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Driving Range: A Brawny New Bentley

The 2002 Bentley Arnage T sedan costs as much as a 3,000-square-foot home in a nice subdivision of Charlotte, North Carolina. It has near-NASCAR horsepower, goes from zero to sixty in 5.5 seconds and has a top speed of 168 m.p.h. And it weighs about the same as a three-quarter-ton Chevrolet Suburban, which means I spent almost as much on gas driving the Bentley from Los Angeles to San Jose as I'd spent flying to L.A. to pick it up. In dress gray or duded out from head to toe in basic black, this car makes one hell of a statement. I have witnesses to prove it.

A friend who lives near opulent Palm Beach tells me that Bentley has replaced Rolls-Royce as the car of choice for Florida's leisure class. "Nobody drives Rolls-Royces anymore," he says. "People who live here drive Bentleys. They let their servants use the Rolls."

For a second opinion, I pulled into a Mobil station in Lompoc, California, where the simple act of refueling attracted the staff to the Arnage T as to a testosterone magnet. "Dude, no offense, but that's totally an ego thing," said the pump jockey who filled the car's twenty-gallon tank. Of course, he was right. It is an ego thing. It's also a fine-driving thing. Bentleys are hot, and no Bentley is hotter than the all-new Arnage T.

Put simply, if you are a high-performance driver who sees Bentleys as being suited to the dandies of the Grey Poupon set, think again. The new Arnage T is a revelation: a huge, madly luxurious four-door sedan with the soul of an old American muscle car, a vehicle both menacing and seductive. It owes its high price to high tech: The thinkers in Bentley's aerodynamics department employed processes such as CAD (computer-aided design), VPM (virtual product modeling), DMU (digital mock-ups) and CFD (computational fluid dynamics). The result is a 450-horse twin-turbo V-8 that provides the sort of fun you'd expect from a 1970-vintage Pontiac Trans Am. And along with its power comes handling and braking that's surprisingly nimble, given that the car seems to weigh as much as the Lusitania. Even on the far side of 100 m.p.h., it feels lithe and agile. I got mine up to 110 on California 101. Blowing past mere mortals doing eighty, I felt the car punching through the air like a locomotive. A Volvo full of bike racers erupted in cheers as I passed, the speedsters shouting and waving at the Arnage T.

Naturally, such a machine comes to you equipped with every conceivable luxury, from sunroof and GPS navigation system to Connolly leather seats, Wilton wool carpets and, my favorite, a pair of trunk-mounted umbrellas. The most surprising interior touch is an aluminum dashboard insert almost identical to that of the aforementioned '70 Trans Am—another clue that the Arnage T is a muscle car cross-dressing as a luxury sedan.

As with any Bentley, the company will custom-build your Arnage T. "Customers can choose from an effectively unlimited resource of trim and specification possibilities," Bentley assures potential buyers, "that can turn a car into a mobile office or, by using a vast choice of hides, wood and upholstery possibilities, make a genuinely unique and luxurious traveling environment." Picture a Savile Row suit with twin turbochargers.

Thanks, but I'll take mine exactly like this one, with its massive motor voicing a basso-profundo exhaust note deep enough to frighten children and leave grown men sweaty-palmed. If you've been smart or lucky enough to amass a small fortune and shepherd it through the recession more or less intact, and if you never lost your adolescent love of muscle cars, there isn't a better ride out there.

Scorecard - Bentley Arnage T
PRICE: Starts around $230,000
MPG: 10/15
ENGINE: 6/7.5-liter V-8
HORSEPOWER: 450
TORQUE: 645 lbs. per ft.
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic
ZERO TO 60 MPH: 5.5 seconds

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