If you’re a driver in the United States, how much time do you spend in your car? A 2019 study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the average driver in the United States spent 51 minutes per day driving. Whether you’re a driver or a passenger, though, you’re probably spending a significant amount of your time in a vehicle. It begs the question: what, exactly, is that doing to your mental health? Can it be improved?
In light of the news that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended anxiety screenings for people under the age of 65, that’s not a small question. Nor is the one that follows logically from it — namely, is there a way that driving a car can be beneficial for your mental or physical health? This was among the questions that came up sitting behind the wheel of Bentley’s recently-announced Bentayga Extended Wheelbase (or EWB) this autumn.
Relative to the Bentayga V8, the EWB is slightly longer, creating more space for the back seats and necessitating changes in the position of the sunroof. But that wasn’t the only requirement that went into making this SUV. The detrimental effects that driving can have on someone’s health have long been documented. The question the Bentayga EWB asks is: what can an automaker do about that?
That’s one significant question that Bentley’s engineers faced. Another is almost as key: how does an automaker find the right balance between wellness and the alertness needed to operate a vehicle — much less test out some of the less quantifiable aspects of wellness? These were among the challenges in bringing the Bentayga EWB to fruition.
Chris Cole, the Product Line Director for Bentayga, explained the reasoning behind Bentley’s push for increased awareness of wellness. “Our product strategy is to be the world leader in luxury mobility,” Cole told InsideHook — and went on to state that “customer wellbeing, comfort and sustainability are key parts” of that initiative.
The Bentayga EWB is one element of that, but it’s also one part of a larger whole. Earlier this year, Bentley announced its new Azure range of vehicles, which served as an earlier statement from the automaker regarding a heightened sense of wellness. In conversation with Cole, in fact, he described the Bentayga EWB as the “fullest expression of Azure.”
Some of the features on display in the Bentayga EWB apply to driver and passengers alike — a significant degree of control over a seat’s positioning, for one thing, as well as an air ionization system. (There’s a dedicated system for the back seats.) It’s when you get into the SUV’s back seat that you embrace some of the most comfort-inducing features — including the airline seat specification, which did wonders for a knot I’d developed in my shoulder, and climate-sensing features.
There are aesthetic and practical reasons to emphasize comfort in automotive design. A driver who’s distracted by an aching muscle or a sore back is one who’s that much less likely to be able to dedicate their full attention to the road. That was another aspect of the process of creating the Bentayga EWB. As Cole recounted, Bentley consulted with an outside expert on the finer details of some of the SUV’s systems. “The postural adjustment system has been a collaboration with a chiropractor who specializes in seated discomfort,” he said.
The process of designing and engineering that system included factoring in ways to relieve affected muscles, whether it was for the driver or a passenger. “We used the doctor’s advice on what types of motions would help decrease muscle tissue trauma and developed the actual systems with the seats and algorithms that do it,” Cole said.
No two drivers are alike — and that applies to both their style and what they’re looking for in terms of comfort. “The system has been extensively tested with a diverse range of users to allow us to set the ‘optimum’ position for posture and thermal comfort systems,” Cole explained.
He went on to detail some of the specifics when it comes to testing the Bentayga EWB’s features. “These new innovations have had specific test criteria developed — performance based — to ensure the solutions meet the design requirement,” Cole said. “These are then tested through simulation techniques, and physically with necessary instrumentation on test rigs and in development cars.”
He also acknowledged that the drive towards wellness will change for each individual. “[R]emembering that all humans are different, we also built into our system the opportunity for customers to regulate the experience so it’s perfect for them,” Cole said. Can you engineer something as ineffable as wellness? That’s what’s on the road ahead for this new SUV.
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