetics:

How Six Custom (and Expensive) Bentley Dominators Laid the Foundation for the Bentayga SUV Exterior
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The new Bentayga was reviled in 2015 as the brand’s flagship SUV with styling cues borrowed from its established saloons and limos like the Flying Spur and Mulsanne. This trick is nothing new, however, as it’s the very same that they used to shape the Dominator, which borrowed most of its design elements from the top shelf coupes and saloons like the Turbo R and Mulsanne Turbo. Bentley did go too long lengths to give the Dominator its own identity by giving it unique headlights and bumpers but it looked unmistakably Bentley with its massive and distinctive Bentley grill and the lavish yet tasteful use of chrome.

All of this sounds familiar since it is the exact approach that lead to the creation of the Bentayga which is a clear extension of the brand’s famed coupes and saloons with the same swooping design, albeit in a raised SUV package. The source of inspiration is obvious and simply uncanny.

The Underpinnings:

How Six Custom (and Expensive) Bentley Dominators Laid the Foundation for the Bentayga SUV Exterior
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The Bentayga is comprised of the best of parts at VW groups disposal, including the base structure from the Cayenne and the 6.0-liter W-12 engine found in top-shelf Audi and Bentley products. That engine was followed by the smaller but potent 4.0 liter Twin-Turbo V-8 that was introduced in 2018, and it’s the same engine that powers the Cayenne Turbo and the Lamborghini Urus.

How Six Custom (and Expensive) Bentley Dominators Laid the Foundation for the Bentayga SUV
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The Dominator at the time did not have 4WD, so they settled for the best one at their disposal, which was a Range Rover, arguably the closest luxury SUV at the time. The lack of literature makes these speculations difficult but most sources suggest that it used the Range Rover P38A chassis and 4WD system. As far as the powerplant goes, it’s mixed. Some sources say that Bentley plopped in the Turbo R’s 6.75-liter turbocharged V-8 that made plenty of power at 389 horsepower, while others say that they stuck with Range Rover’s 224-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 since mating the Bentley V-8 to Range Rover’s 4WD drivetrain would have been an unnecessary challenge.

The Luxury Image:

How Six Custom (and Expensive) Bentley Dominators Laid the Foundation for the Bentayga SUV
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The Sultan had the vision and the taste to envision something like the Dominator and Bentley with all their coachbuilding heritage was the perfect partner in crime. Granted that attempts at luxury SUVs have been attempted before with the LM002 and of course the Range Rover. Up until the Dominator’s birth, they were the defacto luxury SUV, but all those were just regular utilitarian 4x4s with some leather on top, but the Dominator was a ground-up rethink of the Luxury SUV philosophy. This includes its price tag of $4.6-million a piece, with just six units made to date, and all of which reside in the Sultan’s car collection. The price alone makes the range-topping Bentayga Speed’s $245K sound like a bargain. So it’s safe to say that the Dominator, without a doubt, laid the foundations of the Bentayga and the Cullinan.

Bhavik Sreenath
Bhavik Sreenath
A keen automotive enthusiast with a love for anything with engines. He loves discovering the world of cars and technology to explore new boundaries in the field of modern-day journalism.  Read full bio
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