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In the Driver's Seat

Craftsmanship, luxury, technology: Would you expect anything less from the first all-new Bentley in more than 50 years? It's the Continental GT.

Fifty years ago, British car royalty probably wouldn't have wanted to make the Grand Tour, or GT, with the aid of Germans. But today they face a new temptation: the 2004 Bentley Continental GT. Bentley hasn't produced an all-new model in decades. But its owner, Volkswagen, encouraged the designers at Crewe to spend their cash creating a car for the ages. The pounds were well spent, as the bratwurst-and-mash combination melds craftsmanship, luxury, and technology into the self-styled "fastest four-seat coupe in the world," a mantle solidified when Team Bentley took the top two spots at the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Sticker price: $150,000, which also makes this the Wrst Bentley in the "theoretically possible" price bracket.

Available: April 2004.

Vital stats: 6-liter, 12-cylinder, twin-turbo engine kicking out 550 hp; all-wheel drive, 6-speed manual paddle shift (in addition to this feature, borrowed from racecars, there's a semiautomatic gear shift and an automatic--feel free to mix it up, they all come standard) and it zips along at 198 mph, 0 to 60 in under five seconds.

Nice touches: Breitling analog clock, actual roomy backseats, a fuel tank under the floor that frees up trunk space to make any Mafia don weep, keyless entry, a six-CD changer tucked into the glove compartment, and a Nokia "docking station" that displays text messages and your address book on the console, so you can call your jackass brother-in-law to tell him you've purchased a Bentley.

What you think it says about you: "I've made it. Bring me your fattest calf and finest wine."

What it really says about you: "No more French's for me, slather my earl of sandwiches in Grey Poupon."

Second opinion: "Bentleys say you are in power, you like being in charge, and you love to drive, as opposed to a Rolls-Royce, which is supposed to have a chauffeur," says Dr. G. Clotaire Rapaille, renowned automotive psychoanalyst. "But the design of the Continental GT doesn't have a strong identity. The CEO who buys a Bentley wants to make a statement: 'I am a successful entrepreneur, and I want it known.' That won't happen if you have to read the nameplate to know who manufactured the car."

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