Stunned. Like the car was on fire. Like it was feathered. Like they were from the 1600s and had never seen a car before.
But in fairness, these national park workers deep in a state forest a few hours east of Melbourne, had almost certainly never seen a Bentley Bentayga – the fastest, most expensive SUV the world has so far known – let alone one roaring down the quiet, winding dirt road around which they were working.
Bentley's new super-SUV has only just landed in Australia and it's ready to take a lot of money off a very few people. Utilitarian might be the SUV's middle name but now even the very, very wealthy want them – and for versions that properly express their wealth, they're willing to pay.
Of course, car companies would be rude not to assist. Based on the Volkswagen Group's MLB platform – shared with the new Audi Q7, the upcoming third-gen Cayenne, Touareg and the Lamborghini Urus – the Bentayga, in its current guise, comes with Bentley's new 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 pumping out 447kW and 900Nm. It hurtles the burly Bentley to 100km/h in just 4.1sec on to its headline-grabbing, world-beating 301km/h top speed.
Few cars spark conversation quite like the Bentayga – from even the meekest of people it will draw an opinion. Some think it's butt-ugly, not big enough and lacking presence. Others are completely besotted by the novelty of a Bentley SUV.
It's true that if you removed the badges, most punters would have no idea what it is. A white test car didn't help things, and it's just as well the show improves when you slip inside.
The familiar twin-wing dash design makes an appearance, as seen on Continental and Flying Spur, and you'll lose count of the materials used – deep carpets, buttery leathers, piano blacks and cool chromes. Gorgeous analogue speedo and tachometers sit before you, the former boasting an honest 300km/h. Your mate with a Q7 could point out all the Audi bits, like the air-con controls, wiper and indicator stalks.
And around town it is blissful. A whisper-quiet cabin exaggerates the tiniest of rattles in our test car while we waft along, sitting high and able to see over traffic – presumably a big part of the appeal for many would-be Bentayga owners.
One word will come to mind during your first five seconds of full throttle, and we're not able to publish it. The Bentayga squats hard onto its rear axle as it rockets towards the horizon.
It is certainly eye-opening as you're still obviously required to guide 2440kg of physics-defying projectile down the road. Though for the excitement of the acceleration, lovers of exhaust notes will be disappointed as that big W12, even at full noise, could be mistaken for a V6.
Their spirits will be lifted through the first few corners as the big Bentayga is a decent handler. Thanks to trick air suspension and active swaybars, bodyroll is spookily minimal. In the slow twisties the front end is surprisingly pointy and enthusiastic, but the Bentley feels enormous and cramped. It's on the medium stuff it starts to feel better, those 285-section tyres at each corner dishing up respectable grip.
On dirt the Bentayga is more fun that it should be and can do a decent hot hatch impression, the ESP permitting a quarter turn of corrective lock under brakes into corners. But mostly, in a straight line and up a twisty road, the Bentayga is just devastatingly fast.
And overall it's a pretty damn good car. But we’re not quite sure it’s worth – err, we suggest not taking a large sip of your drink at this moment – $570,000 as-tested.
For that much coin the Bentayga – this optioned-up test car, at least – is asked to meet stratospheric expectations and it doesn’t. The ride is great, but not mind-blowing. It’s fast and corners well, but there are much cheaper, sharper hot SUVs that would easily outgun it.
The interior is nice, but for the money it should feel like you’re meant to be getting fanned by ostrich feathers and being fed grapes by half-nude concubines. For the incredible asking price, it doesn’t feel special enough.
The Audi SQ7 is on its way with a 320kW, 900Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbo diesel V8 good for 0-100 in 4.9sec. Slower than the Bentayga, but at around $160K it’s going to come with air suspension standard and even with options like carbon ceramic brakes, for $200K you’ll have a car that’ll deliver approximately 80 per cent of the Bentayga experience for at least half the price.
But we get it – it's an Audi. The price alone will guarantee the Bentayga's exclusivity, and that's just the way owners like it.
4.0 OUT OF 5 STARS
LIKE: Crazy power; surprisingly good handling; the ultimate cruiser
DISLIKE: With price comes expectations the Bentayga just doesn't meet
Engine: 5950cc W12, DOHC, 48v, twin-turbo
Power: 447kW @ 5000rpm
Torque: 900Nm @ 1350rpm
0-100km/h: 4.1sec (claimed)