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.